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My boy is 10. He likes maths, handball and Minecraft. He enjoys football socially but isn't particularly passionate about it.

When I offered to teach my son to ride a bike, he wasn't that excited about it. I offered to teach him because it seems most kids his age can ride, and it felt like everyone in my generation learnt to ride, so it is not a question of of if but when.

When I offered told my son that if he read The Hobbit, we'd watch the movies together — he wasn't that interested in it. The Hobbit is a magically original book, that like Lord of the Rings, inspired artists, movie-makers and language students with its rich depth and imagery. It is an intro to LOTR which many regard as a top-10 of books in the English Language. My point is, if you're going to read at all - then this is one of the books you should read. Also, when I was 8 - I read the book in a day, several times.

This is however more of a general pattern, and these are two examples. I'm looking for specific things I can do to encourage my son.

My question is: What can I do to encourage my 10-year-old boy to try things he is reluctant about?


(The answers here are excellent).

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  • 12
    What is your intent here? Do you want him to exercise, and read more? Why do you want him to to these things? Is it that he spends too much time alone/online/other? Being more specific about your motives and more about his likes and dislikes/personality might help you get a better answer. Thanks.
    – anongoodnurse
    Jan 6 at 15:18
  • Thanks - that's helpful.
    – hawkeye
    Jan 7 at 10:13
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    Wait -- you read the whole of The Hobbit several times in a single day at age 8? You must be a speed reader. That is a dense book and takes most people at least a week to read.
    – bfris
    Jan 7 at 22:41
  • Thanks @bfris - whole book in a day - and again on other days.
    – hawkeye
    Jan 8 at 6:38
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    My parents didn't force me to ride a bike. I have no idea why I didn't want to ride one. I just didn't. One day when I was 11, I took the bike on my own and within one afternoon I could ride. It was just time. 36 years later I'm pretty good at doing it. I read LOTR when I was about 18 or so. Your son doesn't have to share your taste at all. Especially at a young age. Find stuff he wants to read. Reading should be fun and rewarding. People do stuff when they think the pain/pleasure balance is positive. And that's subjective. His brain makes the rules. Jan 9 at 1:56

6 Answers 6

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When I was a child, my parents had a philosophy about doing certain things.

If you try it, and you don't like it, then you don't have to keep doing it.

This was mostly for signing up for various school sports (T-Ball, Soccer) or activities (band in particular), and it was understood both by myself and my parents that if I gave it a try and didn't like it, I could stop.

Mostly, I didn't really like physical activities, but I did enjoy band for some time, and even began trying other club activities on my own. And I felt much better being able to try these things without having to commit myself to them permanently.


The short version of this story is - you should let your son know that they can try something, and ask to stop if they don't like it. And you should let them stop if they don't like it - not every activity is for every person, even something you truly have a passion for may not be what your son enjoys.

10 Years old is a time of a child's life when they are just starting to find out what they really like - and also what they don't like. Give them a chance to say 'no', and help them understand that if they try something they don't have to keep doing it if they don't like it.

Edit: Some commenters have pointed out that a child might want to try to do this again in the future - and they are correct to point that out. And you should point this out to your son if they decide they'd rather not do a certain activity.

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  • 5
    While I agree in principle with the idea in the answer, it's worth mentioning that I have seen it fail. I know young adults who are in poor physical shape after systematically quitting sports as children. And they do regret having quit sports as children. And OP mentions learning to ride a bike; the few adults I know who cannot ride a bike, are not happy about it at all, and would have liked to be taught as kids. Same with swimming. Jan 7 at 16:25
  • @MartinArgerami if (common team) sports aren't their thing, hiking or adventure sports might be a good way to be fit and have fun
    – Chris H
    Jan 7 at 16:58
  • "the few adults I know who cannot ride a bike, are not happy about it at all" As an adult who can't ride a bike, I can state that I am, at most, mildly annoyed by it.
    – nick012000
    Jan 9 at 10:36
  • @MartinArgerami There's no reason this has to be the end of the story though - for something like learning to ride a bike, you can always try to teach a child when they are older (and, they can always try to learn when they are an adult).
    – Zibbobz
    Jan 9 at 21:52
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If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I'm aware that your description might not perfectly match what you told your son, but it seems that you're trying to convince your son of something without giving them a reason for doing so.

This will also vary based on your son's character. Some people are very open to suggestion. Others want to decide for themselves and need to be given information so that they can make their own decision. Based on your current attempts having failed, I suspect your son may be closer to the latter category than the former.

