Recently, our six-year-old son has started commenting that he isn’t very good at specific things. On the list so far are football, drawing, and art in general. He is unemotional when he says this; he’s just stating what he considers as a fact. And each time, I ask him this question: do you enjoy it?
I wonder when it is that we start culling the list of potential activities we could engage in because we don’t think we are very good at them? I can empathise with my son because I have a hell of a lot of activities on my not-good-at-it list. Most of these I decided were not worth investing my time in as a child. But now I’m wondering why, because many of them I actually enjoyed.
Strangely enough, my son’s decision to limit his potential coincided with me rediscovering a number of pastimes I have long believed do not play to my strengths. Because of this, I’m looking back at my own childhood and wondering why I stopped doing stuff that I enjoyed because I thought I wasn’t good at it.
Is being good at something really the only metric we should value? And where does this message come from? Are we spending too much time telling children what they are good and not good at?
I want my son to believe that he can do anything he wants to do, yet I didn’t believe that myself. I have always thought I am no good at sports – but as a child, I enjoyed dancing, trampolining, horse riding, open-water swimming, hockey, and football. As an adult, I have recently discovered a love for yoga, running, swimming, and hiking. Whether I am ‘good’ at these things does not affect my enjoyment of them.
Sometimes there is a fortunate overlap. Our son is excellent at maths; he also really enjoys calculations and working with numbers. I pick up languages quickly; I also love travelling and using translation skills. But often the stuff we are told (or tell ourselves) we are not good at, we still want to do. I am never going to be a rock star, but I love belting out songs in the car or the shower!
More than anything else, I want our children to explore all sorts of activities, valuing those they enjoy rather than being limited to those they are ‘good’ at. I don’t want them to be pigeonholed, or to pigeonhole themselves. And because of that, I will keep asking them the question: but do you enjoy it?