As parents we delight in our child’s interest in taking lessons of some sort. Music lessons such as playing the piano or the guitar tickle us.It is almost impossible to back off.

We forget it’s okay to encourage our child when she shows an interest, but not to coerce. This is where observing our child pays off. We avoid the mistake of forcing her by refusing to recognize the signs when it isn’t working.

This is exactly what happened to the well-known writer Stephen King when his son Owen was about seven. Owen decided he wanted to learn to play like the sax player in Bruce Springsteen’s band.

Stephen King was delighted by this ambition. Like every parent, he was hopeful that his son would turn out to be talented. Heck, even some sort of a prodigy.

Seven months later, King suddenly decided to stop the lessons even though his son was diligent about the lessons and rehearsal. Why did he come to this decision?

“there was never going to be any real playtime; it was all going to be a rehearsal. That’s no good. If there is no joy in it, it’s just no good. It’s best to go on to some other area, where the deposits of talent may be richer and the fun quotient higher.”

Does this strike some kind of nerve here? The truth is when something feels like work, it’s best to stop. It has to feel like the playground for a child to do his best or to learn something.

Sometimes we even foist our own thwarted dreams on our children. Or if we are honest, it may even be what we ourselves want for them for some reason. A quote from a previous blog is a good reminder:

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shares this memory with us in his autobiographical book, Common Ground:

“My mother insisted on broadening our horizons in other directions. When I was six years old, she enrolled me in a ballet class . . . I hated the whole idea and rebelled at being dragged to ballet class until the day my mother was forced to literally pull me through the door of 24 Sussex while I kicked and screamed.”

When it comes to hobbies and interests, it pays to step back. As hard as it is, we have to take the time to listen to what our child is saying and to observe. Often it only comes across in facial gestures or body language.

Sheila G, Flaxman, an educator with 35 years of experience working with young children, has the last word:

…Play involves a free choice that is a nonliteral, self-motivated, enjoyable process.

“Nonliteral” is, by definition, not realistic. This means that the external aspects of time, use of materials, environment, rules of the activity, and roles of the participants are all made up by the children playing. They are all based on the child’s sense of reality. Children engage in play because they enjoy it—it’s self-directed. Once they get bored, they will no longer play, or will change their play. They do not play for rewards—they play because they like it. They enjoy the activity of play and not the product.

What Happened to Play?

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