We love watching reality “dreams come true” talent shows because we either see ourselves or our children in the contestants’ stories. Every kid wants to be the start athlete or performer. And many parents want the same thing for their kids. And soon the thing they like doing become the idea dream for their future.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Child psychologist and author Madeline Levine, in her book Teach Your Children Well, says that discovering one’s sense of self is the primary task of elementary children. By the time a child reaches middle school, they should have a “reliable sense of self and self-worth.”
However, as parents, we need to recognize and acknowledge the life-changing difference between helping our preteens follow our dreams for them and helping them discover their dreams for themselves. The dreams need to be theirs not ours.
The first time my son played soccer, I realized he was a natural. He had intuition for making plays and scored a lot of goals. Suddenly, I found myself imagining him winning college scholarships at D1 schools. He was in second grade.
He continued to play soccer on increasingly competitive levels, but somewhere in there, soccer pivoted for him. I’ll never forget the day he decided to quit, “I don’t really see soccer in my future. I still love it, but I want to focus on my grades.”
This story isn’t unique. Our kids try something, succeed, and we jump 10 years ahead creating an entire life plan to make this their future. We put all our eggs in that basket, line up the best teachers, coaches and training programs. We get them opportunities to audition for shows or try out for teams…. only to have them burn out in their tweens and teens. We have to wonder, what’s the balance between pushing our kids to be their best and giving them space to discover their dreams on their own?
Here are six ways to walk your child through these pesky preteen years and come out ok on the other side. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to do all of these, take what fits for you and try it out.)
1. Start with what you know but don’t stay with what you know. Your kids are not you. You may have been the captain of the cheer squad or quarterback for the football team, but your kids may not care about either of those things. It’s easy to push kids into what you enjoyed growing up, but that’s not necessarily what your kids will enjoy or even have aptitude for. Don’t force your kids to stick with something just because it was your dream back in the day.
2. Give them lots of experiences. Travel and give them a firsthand view of the world. Bring them to arts events – theater, concerts, and dance – for them to see creativity on display. Explore art and science museums, because you never know what will inspire kids to imagine what their life could look like as adults.
3. Take extracurricular activities a season at a time. It’s easy to get swept up in the thrill of watching your kids succeed at something. Without warning you’ve spent thousands of dollars on a hobby that may or may not be their dream. Don’t set unrealistic expectations for how long your kids might participate in an activity.
4. Keep the conversation going. Talk with your kids about how they’re feeling with regards to a particular activity. We can be so excited about an activity that we can’t see that our kids have moved on to the next thing. Generation Z is the most stressed out generation to date. Extracurricular activities are a major part of anxiety relief, so make sure they are having fun.
5. Surround your kids with leaders. If you want your kids to have dreams worth following, make sure they have leaders encouraging them in the right direction. Preteens are listening to all sorts of voices, from YouTube stars to social media influencers to their peers. Not all of those voices are promoting dreams you want for your kids. Be intentional about the adults who speak into their life. Be sure they’re saying what you’d say.
6. Say OUT LOUD what your kids are good at. Preteens aren’t always aware what they are good at. When you see them doing something that could translate into a dream, tell them! For example, you may see your preteen helping a younger sibling with homework. They are able to explain it in a way that the sibling is able to understand. Tell your preteen, “I noticed the way you were able to explain that concept to your sister, have you ever thought about being a teacher?”
Let’s be honest, not every single kid grows up to be a professional athlete or YouTube star. But every child does have a gift and a purpose. They need someone to clue them in to the fact that they are unique, that they should try a lot of things to find “their” special talent, and a cheerleader to encourage them to go for it!
I saw this quote from Brad Montague on Instagram: “Be who you needed when you were younger.” That exactly what your preteens need from you. You can help them discover their dreams and help them become a reality!
Are you unsure of how to move forward and support your preteens through one of life’s most challenging times? Take my Preteen Engagement Assessment, here.
Dan Scott lives outside of Atlanta, GA with his wife, Jenna, and their four kids, who range in age from 11 to 15. He is the author of Amazon bestseller, Caught In Between: Engage Your Preteens Before They Check Out, which equips church leaders to come alongside preteens and their parents to help them navigate through the preteen years.