“I’m going to start a car washing business this summer!” “I’m writing a graphic novel that will be a science fiction version of the Odyssey!” “I raised money for a girls’ school in Iraq!””
“Let’s get some beer and meet in the park!” “Let’s skip class so we can skateboard on our new half-pipe!” “Everybody loves the photo of you in your underwear that I posted on my Facebook wall!”
All of these scenarios involve zeal. By “zeal”, I mean energy directed toward a rewarding experience, which may be associated with a particular goal beyond the experience itself—or not. Of course, parents would prefer their children personify the first cluster of examples, and prudently avoid the second.
Oh, and by the way—the kids in the first cluster? They are the same ones as those in the second cluster, respectively. Zeal in a child doesn’t always get directed to both good and bad ends—just usually. We all know straight-arrow kids who are uncomfortable with anything but painting within the lines and directing their laser-like attentions toward lofty goals, like a chess championship or winning state in the butterfly stroke.
But most kids are like garden hoses. They flail around with their flow of energy and focus, drawn to learning juggling from YouTube one day, re-reading Calvin and Hobbes for the umpteenth time the next day, and daring to write a poem to a new love interest the next.
Daniel Goleman included zeal as one of the facets of emotional intelligence. Along with a pile of other strengths, kids with a lot of zeal can turn into some of our most spectacular star performers. Zeal is the intense drive that entrepreneurs demonstrate on their path to success. But as many a mother has said, “I know Janie will be successful someday—with all her high-voltage enthusiasm—but first she has to live through her childhood…and so do I!”
Here are the questions parents typically ask me about zeal:
• How do I control the bad kind of zeal (e.g. rule-breaking, acting up in class, dominating siblings) while trying to encourage the good kind (e.g. trying new hobbies, positive leadership and working hard in school)?
• How do I know if I’m stifling my child’s natural zeal with over-scheduling?
• How do I help my child direct her zeal in productive ways so she can find her passion? Continue reading