Mastery over Something Will Help Your Child (and You)

By Abby Bordner

When my son was three years old he was obsessed with fire trucks. Well, anything related to fire fighting and rescue missions, for that matter. We pretended, watched videos, read books, discussed, dressed up in costumes and poured ourselves into the topic. At one point I asked my mother (a respected early childhood educator) if I should veer his interests toward a more diverse range of topics.

Her enthusiastic response was, “No!” Within the context of a topic he was passionate about, he was learning math, science and history as well as social, emotional situations that require swift and decisive action. By leveraging his interest in the topic, I could help him learn some valuable information, not the least of which is the love of learning.

thriving, learning, connected

Happy Boy Jumping – photo courtesy freedigitalphoto.com

Fast forward to my son at age 11. He loves video games, isn’t too communicative and seems a bit indifferent about everything. I worry that this is the beginning of the teen years; children who are hard to connect with, don’t care about much and don’t fill us parents in on their lives. I wanted to draw him out again, see him thriving and interested in learning and connecting about a topic he was passionate about. But what?

Every night after we brushed our teeth, my son would ask me to have a “tickle war” with him. I’ll be honest, I don’t love wrestling with my son (in the guise of ticking) and eventually being pinned by him. But I do it when I’m feeling generous because he really wants me to and frankly, he doesn’t ask me to do much with him.

Soon after, we passed a jujitsu studio and saw a room full of sweaty boys and men, wrestling and learning cool moves to trap, dominate and rein over your partner (or be the one tapping out).  My son perks up and stops to watch. So, I enroll him in jujitsu to engage him in something that really interests him. Granted, it’s not something I’m interested in. There was a time when I thought I could steer his interests toward things I like, but that was before construction vehicles, guns, military and wrestling. So off to jujitsu, a sweaty fighting sport where my son was either going to get pinned or dominate (and probably some of both because he’d have many different grappling partners).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that everyone go sign up for jujitsu. But we learned a lot from my son’s six months of doing jujitsu. I learned to follow his lead about his interests and take an active role in getting him involved. In fact, it’s critical at this age to learn mastery over something. When I say mastery what I’m really saying is to just know more and have more skill than the average person. Children gain so much when there’s something (anything!) that they feel proficient or above average in. When they dedicate time and effort to something they care about there are so many embedded lessons that benefit their character. It could be chess or sports, skateboarding or sewing. It doesn’t matter.

My son learned the confidence he needed to speak up for himself and also the humility that proves he’s not invincible (he got pinned a fair amount). He learned to be decisive in a split second and some kick ass moves that helped him know he could get out of a threatening situation. He came out of his shell more and learned some important lessons that helped on the road to teenager-hood.

And equally important, I learned a few things myself. My son’s interests are different from mine yet it’s my responsibility to tune in. I can’t go wrong if I take the momentum of his sincere interests and seek out a learning experience for him. It doesn’t have to be something I like or even know anything about. We can find the teacher. And when I do, we both benefit. I learn more about what he’s capable of and how to connect with him as he gets older. And he stays connected to his love of learning.

What interests do your children have that you had never considered before you became a parent?

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Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)


  1. Denny Coates
    2 years ago

    I loved this story. Martial arts training can be a huge character-building experience if the teacher is focused on this. And this is quite the opposite of video games, because it’s real and physical. I recommend Dr. Victoria Dunckley’s Reset Your Child’s Brain. You’ll discover the horrible impacts of video games on teen gamers’ brains. Best case scenario – your child loses interest in video games. Good luck.


    • Abby Bordner
      2 years ago

      Thanks, Denny. I’ll check out Dr. Dunckley’s work. I’ve been very impressed with the martial arts my kids have tried. Yes! Good luck to parents of teens, right?!