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Why Your Child Hobby Hops

As soon as 8-year-old Elizabeth Nowak chose to sign up for the swim team rather than soccer, a case of hobby hopping struck. "A week after soccer registration closed, she told me that she had changed her mind," says her mother, Cristy.

Occasional 180-degree interest shifts like Elizabeth's are natural at this age. "Curiosity and diversity are two of the hallmarks of 7- to 9-year-olds," says Vicki Folds, Ed.D., vice president of education for the Florida-based Tutor Time childcare learning centers. "Their interests may not last long." How do you know whether your child's lack of resolve to stick with violin lessons or horseback riding is more than a result of the normal waxing and waning in enthusiasm?

PASSING INTERESTS

Gordon Weiner, Ph.D., director of psychology training at the Walker Home and School in Needham, MA, suggests that parents play "detective" and search for the underlying cause of their child's sudden drop in interest. Sometimes kids want to give up an activity because they've found it wasn't all they thought it would be, or because their friends moved on to another project. It's easy to get caught up in an activity because "everyone else" is doing it, and then drop the hobby just as fast when the fad runs its course.

Since children are often involved in many activities, they may want to quit simply because they're overloaded, says Weiner. Take a look at your child's calendar to determine if you are seeing a burnout.

A BAD ENVIRONMENT?

If your child seems depressed or worried, or doesn't want to continue with something he used to like, the reasons may be more complex. He may be having a problem with the instructor or with one of the other children in the group. If you suspect a peer or instructor conflict, Folds suggests talking with your child and then going to the person in charge to see whether the situation can be remedied. "There may be some things going on in that group that you don't want your child involved in," she adds.

Activities can also lose their appeal when kids struggle with issues of perfectionism or self-confidence. If this is the case, it may be time for a conversation about the joy of learning by experimenting, regardless of the outcome. Whether to allow your child to quit in these situations is another subject entirely, say Folds and Weiner (see "5 Key Questions").

If your child has a tendency to abandon things easily, Folds recommends staging a trial run before adding an activity to the schedule. Many programs allow you to try or observe a class for free. Rent equipment instead of buying, and ask about refund policies before making a full commitment.

"I think hobby hopping should not necessarily be discouraged," argues Nowak, who ultimately let Elizabeth drop swimming  -- only because the season hadn't started yet. "A child needs to be able to try many different things in order to discover talents and true interests, as well as satisfy that curious little itch."

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