At its very essence, in order to convince children to eat spinach, Popeye showed them that spinach makes you strong. Children didn't choose to eat spinach because they were told to; they ate spinach because they wanted to be strong like Popeye.

When I offered told my son that if he read the Hobbit, we'd watch the movies together - he wasn't that interested in it.

Given that he hasn't read the books or watched the movie; what would make your son think that The Hobbit is worth their time?

If you want to teach him to yearn for the proverbial vast and endless sea; then tell him amazing tales about a traveling companionship that fights monsters, a dragon who destroyed a city filled with gold, ...
Don't spoil the specific story of The Hobbit, but even by just telling similar tales, you can open your son's mind to hearing these amazing stories and wanting to find out more.

When I offered to teach my son to ride a bike, he wasn't that excited about it.

Given that he currently doesn't ride a bike, what would make your son think that learning to ride a bike is worth the effort?

If you want to teach him to yearn for the proverbial vast and endless sea; show him something fun to go do on a bike. Whether it is a matter of transportation (getting to some place he wants to go to) or recreation (the fun of riding a bike), warm him up to it. Maybe you can look for cool locations in your neighborhood. Maybe you can plan a little treasure hunt around the area. Maybe you could convince him by showing him BMX stunt videos.

I don't know what makes your son tick, so I don't know precisely what will pique his interests. But children are impressionable, and you just need to make the right impression so that they themselves want to learn the new thing you're trying to introduce to them.

Sometimes, when dealing with things that simply aren't fun, the only incentive you can give them is an ulterior one, e.g. clean your room and then we'll go get some ice cream. But if you're trying to introduce your son to hobbies and fun activities, the activity should be its own reward. You just need to show your son what that reward is; and if they want the reward they will be interested in engaging in the activity.

Doing something purely on the recommendation of someone else without any real understand of what makes it interesting is not something children are good at. Most adults aren't even that great at it.

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  • "... the activity should be its own reward." I agree with this in principle, however often you have to try not just something but get a little proficient in it before it gets rewarding. Like playing an instrument.
    – Ivana
    Jan 8 at 23:27
  • @Ivana: Fair point. Maybe my point is better expressed that a recreational activity should be engaged in voluntarily, regardless of it being immediately rewarding or not.
    – Flater
    Jan 9 at 0:01
  • @Ivana It depends on your definition of "rewarding". I've mentored a few beginners on guitar (I don't like to use the word "teach" because they learn on their own terms) and part of that has been getting them to play in ways which make their current level productive. If your sights are on playing like Steve Vai, you'll always be disappointed. Dialling it back to one chord per line of a song whilst they find the fingers for the next one is still them accompanying the song, so there's immediate reward even as a beginner.
    – Graham
    Jan 9 at 9:06
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I'm somewhat a fan of Maria Montessori, and the one sentence any Montessori parent could tell you is this: Follow the child.

It took me years to figure out what this means, but ultimately what I learned is that I should stop trying to make my children do things, and instead help them do what they want - but still find ways to get them to stretch their wings.

I spent years trying to get my kids to read books I liked. So did my parents with me, for that matter. It nearly never worked. But what did work? Making it easy to find books. We are lucky enough to have the resources to keep a branch of [major bookstore chain] in business by ourselves (it feels like), and in addition we're lucky to be in a time where you can check out a book from the library while seated in your bedroom. They read all the books I could want, and guess what? They sometimes even read the books I wanted them to, in their own time, and love them even more because they chose them.

When the child has space to explore, they will. Make sure they know what's available to them, and over time they will find things that they enjoy. Set rules and boundaries, both so they know what's okay, and so they have some incentive to try new things - but without forcing. Set time limits for things if they're doing too much of a single thing, especially Minecraft/screens, but don't be too heavy handed there; most adults have one or two hobbies at most, why should we expect kids to?

Make sure those boundaries are well understood, also; not only make sure they understand what you expect of them when they try something new - is it okay to try something for a week and give up? Do you expect them to give it a fair shot for a while? Both are reasonable and are important to find the right balance between. We're probably trying Cub Scouts this spring for example, and I made it clear that I wanted at least the rest of the spring's commitment before I'd pay the several hundred dollars it would cost; not as a punishment for trying something, but because that's what I think it will take before he understands if he likes it or not.

For the most part, though, try to be a helpful supporter of your child, and to keep the pressure down. A child in a low pressure environment will find new things to do they enjoy if they want to. A child in a high pressure environment will be stressed out and stick to what he already knows. Your child will see his friends doing new things over time, and will find those things he wants to join, if he doesn't have parents constantly pushing him. The most useful thing you can do to encourage him is to not encourage, but enable.

