What’s the number one question we always ask kids? What do you want to be when you grow up? But there is a better question to be asking our kids, one that helps them figure out who they are, what they care about, and ultimately, what they want to pursue in the future.
That question is what we call the “ING” (or I-N-G) question. What do you like doing? What captures your attention and brings you joy? That’s our kids’ ING—cookING, dancING, drawING, jumpING. Or even buildING, explorING, leadING. When a kid focuses on their INGs they’re finding out what’s unique about themselves.
Interest is a powerful motivational process that energizes learning and guides the direction of academic and career success. It’s the first step on the path toward finding purpose.
Purpose is one of the top three habits (along with Curiosity and Self-direction) named by Dr. Brooke Stafford-Brizard and Turnaround for Children that set kids up for success in school and in life. It is an essential skill that helps people of all ages pursue interests, develop other new skills, find meaning, and contribute to the world around them.
Additionally, research shows that learning is promoted with increased attention and engagement when a kid is interested in a specific topic. If a kid enjoys exploring something, they’ll want to dig in more deeply. There are four phases to interest development:
- Triggered Situational Interest: A kid is intrigued by something that’s new to them
- Maintained Situational Interest: Their interest in the thing feels meaningful and valuable.
- Emerging (Less-developed) Individual Interest: Repeating the experience triggers continued interest which makes it personal.
- Well-developed Individual Interest: The interest becomes self-sustaining and personally satisfying.
Download the INGs parenting tool below to dig into what your kid enjoys doing.
- When you see a spark of excitement or wonder, or experience a burst of energy, chase it with your kids. Ask them, “What are the ‘INGs’ of what you liked about it?” Share with them your observations about how they respond to certain activities and ask if they agree. Record these INGs and you’re starting a list of activities and interests they already have. It may surprise them just how many there are!
- Now, dig deeper. Ask them what it is about the activity that they especially enjoy. Get specific. For a kid who likes cookING, what’s the ING they like best? Is it planning, following a recipe, or improvising? Record their responses and you and your kid will see a pattern develop as more and more INGs are added.
- How about what they don’t like about their ING? Ask them to explain what it is that they don’t like. Maybe they can reframe that part of the activity into something they’ll learn to enjoy.
Find an interesting way to display your kid’s list of INGs. Word cloud? Chart? Collage? Or set up a whiteboard in a prominent place and encourage them to add more INGs as they come to mind.
Hear Diane Tavenner, the author of Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life, discuss how kids can discover their INGs on Betsy Jewell’s High School Hamster Wheel podcast.