Brainy Parenting

What do you do when your ten-year-old quits every activity you enroll him in, just when he’s starting to get good, and it starts to take effort?Click To Tweet We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast, Should I Be Concerned About My Son’s Lack Of Interests?

Today we’re hearing from Nikita from Mumbai, India. And Nikita writes:

Hi Neil,I came across your website while searching for the topic - when should I be concerned about my kid’s lack of interest? I have a 10 year old kid with whom I believe I am at the start of the Parent Kid control battle that you mention in your article dated 2018, "All Kids Have Passion — Yes, Even Yours!" .  In this article, William is 18 yrs old and has developed apathy over a period of time. Just as William is in this article, my son is highly bright. But won’t push himself. The cause of which I feel is he is not challenged enough. He loves coding and spends most time playing games (sometimes making games or learning to make websites).I try putting him in various activities to test out his interests.. but we've struggled to get him to complete any activity that he starts; he leaves an activity as soon as he faces a challenge. He is a fast learner.. so reaches stage 2 of 3 pretty quickly for anything, but then he leaves it. He does not want to continue doing any extra-curricular activities. If challenged, he does not even feel compelled to fight for his laptop time or game time.. he will give up and start reading a book or watching tv with his grandparents.I am a bit worried that he does not make an effort to find his passion or pick up something that he would like to stick with. And due to this I think I am entering into the parent kid control battle that you mentioned. Can you guide me on how I can avoid it? Thank you very much for taking time to read this.Regards, Nikita

Now to Nikita’s question:

Nikita, it’s terrific that you are looking to address this before your Control Battle gets set in stone. Because you are looking to make changes early, there will be greater flexibility in the pattern of your relationship with your son and greater flexibility within your son.  Good job!  

Yes indeed, your son sounds quite gifted and not typical in his social tendencies and interests.  And with kids who are not typical, it’s easy to get worried and get into control battles trying to get them to act more typically.  

Clearly Nikita, your son does have a passion; computer programming and he’s quite advanced in that area.  Here is a truism to keep close; we will be successful in life using our strengths, our gifts, not our weaknesses.  So over focusing on our weaknesses will lead to frustration and a lack of self-efficacy or belief in our abilities.  We do need to improve in our areas of weakness so that in life, they don’t undermine our ability to use our strengths. But we don’t want to over focus on them and make ourselves feel inadequate. 

The way forward with your son is to celebrate his gifts.  Nikita I’m not privy to all the dynamics of your family and how it is impacting your son, but here are a few ideas based on the one simple principle, investing in strengths that could provide a path forward.  

First of all, have faith in your son.  He is gifted and interested in an area that will make him very employable.  If your son loved soccer, or as you call it, football and he wanted to play soccer all the time and not do homework or anything else, he’d have a poor chance of converting that directly into employment.  Being passionate and competitive are good qualities that will be helpful, but chances are against him being a professional soccer player.  Your son, on the other hand, will easily work in the field of computer engineering.  

You say your son picks up the basic skills of most activities easily, but when he gets to the point of needing to challenge himself, he doesn’t want to continue.  I believe you’re talking about physical activities.  It may be that he doesn’t have a terribly social nature and that he doesn’t tend to be competitive.  And while he is interested and shows initiative and talent with computer programming skills, he may simply not be used to doing hard things.  I know you would like him to be part of a group that shares an activity or interest.  Yes, socialization is important, but not his favorite thing or interest.  



Here’s an idea. If you connect with the leadership of an activity, perhaps they could ask your son to design a website for the activity or even a way to track stats or create a game based on the activity.  That way he’ll be involved with the group, give him a role to play based on his strengths and he will be helping others out.  

Nikita, does his school know that he is underchallenged?  Can they give him some more individualized work based on his interest in coding, math or even music?

I wonder if music is one of the areas that you’ve exposed him to.  Learning to read and play music has similarities to coding and math. Given that he is most likely already resistant to anything you suggest, could the school get him involved in playing in a school band or orchestra?  If they recruited him, it could work out.  Younger grades in the US rarely have a real band or orchestra but often they do have some music program that will do an end-of-year performance.  If they get him started and spurred him on, he could start at the next level. I’m imagining that piano or keyboard would be best for jazz band or orchestra and would fit his technical mind.  

Could your son create a game that he teaches his fellow students to play?  What I’m trying to do here is use your son’s strengths to be his calling card to socialization. 

So Nikita, here is what you can do.  Clearly, you love your son and want what’s best for him. Otherwise, why would you be emailing a therapist halfway around the world?  Stop worrying and start enjoying yourself. 

Your son is gifted and talented and not typical. Rather than trying to change him, celebrate him, and let others celebrate him, enjoy him and be confident, curious and pleased by who he is.Click To Tweet  Yes, he needs to participate in activities with peers, but being “one of the guys” or challenging himself in an area that doesn’t excite him is not important. Challenge and recognition in his areas of strength may just be the ticket.   

Nikita, one more thing I’d advise, and once again, I don’t know your situation or your son well so this may or may not fit. 

On an outing with your son, maybe going out for some food together, have a talk with him about all this.  Not the directive style of “you need to push yourself.”  But the loving, guiding parent style of “I have something to share with you.  

You are extremely gifted, and many things come easily to you. I hope that you appreciate just how special that is and how special you truly are. I want you to know how special I think you are. 

I would like to caution you about one thing though. Many gifted kids grow up without growing themselves and don’t achieve as much happiness and success as they could. In fact, many grow up without finding happiness and only limited success. That’s because they get so used to things being easy, that if something is hard, they don’t know how to deal with it.  They don’t know how to deal with hard things, difficult challenges. School for these kids, kids like you, can be too easy and not challenging enough.  

So that’s why I push you sometimes. I want you to challenge yourself. I realize though that challenging you, pushing you, is creating stress in our relationship and that’s the last thing I want. I want you to know how much I love you and enjoy you.  I’d like us to work together to help you learn to deal with hard things, challenging things. Once you get used to it, hard challenging things can be exciting and stimulating; even fun.”

Then see what your son says and go from there.  Maybe that’s a time to introduce music or something else.  Then when you want him to stick with something, you have a premise to go on, to build on.  When he gets too hard and wants to quit, you can say, “Great!! This is a chance for you to learn to do hard and challenging things.  You’re so gifted that these times are hard to find.  Let’s give it a try.” Then if he pushes himself even a bit farther than he usually would, celebrate it with him.

So, parents, therapists and family helpers of every kind.  Kids have different profiles, areas of strength and areas of relative weakness. 

It seems like highly gifted kids along with the high peaks of their strengths are some low valleys of areas of weakness.Click To Tweet  Not to worry.  Stay with the strengths and use those to modify areas of relative weakness or what we might call areas of opportunity.  

That way, we don’t injure self-esteem and confidence as we support overall growth and development. Oh yes and let’s not forget the final thing; talk with them, tell them the truth, and talk with them like they are reasonable human beings. Let them know where you are coming from.

Being honest and real never hurts.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in today listeners and our thanks to you Nikita for sharing your question with us from the other side of the Pacific Ocean.  It’s truly gratifying to have listeners all across the globe. But wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, please make time for you. This parenting business ain’t easy.  And besides, you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.  Bye for now.

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This post first appeared on Neil D. Brown.