Who gets hired? Increasingly, the interesting candidate.1 Who has the more interesting life? Well, that’s easy: the interesting person.
So let’s forget about smart or creative or good for a few minutes. How do you raise an interesting child?
Here’s a five-part formula:
1. Expose your child to interesting people, places, and challenges
Hang out with your child and some of your more creative, unique, or even “off-the-wall” friends. Let your child see and absorb some of their passion, delight, and whimsy. Take your child to interesting places. Children’s museums are an obvious choice, but think about how you can get creative. If your child is super into garbage trucks, could you go visit the dump? If your child loves trains, could you find an old steam engine to climb on?
Interesting people have often overcome challenges and worked through adversity. If your child is growing up in relative privilege, don’t forget to toss in some challenges. Making dinner, earning money, doing laundry, or taking care of siblings all make us more interesting.
2. Play more!
Being interesting has a lot to do with having and pursuing passions. When you discover a passion in life, it’s a lot like the feeling of playing. Remember playing when you were five years old? You could lose yourself for hours in street games or building a fort or playing with Polly Pocket dolls.
Rediscover some of that feeling! Lose yourself in play with your child, ideally doing things you’re both interested in. Play your way through ordinary aspects of life with your child, too. Can you turn the dishes into a game? Make walking the dog an adventure? Show your child that the world is full of opportunities to explore; share surprise and laugh together.
Spend less time consuming media passively (such as watching TV solo) and more time reading and watching TV together, and more time playing board and electronic games together. Finally, your child should see you doing things you are passionately interested in, even without them. They’re learning by watching.
3. Ask and answer gazillions of questions
Curious people are interesting people, and a little curiosity tends to lead to more curiosity. Explore the world with your child by asking and answering lots of questions. Ask your child interesting questions. When you’re together, offer up interesting questions to the world, not necessarily addressing your question to anyone in particular. Try to get into back-and-forth conversations about interesting topics with your child.
4. Notice and feed your child’s passions
My parents did a great job of noticing and feeding my passions. After I got interested in astronomy as a kid, they helped me find a class at Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh near where we lived, and a few years later, I had built my own telescope.
Watch your child carefully for signs they are interested in something. When you see those signs, feed that interest some more. Buy a book, go to a show, buy something affordable, help them enroll in a class. Whatever works.
As they get more interested, however, you want to …
5. Give your child freedom and get out of the way
Don’t forget this last, crucial step. Your child is in charge of their interests, and they will become interesting on their own time. Let them follow their interests, almost no matter what they are.
Help your child develop the habit of exploring and making their own way in the world by giving them more freedom. Let them take the bus alone, maybe before you are feeling ready to see them do that. Let them be responsible for their own projects and gifts and relationships.
As they get older and more involved in their interests, roadblocks are less important to remove, and they may even be constructive. A friend of mine tells an amazing story: When he was young, he was a member of a large family. Car insurance was expensive, so the kids were not allowed to drive until they were 18. But there was no rule against flying. He earned enough money to pay for flying lessons himself, and he rode his bike to the local airport to take those flying lessons. He got his pilot’s license at age 16.
Now he’s a very interesting adult!
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