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I'm not a parent, but I am a former 10-year-old child who liked math and (would have, if it were around) liked Minecraft! (And I liked math so much from that age that I got my degree in it!) I don't really have an answer to the actual question (but I'll still give it a shot from this perspective later), but I nonetheless wanted to speak to what might be your ten-year-old's experience. There are many, many diverse ways you can build on (and out from) your 10-year-old's existing interests! So, this "answer" will be primarily about how you can help your son grow his existing interests into deeper ones—and, as you'll see, into new and neighboring ones too! Maths (and even minecraft) are not a monolith, and there are so many different ways to engage with them and grow them into new and exciting things.

What follows is a very long answer about possible ways to encourage and explore your son's existing interests. I didn't realize this would be so long when I started—whoops! But I suppose it's a testament to how rich your son's interests already are, and how many ways they could grow.


Through no fault of their own, my parents (both of whom are not very mathematical) had trouble finding ways to engage with and feed my interest in math. I'm not sure if you're in the same situation as them, but just in case, I wanted to offer some resources that might both help your son dive into math and broaden his interest outside of it. Depending on why your son likes math, there might be different routes to take. I've heard that One, Two, Three...Infinity is a classic, and a wonderful introduction to many interesting mathematical concepts. (Sadly, I didn't hear about it until I was familiar with everything in it, but I know lots of people for whom this was the book that really got them into math.)

For me, though maybe a couple years after I was 10, I got entranced by Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. It's a thoroughly readable but deep introduction to what makes math (and thought, and language) tick, and explores these deep questions in a fun and interdisciplinary way, weaving together (as you'd expect from the title) Escher's artwork, Bach's musical techniques, and logical systems into an integrated piece of literature. Each chapter is prefaced by a fictional dialogue between Achilles and the Tortoise of Zeno's paradox, patterned after a similar dialogue by C.S. Lewis (which is included in the book!).

Also great—especially for the ability to re-engage with different puzzles at different times—are Martin Gardner's recreational math puzzles. They're usually accessible to just about anyone and don't require prior knowledge of math, but looking back, I can say that they still manage to get the reader engaged with real mathematical concepts, even if the reader doesn't always realize it! I recently received The Colossal Book Of Mathematics, a compilation of puzzles, and each chapter is a nice self-contained piece.

I'd also recommend the YouTube channel (and associated webpage) 3Blue1Brown by Grant Sanderson for videos and interactive lessons that introduce particular math topics with beautiful visuals and clear narratives. Other popular books like Chaos by James Gleick might be of interest (fractals always compel!).

There are many fields within math that you might want to introduce your son to, which don't necessarily require prerequisites, depending on the presentation: graph theory, abstract algebra, linear algebra, transfinite arithmetic (infinities), cellular automata, etc. It's all about finding the right presentation: even if something seems very formal and esoteric, there's usually a way to start a 10-year-old thinking about the underlying questions. It might be good to introduce your son to resources that introduce their topic alongside basic set theory—set theory makes talking about everything easier, and many mathematicians will use the terminology without thinking. Dealing with infinities is actually a good intro, hence One, Two, Three...Infinity, since it's just about counting, and introduces you to set theory terminology along the way! But don't feel like you have to wait before introducing your son to every new field of math. For example, graph theory puzzles can be posed and thought about without almost any formal introduction—in fact, that's how the field began! In general, Dover publications has great, classic books of many different levels of prior knowledge for usually between $10 and $30.

By the way, if your son likes math, then depending on what about it he likes, he might also like physics! Eventually, The Feynman Lectures On Physics might be good entry point to keep in mind once your son has the mathematical prerequisite knowledge. In the meantime, popular accounts of physics via science channel or discovery channel, e.g. Wonders Of The Universe, are accessible tastes of the exciting kinds of things physics is about. There are loads of other scientific branch-off points from math (though physics is probably the most connected): biology, chemistry, electrical engineering, geology, astronomy, etc. Each of these has presentations and introductions that are accessible to any 10 year old—all that's needed is interest!


Okay, this is a major one: does your son enjoy building complicated redstone circuits and mechanisms in Minecraft? If so, he might enjoy computer programming! There are so many ways to go here. Computer programming is about as diverse as writing itself. Different languages and interfaces provide different ways of approaching it. Further, information on how to do it is more accessible than ever—the problem now is sifting through all of it. There are so many introductions to coding for kids—just google! And some of them tie directly into Minecraft: you can actually code up your own mods for Minecraft, which lets you alter the gameplay itself in any way you can dream up. It's incredibly creative. Some "starter" languages might be Haskell (specifically via Learn You A Haskell For Great Good!), Python, or even, because of its ease of use, great documentation, and connection to math, Wolfram Mathematica. Of these, only Mathematica is proprietary (unfortunately), but it's not really proprietary: you can use it at full functionality, for free (after signing up for a free account) online here.; there are also puzzles to try and demonstrations. Only the desktop version is proprietary.

