Anchor your preteen with activities

It’s hard to be a preteen. Innate confidence is often silenced by internal questions like, “Am I good enough, cool enough, or funny enough?” This awakened desire to be liked and accepted can rattle even the most assured kids to their core, filling them with self doubt and worry. Having something solid to hold on to during these challenging years helps steady the ship. By helping your older elementary-aged kids identify talents and discover passions, you create an anchor to steady them as they navigate their journey into young adulthood.

Tailor activities to fit your child

Being good at something and enjoying it helps define who we are, so helping your child find what fits is crucial. You know your child best—how they move in the world, interact with others and what types of activities they enjoy the most. Give a push toward activities that fit your child’s personality. In general, kids who tend to be gung ho extroverts might like competitive sports and games, while introverts might enjoy crafts, knitting, cooking or writing more.

Honoring who your child is and catering to his or her preferences will help define new passions and uncover hidden talents. Yet, don’t shy away from suggesting that your kids try something new. A good place to start is to look at what they currently enjoy and suggesting something similar—does she like singing? Introduce an instrument or see if she wants to join a choir. Does he like kayaking? Try paddle boarding.

“The pending summer is an opportune time to assess what new activities or interests your child may want to pursue,” says Andrea Holt, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Poudre Valley Health System’s Family Medicine Center.

Listen, watch and observe

Your child leaves you clues about what they are interested in all of the time. Listen for your preteen to utter the words “cool” or “awesome”, then follow up with a few pointed questions. Maybe you are watching a movie and a skateboarder does a great trick, or someone is hiking Everest and they light up. Make a mental note to offer a class or introduce a relatable alternative.

Another way to identify interests and aptitudes is looking for new concepts that spark interest. Visit a toy store and see what toys draw their attention. If they like puzzles and mind challenging games, foster those interests and introduce new ones, like doing crossword puzzles. Check out books on careers that demand strong math skills, like engineering. If they love animals, ask if they want to volunteer at the animal shelter with you. For older teens, set up an informational interview with a vet. It’s never too early to make connections between what a child likes and how that skill and interest applies to the real world.

Expose kids to new activities 

Discovery is all about exposure. What if your child has an uncovered talent for playing the guitar, painting with watercolors or playing frisbee golf? With a little effort and a small investment, you can set your kids up to explore new activities.

One way to do this is to set up “stations” in your home or in your yard. It’s a preschool concept that you can apply at home. Dig a card table out of the garage, cover it in an old sheet or newspaper, and deem it the art center. Buy a variety of art supplies including brushes, various paints, crayons, pencils, poster board, paper, etc. Check out art books from the library to provide education and inspiration. In the back yard, set up a putting hole, corn hole game, croquet set and other yard games to inspire physical fun and abilities. In the garage for older kids, have wood and nails for a bit of supervised woodworking. You get the idea—and the ideas are endless. If you are at a loss, search the internet and take advantage of the varieties of classes and activities offered by your city or county.

Think outside the team sports box

It’s easy to let popular culture dominate when it comes to introducing new sports in your kids’ lives, but don’t forget about the lesser known individual sports, which help kids develop skills that don’t rely on a teammate, building inner confidence. In an individual sport, like gymnastics, kids learn to set goals to achieve a skill. Often, it is a step-by-step process. First they learn a solid cartwheel, then a roundup, then a handspring. Learning to set and reach goals is a main ingredient in success throughout life.

Individual sports build self-reliance. “Individual sports teach kids to count on themselves. They quickly realize that the amount of work they put in is directly related to how much they learn and achieve. This isn’t so obvious on a team,” Holt says.

The beauty of individual sports is that they can be tailored to a person’s strengths and attributes, making success more attainable. If a child has strong thighs and long legs, he might be a good hurdle jumper or sprinter in track. If another is meticulous, contemplative, and good at reaching goals, she might succeed at martial arts.

Another bonus is that with team sports, very few people continue to play beyond 17 or 18 years of age. Only two percent of kids in team sports go on to play in college, but with an individual sport, you have more of a lifetime activity, simply because it doesn’t take a whole lot of organizing to maintain it.

Ideas for out-of-the-ordinary individual sports include archery, climbing, dance, figure skating, golf, biking, gymnastics, horseback riding, martial arts, skateboarding, running, swimming, tennis, yoga, Pilates, and more.

Having an anchor or two—something your kids can hang on to that reminds them of their self-worth—is incredibly valuable in keeping preteens from going astray during crucial middle school years. The more things they can point to and say, “this defines me,” the steadier their course will be as they sail into young adulthood.