Helping Kids Dream Without Barriers
Helping Kids Dream Without Barriers
by Amie Dean, Behavioral Consultant and Author of There’s No Dream Too Tall
Early in my teaching career, I asked one of my 9th-grade classes to write about what they wanted to do after high school – a pretty typical journal prompt in an English class. One of my students wasn’t writing, so I quietly asked him what he wanted to do. He gave me a depressing one-word answer, “Nothing.” I thought maybe I was putting too much pressure on him with the question, so I tried to make it less daunting and more fun. I asked him if he had no barriers, nothing in his way, what was his big dream? His sad, flat answer has never left me. “I don’t dream.”
How many students sit in our classrooms on a daily basis scared to dream? Focused on why they can’t, or shouldn’t, dare? I have spent my career trying to convince them otherwise. As the adults who inspire and encourage them to believe, we must help children understand that every dream, big or small, has value and a place in the world. We can guide them to find a purpose to match their passions, and then help them begin the journey toward those dreams.
A 2015 study published in The Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that “pursuing your passion both lowers stress and contributes to greater happiness overall. Researchers found that participants who engaged in hobbies were 34 percent less stressed and 18 percent less sad during the activities, as well as for some time after.” It seems our children’s happiness as they grow up and leave the nest is a top priority for many parents, yet adults are often a big unintentional barrier to the very happiness they’ve worked so hard to encourage.
In my twenties, I danced with a company that hired all sorts of dancers…jazz, hip hop, and ballet, to put on themed shows and perform at events. I met exceptionally talented, trained, and untrained, dancers through that experience. A memorable “B” boy in our troupe was one of the best dancers I had ever seen. He could dance any style, picked up every step quickly, and could perform it perfectly, in no time. He was literally born to dance. He told our group that even though it was his life’s greatest joy, he would only be doing it through college because it was an embarrassment to his family. His culture did not view dance as a respectable career choice. He gave it up and now works in finance. Let that sink in.
Where could he be now as a dancer, had he received the encouragement and belief from those he loved? Sometimes, the loudest critics are not the voices that come from the outside, but those of the people we look up to the most.
As adults who are charged with believing in, supporting, and guiding our children to find success, I hope we can evolve and see past personal hesitations and societal pressures. We are driven by wanting what is “best” or having a child’s “best” interests at heart. What if we made the effort to allow children to pursue their passions and define what fulfillment means to them?
My perfect world is one where kids dream big and believe, and the adults around them relent, relax, and allow themselves to believe, too.
3 Tips for Supporting Kids’ Dreams & Passions
- “The whole secret of a successful life is to find out what is one’s destiny to do, and then do it.” – Henry Ford. Let them say it. We’ve all heard, “kids say the darndest things.” Let them say it! They will mention many dreams they have for their future self. We can be quick to bring the reality, list of cons, and why they shouldn’t into the discussion. But what if we didn’t? To be truthful, I’m guilty of telling my own vertically challenged son he would probably not be going to the NBA. At 11, having that as a goal has driven him to spend hours practicing – time well spent! He also spent time making a list of shorter-than-average point guards throughout the history of the NBA. Well played, son.
- “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” — Walt Disney. Courage. As an adult invested in the lives of the children you love, how do you display courage? Do you model positive self-talk out loud? Or negative “I can’t do this” out loud? Be mindful of the words you say out loud when you are struggling with a task. We want kids to have the right words to say when things get tough, like “I can do hard things”, or “I’ve made it through this before!” – so they won’t give up on themselves, or their dreams, when challenges arise.
- “Behind every young child who believes in himself, there is a parent who believed first.” – Matthew L. Jacobson. Show up. The greatest thing you can do for a child is to be their biggest fan. Whenever and wherever you can, be there for them, whether it’s a play, a sporting event, or a video gaming tournament. Your presence and support form the safety net that helps them develop their own sense of self-confidence. Assure them that even if things don’t turn out the way they expected, you’ll be there.