Also check out Processing, a language for creating graphics and animations. It lets you really see what your code is doing! And this gives your son the opportunity to simultaneously make art and engage with what might be an existing interest.

There are also tools that let your son make his own video games, which might be of interest. There are some low- or no-code opportunities, I think, (maybe GameMaker Studio 2?) but if your son does get into coding and/or digital art, consider introducing him to Unreal Engine, Unity, Godot, and more.


Finally, let me mention something a bit off the wall in this vein: speedrunning. If you're not familiar, speedrunning is when someone tries to complete a video game as fast as possible. Surprisingly, this simple goal drives people to such great problem-solving lengths that even explaining how a certain glitch works can take roughly the same length as a lecture—and with about as much technical content. People will literally reverse-engineer the game code to figure out how it works—all for shaving a few fractions of a second off gameplay time. It's very creative, very impressive, and very watchable—there's a whole genre of youtube video that consists of people presenting what happened in a narrative and exciting, but still informative, way. SummoningSalt is a good introductory channel to the kinds of things that can be done; here's an example of a highly technical Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door tool-assisted playthrough; here's the first part of an hour-and-a-half deep dive documentary into how a certain speedrunner endeavored to play Super Mario 64 with as few A presses as possible (which is a type of speedrun, except instead of minimizing time we minimize A presses! here's a channel focusing on novel speedruns of that ilk), and here's a classic example of that speedrunner explaining the strategy for a single level (which by itself is almost half an hour!); here's a video about how some speedrunners trained a genetic algorithm to play a certain part of Paper Mario, and here's how even Minecraft can be speedrun. I would actually be surprised if your son wasn't already aware of speedrunning—Minecraft speedrunners are huge right now. And it's very compatible with interest in math and computer science. If your son expresses interest in performing his own speedruns or, especially, tool-assisted speedruns, he might need special hardware or software to do so (e.g. an adapter to connect a gaming controller to a computer), and this could be very rewarding! Your son would likely learn a lot about computing and problem-solving in general.


If you have any further questions about intros to math, physics, or computing, let me know! I obviously know nothing about why your son is interested in math, so I'm kind of just saying everything that might be relevant. I of course don't know if you or your son already know about all of these things—maybe you do! But I would have loved to know about and have access to these resources.

I guess this went on a little longer than I expected it to...! But all I will say on the actual question (which seems as though it might mirror what others are saying) is based on my experience with communication in general, which is that humans often behave "paradoxically". If you encourage someone to do something that they don't already want to do, they might actually form resistance to doing it and push back. Directly encouraging someone can actually, in effect, have the effect of discouraging them! If you want to "broaden someone's horizons", then in my estimation, it's often better to just provide them with the opportunity, but not suggest that you think they should do it or, worse, that you think they should enjoy it! The thing here is that there are no guarantees. There's no way to know if that person will take up that opportunity, or that they'll enjoy it the way you do. And that's okay. There shouldn't be any guarantees. People are going to follow what interests them, and when we're talking just about personal interests and enjoyment, that's exactly what they should do. The things they do that align with their interests will be far more amazing (and personally rewarding to them!) than the things they do that don't.

Sure, there is a level of familiarity that someone needs to have with a subject or activity before they dismiss it as uninteresting; if your ten-year-old doesn't realize this yet, my guess is that he'll still have plenty of time to do so on his own—and that there might well be more effective ways to communicate this outlook to him than by simply encouraging him to do something you think he'll like and hoping he winds up doing it and liking it. As a kid, I did always find the "you don't know until you try" argument pretty unconvincing, though. Looking back, I think it might have been seeing people try things that they themselves weren't sure of, and then seeing that they still valued the experience for what they learned from it (even if they didn't like it), which let me know that openness to new experiences is useful. But, of course, being open to new experiences doesn't mean you'll always pursue them further—once you've tried them, you might, after all, decide you don't like them. Yet since this is still valuable, I think it's just as important to support well-informed negative decisions about pursuing something as to support positive ones. My guess is that ten-year-olds, being people as well, will tend to feel similarly—but I'm not a parent!

