When we first had children, we wanted to get them involved with skiing, but wondered how we could pass our love of the sport along to them. After all, how do you explain to any beginner that spending most of the day trying (with some, but not much, success) will indeed pay off when they’re experts? How do you explain to them that this learning process will take not just days or weeks but years to master? How do you convince them that the fun and excitement to be had will make them feel fully alive like nothing else on Earth? There are several key concepts that can help you encourage your children to love what you love and they can be applied to any sport, hobby or whatever you are passionate about. Here, we’re using skiing as an example, but these same concepts can be used to help share YOUR passion with your children. Here’s how to inspire children…
#1 – Make it fun. Your children are beginners and don’t yet know the fun that awaits them up on top of the mountain. We need to make the shuffling on flat beginner terrain – actually the whole experience- fun for them. If that includes time spent climbing piles of snow outside the lodge and then sliding down on cafeteria trays, let them. True, the cost per run ratio is pretty poor at that moment, but you are allowing them to find joy in simply being on the hill. It will come, in good time, that they’ll find as much joy actually doing the sport. At this early stage, shoot for a fun experience.
#2 – Have patience and understanding for your child’s developmental stage. Starting around age 18 months, children are working on exploring their world. Their task at this stage is trying something, maybe succeeding or failing, looking for whether you are around and paying attention, and then trying again. Expect any new activity to be touch and go. Their behavior will not be goal directed: they are simply exploring and curious about what the outcome may be. You may plan to get a certain number of runs in, but for kids this age, that’s not where their brain is at.
Later, during early childhood, they want to emulate you. Be the model for what you’d like them to become. If you’re on a snowboard, don’t be surprised when they say they want to do that. On the other hand, if you drop them off at the base lodge, then drive into town for a big breakfast and shopping, they’ll ask to go. So, be aware of what you’re modeling for your kids because surely they’ll want to do that too.
One thing that is consistent throughout all developmental stages is their wish for your attention and approval, no matter whether they’re ‘succeeding’ or not. Our children desperately want us to notice them and be pleased by their exploration and emulation of us. Be ‘around’ for them, notice them, and delight in whichever developmental stage they’re at.
#3 – Watch your language. I’m not talking about swearing. Notice what you say about skiing, whether your comments be related to the gear, the weather, the traveling, the expense, or the terrain. Kids listen to everything we say, even when it seems as if they’re not. Over time, our way of thinking becomes theirs, especially at the younger ages. The reason is that neuropathways are being created in a child’s developing brain. When they hear, or see, the same behavior from us again and again, their brains ‘learn’ this way of thinking. So, if we complain again and again about carrying all the heavy gear, eventually they will too.
#4 – No matter how technical your ability is, have a professional teach your kids. This was a difficult one for us. We’ve been skiing for years; we know how to carry our skis properly, stand up from falling, initiate turns, et cetera. The expense of hiring someone else to teach what we were perfectly capable of teaching was a hard pill to swallow. What we weren’t capable of doing was keeping our emotions under control. Most kids act differently (read: better) for most anyone who is not their parent. Teaching our own loved ones can be exasperating. One moment things are fine and next thing you know, you’re one of those parents you swore you’d never be: yelling at your kids on the slopes. Now, no one’s having fun AND you’re paying for this whole miserable experience! Delegate the teaching, no matter how proficient you are, to a neutral 3rd party instructor (who, by the way, is also an expert at dealing with young children’s antics.)
#5 – Go to places that cater to young children. It’s not about you anymore. We chose a smaller hill as our home mountain when we moved the family back East because of their excellent children’s programs, not because of the mountain’s acreage or vertical rise.
#6 – Connect your children with other kids doing the same activity. It’s not realistic to think that any kid over the age of 8 would want to ski with their parents. They’d rather be with friends (which is developmentally normal). Whether you sign them up for ski school with their friend OR you find a season-long program where they ski with the same kids and the same coach every day, have them be with their peers. Skiing, like most sports, is a social endeavor as much as an athletic one. They’ll be so much more eager to go there when they have social connections on the hill.
You can inspire your children to love your sport or hobby as much as you do. But it takes countless instances of you being understanding of their developmental needs and setting them up for success. Becoming proficient at a new activity or hobby can take many years. When they develop a love for it, the reward will pay off for them for decades. And, one day they will want to ski with you again -perhaps when they become parents themselves and can appreciate all the hard work and investment you gave to get them there. And if you see them doing the same things for their own children that you once did for them, you’ll know that you did, indeed, inspire them.
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