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Nurturing Your Child's Passion Without Becoming a Dreadful Stage Mom

05/30/2012 10:57 am ET | Updated Jul 30, 2012

Sheryl Berk never imagined one of her daughter's sleepovers would eventually inspire a collaborative project and published book, but that's exactly what happened. It's all thanks to Sheryl's simple mom philosophy: "Just follow your kids lead."

For many moms, finding the delicate balance between encouraging your child without overly pushing them and turning yourself into the iconic, nightmarish stage mom in the process is a tough one. There's clearly a fine line parent's walk when they want to strongly encourage their kid's talents but not overly pressure them or burn them out. The goal, after all, is not to get your child to rebel or hate you, and ultimately themselves, but to challenge and inspire them so they can eventually accomplish their goals and dreams.

Parents want to expose children to all of the possibilities available to them. Now granted, sometimes this means forcing them to do things they don't want to do. But if forcing is the primary feeling you're getting when parenting your kid, you're definitely on the wrong path. Forcing or pushing is very different conceptually from encouraging. Pushing is about enforcing goals you've set for your child. It often involves sending the message to them that they have no choices and are trapped. And who wants that? Forcing or trapping only encourages kids to feel resentful and angry, but more importantly, it's a parental strategy which just doesn't work!

"Stage moms frightened me. I don't want to see my kid not be a kid." Sheryl tells me during our morning interview. For her, it was about listening to what her daughter, Carrie, was passionate about. In her daughter's case, her passion was cupcakes. Carrie seemed to have this natural affinity for both critiquing and of course eating cupcakes. What initially started out as Carrie's monthly newsletter turned Carrie's Cupcake Critique blog, became an accepted book proposal about new friends and a cupcake club. The book, Peace, Love and Cupcakes, co-written by Sheryl and Carrie Berk (published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) is now available so everyone can share in Carrie's cupcake passions and adventures. Sheryl says as long as Carrie is having fun and growing as a person she's thrilled. "I've seen her confidence and sense of pride in herself increase," says Berk. But she's also aware Carrie's passions for cupcakes might shift and change, and that's fine by her, too. Sheryl believes, "Your child has to have a voice."

Perhaps this is the fundamental difference between forcing and encouraging your child's abilities and listening to and respecting what they have to say. What's the proper approach for parents out there who want to encourage their kid's talents, and maybe even push a bit, without going overboard?

Here are some successful parental strategies:

1) When you see your child is interested in something, gently bring these opportunities their way.

2) Encourage your child to play and have fun in the areas which interest them. Not everything has to be so serious.

3) Let your child's school and teachers know about your kid's passions and work collaboratively to make sure these strengths get intellectually nurtured.

4) Find a mentor in your family or community who can help your child develop their abilities.

5) Praise the process not the product, and let your child know they are loved for who they are.

6) Give your child choices and don't force them to stick with something they no longer like.

7) And finally, if you have to push a little, remember to help your child understand his own reasons for why something is important.