Best of luck, and I hope this perspective—and these resources!—are at least a little useful. And if not now—as I'm not totally sure what your son is ready for, material-wise, so to speak—then maybe in the future! :)

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  • Nice book recommendations! I'm going to check out "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid."
    – Klik
    Jan 9 at 8:29
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Listen to your Child

Never forget that your child is not you, and their circumstances are not your own. Which is not to say that you shouldn't force your child to do things that will benefit them. But remember that what benefited you as a child and what will benefit them are two very different things, even if there's a great deal of overlap.

Talk to your kid about why you want them to ride a bike, and why they don't want to ride their bike.

When I was a child, getting me to ride a bike was like pulling teeth for my mother. But she persisted, and I'm very glad she did, because once I learned I enjoyed biking, and being able to bike gives me opportunities I might not have otherwise.

Talk to your child. Talk about why you think that learning to ride will improve their life, and why they don't want to learn (which is probably that learning is hard, and scary). Acknowledge that they have a point, but convince them that the cost is worth it. If you can't convince them, find some other way to make the cost worth it to them. By which I mean bribes. Ice cream, or a trip to an amusement park, or something. Make sure that your child knows that you understand that you're asking them to do something difficult.

Also, talk to your child about the process of learning itself. There isn't one single way to learn to ride a bike, and the method you're trying to use to teach may not be the best way for them. Make learning something you are doing together, not something you are inflicting on them.

Just because the Hobbit is important to you, doesn't mean it will have the same meaning for your child This is coming from someone who loves the Hobbit, and plans to share it with their own children. But you can't force your kid to love something the same way you do. You can only share it, and hope that they find the same things in it you did. You can try and convince them to read it. You can try and explain why you think they'll like it (but keep in mind if you do, there's a difference between why you like it and why they'll like it). You can even read it to them. But if you push too hard, you'll only widen the distance between them and the book you love.

It may not be the right book for them. The Hobbit is a lovely book, but it has its flaws just like any other (the complete lack of women being the first that comes to mind).

Remember: The more you listen to your child, the more your child will believe you when you say that you think they will like something, rather than assuming that you are trying to inflict your loves on them.

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  • "The Hobbit is a lovely book, but it has its flaws just like any other (the complete lack of women being the first that comes to mind)." The Hobbit does have female characters in it. Several of Bilbo's relatives are female, for instance, and it's probable that some (or all) of the talking spiders are, as well, given that both of the named monster spiders in Tolkien's other works are female (though I don't think that any of the ones that appear in the Hobbit are named, IIRC). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Hobbit_characters
    – nick012000
    Jan 9 at 10:51
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    @nick021000 when the rebuttal is "relatives that are mentioned, but don't actually appear in story, and maybe some of the spiders", I rest my case Jan 9 at 17:29
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It can be tricky to find a good balance between wanting to instill your own beliefs and values on a child, on the one hand, with enjoying your child for who he or she is.

You can work towards your child giving your suggested books a try by reading a wide variety of books together, building "reading rapport." Maybe you do this already. Once this bandwidth is established, you can bring three books as options to the reading session (for most people, this is part of the bedtime routine), and let the child choose. This is one possible approach -- other approaches can work well too. Here's another possibility: "Let's read half a chapter of A, and then finish up with B" -- where B is the child's favorite title or genre.

Do you guys ever listen to a book on tape together? Some people like to do puzzles while listening, some people like to just listen. Sometimes listening in the car is fun.

For the bicycle -- starting with training wheels can be a low-stress approach. Also, sometimes it helps to say, "I'm going for a run. It would be so much more fun for me if you came along. You could use a scooter or a bike or you could walk or run at your own pace." You can sync with him by going back and forth if needed.

As a side note -- I realize that some people don't like to limit their children's electronic game time, but personally, I think that such limits create pressure to find other things to do. Of course, when the limits are first introduced (with software, preferably), some moaning and groaning, or even histrionics, can be expected.

On a personal note -- one of my children has Tourette Syndrome (including rage episodes), OCD, ADHD, and anxiety, and I have gone to considerable effort to find a good therapist for him at each stage since he was 10 and his symptoms first blossomed, shall we say. When I've noticed that things aren't working with one therapist, I've make a point of finding someone who I thought would work out better. This kid is now 18 and sometimes balks at attending his weekly appointment. Currently, I think he has a good fit with his therapist. So when he balks, I say, "Remember, if you want to cancel, you have to text [therapist] at least 24 hours in advance." Or I say, "If you're sure you don't want to work with [therapist] any more, tell me, and you and I can look for somebody different."

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