How Parents Can Encourage Kids to Follow Their Interests Without Being Pushy

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When a child develops an interest, it can be easy for parents to want to them excel in it, but it's important to draw a distinction between healthy encouragement and pressure to succeed.

Whether its academics, sports or more creative hobbies, it's a positive sign when a child shows an interest in — and even an aptitude for — something. But all too often, parents fall into the trap of pushing their kids to seek achievement, rather than simply letting them enjoy their interests.

It's been established that this kind of "pushy" parenting, focused on success, can have detrimental effects on a child's well-being in the long term.

A 2016 study by Arizona State University on sixth graders found that the pressure that parents put on kids over their grades and their extracurricular activities could actually hinder them from becoming "well-adjusted and successful in later life."

The study also found that, paradoxically, the children of parents who focused more on achievement than on qualities like compassion and decency actually had lower grades.

Suniya Luthar, one of the authors of the study, said that encouraging kids to focus "too much on external validations (such as grades and extra-curricular honors) for their sense of self-worth can lead to greater insecurity, anxiety and overall distress."

Indeed, University of Kent professor Ellie Lee told CNBC on a phone call that there could sometimes be a misconception that parents have to "shape this child to become this particular type of person, who's fantastic, [and] a lot of it really isn't up to you."

Follow your own interests

Lee, who is the director for the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, said that one of the best ways to encourage children to pursue something they like without putting pressure on them, was for parents to ensure they had their own interests too.

She said people can almost "drop their prior self" and stop doing what interests them when they become parents.

Lee acknowledged that while having children does "change your life completely," it's still important for parents to have their own hobbies.

"I think the thing that's most likely to influence children and get them really interested in something is basically [seeing] people who quite genuinely are doing things they're interested in," she said.

Lee said that seeing parents put in time and effort into something they're interested in may help children appreciate the amount of commitment it takes to become skilled at a particular activity.

Listen and observe

Senior child and adolescent educational psychologist Melernie Meheux told CNBC on a phone call that it's important for parents to listen to and observe children in order to find out what they're interested in.

"I would always give kind feedback, if you want to encourage and motivate, sort of noticing what they do well, and not being too critical," said Meheux, who works as an academic tutor at the University College London Institute of Education.

In addition, she recommended that parents enable children to become "self-directed" by letting them figure out what they like for themselves through play or by trying a range of different activities.

Letting kids discover what they enjoy doing for themselves, combined with kind encouragement, is better for their overall mental health and emotional regulation, Meheux said.

"When children are relaxed and happy and content, they learn more, so actually the benefits to play and engaging in something that you like outweigh perhaps encouraging children to do things that they're not so good at," she said.

At the same time, Meheux acknowledged that many parents have good intentions for their kids and that they may sometimes simply be "misguided" in their efforts to encourage kids to pursue a certain hobby.

Check out: Why manners matter: Top tips for raising kind kids

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