On why I make my kids do things they don’t want to do

I don’t love the idea of forcing kids to partake in an activity they aren’t thrilled about just because the parent thinks they should. I’ve watched in horror as parents forced their children onto little league fields, or as parents stood by while their toddler screamed through a ballet class, vowing that I would never be the kind of parent who would make her kid do something they clearly don’t enjoy.

And yet . . . in some ways, I am that mom.

This year I signed all three of my elementary-aged kids up for an afterschool Lego program. Against their will. None of my kids have ever really taken to Legos. I have friends who swear that their kids will spend hours making things with Legos, but despite supplying my kids with plenty of Lego kits and encouragement, they’re just not that into it. So I decided to give this 5-week class a try, just to see if anything changed. Last year they took chess after school and ended up really enjoying it, and I was hoping the results would be the same.

Just 5 weeks in, and there has been a dramatic difference. My kids are constantly playing Legos now. And the great thing about the class they took is that they are no longer interested in trying to replicate those confounding kits that are always missing pieces. They want to build their own creations. And they’re getting pretty good at it.

The funny thing is, their Lego revolution has swept the neighborhood, and all of their friends are playing Legos now, too. All because I vetoed their whining and made them do the class, they’ve discovered a passion they wouldn’t have otherwise cultivated.

I feel like this is one of those tricky aspects of parenting. I want my kids to naturally fall into their passions, but I also know that sometimes they need a gentle nudge. If I was totally hands-off my kids would probably choose video games and candy as their passion. And while those things can be fun, I want them to dig a little deeper. So, yes, I forced a Lego class, and that ended well. I forced India to do a season of basketball, and that didn’t end well. I’m also currently requiring them to take music lessons, and what started as something they whined about has turned into something they look forward to. It’s trial and error, and if it’s clear to me that something really isn’t a fit, I’m not above changing course. But I also think that sometimes, kids benefit from adults who are willing to make them stretch outside of their comfort zone.

If you have kids, how do you walk that line? Have you ever made your kids join an activity even though they didn’t want to? What was the result?