A friend of mine has a son who, at age three, became obsessed with clocks. Traditional wall clocks, in particular, were his jam, and before she knew it, she was learning about and purchasing all kinds of antique clocks to decorate their home.
When our kids are little, becoming immersed in their interests is almost inevitable. Whatever piques their curiosity — be it bugs, trains, unicorns, or recycling trucks — we are their conduit to information. We read all the books about dinosaurs or learn more than we ever thought possible about firetrucks because they want to know every last detail and we want to encourage the fact that they want to learn.
We even tend to get more interested in their early activities because we take them to their tumbling lessons or ballet class, and we stay to watch every last moment. We watch them learn how to do a proper roundhouse kick in their beginner’s karate class, and before we know it, we find ourselves replicating the technique with them at home — not just because they love it but because it’s starting to become fun for us, too.
As kids get older, though, and they start reading their own books and playing games they love with friends (instead of us), and we start dropping them off for lacrosse practice (rather than staying to watch), it’s easy to lose that connection. That’s why, when I wrote about a common tween tendency to ramble on somewhat incessantly about, say, Minecraft, one of my suggestions was to actually play it with them — because clearly, they want to share it with you.
And then one commenter, @Khukhullatus, drove the point home by saying:
Almost any activity sounds boring, long-winded, and meandering if you have never done it, but if you understand the pain of a creeper destroying something you’ve worked on for hours, their stories might not seem quite so pointless. If you understand how exciting it is to catch a rare Pokémon, hearing that the one your child has been working on for months evolved will suddenly be much more interesting.
Try it with everything. When my brothers and I got interested in playing hockey, my dad, who had never played, watched, or cared about the sport, signed up to assistant coach us and play in a beginner adults league that had games right after ours. He was from Southern California, I think his first game may have been within his first ten times on skates, but suddenly discussions about the quite boring specifics about exactly whose feet did what against the boards were much more relatable to him.
I don’t think parents need to physically start playing every sport their kids ever play, but learning about their interests — whether it’s the saxophone, gymnastics, Dungeons & Dragons, breakdancing, horror films, or whatever — helps remind older kids that you care about what they care about. If it’s something they like to play, learn the rules and ask to play it with them. If it’s something they like to watch, curl up on the couch next to them. If it’s a certain type of music, listen to it. If it’s a sport or activity they enjoy participating in, snag a front seat.
Simply listening to them talk about it is also great — but when you know a little something about it, you ask more thoughtful questions, and the conversation is more enriching for both of you. And most importantly, it signals to them that if it’s interesting or fun enough for them to be passionate about, it’s worth you taking the time to learn about it, too.
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