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Try everything vs focus on a few interests By Brigitte Rozario

When they are small, children want to try their hand at everything - art, music, judo, taekwondo, singing, drama and even dance. Should parents allow them to try everything or is it better to focus on one or two interests so that they can hone their skills? If they try out everything, isn't there a risk that they will become a jack of all trades and master of none?
A clinical psychologist and a mother voice their opinions on the issue:

Selina Ding

Selina Ding, educational and clinical psychologist:
First I would look at the child's intelligence and capabilities. If this child is intelligent and he or she is capable of handling all of these multiple activities and enjoys it, then why not?
The child can become a multitasker and it's not a burden to them.
But if the child is unhappy to go for that activity, is the activity the parents' choice or the child's choice?
This is a good question. I find that nowadays kids are being sent for a lot of tuition, extra-curricular activities and enrichment classes and they see it as a chore.
But parents always say this is what the child wants.
The child may enjoy it sometimes but it's still the parents' choice and not the child's.
I wouldn't say it's not good to let children try everything but if you let them try everything you too have to try everything so that you can lessen the gap between you and them and you can understand the child better.
If your child says he or she wants to join a lot of activities, classes and clubs, then you have to look at their exam results. If their results are not good or on the decline, then you need to talk to the child. Of course, we are not results-oriented but you need to identify which are the important things to you in your life.
If time and money is limited, then the child needs to choose which activities and classes he or she really wants to focus on.
If the child wants to try everything, I would say the child does not have an identity yet. Give them a chance to try everything. Identity crisis starts at age 13 and can go on until we are 30+ or 40. Identity is important and it represents your inner self. People who have not gone through an identity crisis tend to have identity confusion. They are confused about their identity; they don't know who they are.
So you need to have an identity crisis first where you try everything before you can know who you are.
You need to ask your kids what they want. Kids know what they want. Whatever they like, they will do more of that. But if you don't give your child the opportunity to try everything, and they only study and go for tuition, I think that is very unhealthy.

Patti Tan

Patti Tan, mother of three:
I think they should try everything. Life offerings are enormous and I think it's very difficult to say to a kid, 'This is what you're interested in and stay focused.' They can't; everything will catch their attention because their attention span is so short.
If their friends are interested in something, they may be interested in it, too. And, if they have older siblings interested in something else, they may be interested in that.
If they are interested in a lot of things when they are small, let them try. Maybe after they try they will know one is harder than the other but I think you have to be realistic with your child and tell them that they are not going to play the guitar well after just two lessons.
Children also live through positivity - they like it when you tell them how wonderful and how great they are.
Let them try everything and, in a couple of years, the number of things they are interested in is going to narrow down. Then I think you have to help them. But once a kid tells you he's interested in something and makes a commitment to it, you have to help them stick to it because there are going to be days when they will want to quit.
When they want to start something we ask them if they're sure and we tell them that there will be days when they don't want to do this and we tell them that they must finish what they start. That's when they look at you very honestly and say they want to go for it. Very good, so, come rain or shine they have to go for the activity after they have committed to it.
In the beginning they don't see the rewards. For example, all my children took taekwondo and when they went from a white belt to a yellow belt to a green belt it all didn't make sense to them. They were very happy when they received a change of belt but it was only later when they got the black belt that they felt good and they felt that the journey they had to go through was worth it.
Since then, they willingly go for the activity and you don't have to fight with them in order for them to go.
I think that parents shouldn't give in or bend too early if the kids want to give up something. They might tell you that other kids don't have to go for tennis or taekwondo and other parents don't make their kids go for it but then you have to remind them that you told them from the start that they cannot start something and not finish it.
As a mother I feel sorry when they want to back out and I make them follow through on their commitment. But, I am not putting them into a dungeon. I'm developing a skill for them and I know that at the end of it, what they will have is living skills.

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