My husband and I were growing curious about our daughter’s ‘sudden disinterest’ in playing soccer with her friends. Inaya played in a league for two seasons and never once complained about going to practice or a game. In fact, quite the opposite: she always anticipated games with excitement and came back from practices, flushed and happy. We’ve gone down to the park as a family and with neighbours and have always popped up the soccer nets and played friendly games. She’s never one to sit them out. But lately I’ve noticed that when given a choice at recess and lunch she will most often choose solitary play (playground equipment) or will play with 1 or 2 other girls, and less often she’ll join her friends in a game of soccer.

After school, when there’s an opportunity for her to play soccer with her friends, she’ll instead choose to have a playdate or to come home and read, or play with her siblings.

A few days ago, my husband and I questioned her about this:

Do you not like soccer anymore?

Is there someone who plays that you aren’t comfortable being around?

Are you invited to play?

Do you invite yourself to play?

What’s wrong?

Basically, I went into Mom mode (a.k.a. detective mode) and tried to find a ‘problem’. The more questions I asked the more confused she looked and the less she wanted to talk. A couple days later, another mom observed that Inaya doesn’t join in with the other kids, who are all her friends, when everyone is playing soccer. I felt something familiar makes it way through my body and I realized that I was going about this whole thing the wrong way.

When we got home from school, I asked Inaya if she’d like to play a game with me. I was kind of winging it, but also drawing on a mini self-discovery book I had made for a workshop for pre-teens.

On a piece of paper, I had her list everything she was good at. She filled the entire page and I actually had to ask her if we could move on to the next question (I was feeling impatient – I was still trying to figure something out…). She was satisfied when I said she could go back to that question and keep writing everything she was good at. (By the way, when I’ve done this with adults, it’s been a quick exercise! Kids are often so much better at knowing their awesomeness).

On another page I asked her to list all the things she thinks are fun. Playing with friends was on there. So was soccer.

But the most telling exercise was when I asked her to divide a circle that represented ‘play time’ into: How much time do I like to spend alone or with 1 friend, and how much time do I like to spend in a group of friends. She coloured 3/4 of the circle blue, which signified the former. The remaining 1/4 was orange – the amount of time she liked to be in a group setting.

So, really, Inaya choosing other activities had more to do with her knowing what she wanted and being true to herself.

Being authentic.

Six hours of being in school can be energetically-taxing on an introvert, especially when classes often do a lot of ‘pair-shares’, working in partners or even have desks set up as groups. She was just chilling when she needed to, and is happy as a clam doing it.

Ha – even though I think/write/speak about authenticity a lot, when I went into Mom mode I occupied a space of ingrained beliefs that I thought I had shed for myself. I guess when it came to my kids, I was still holding on to the beliefs that they had to be like the other kids, or be liked by them, or be perceived by the other parents as well-adjusted and happy…according to someone else’s definition.

On her 4th birthday, Inaya fell in love with this skirt and I fell more in love with her.

On her 4th birthday, Inaya fell in love with this skirt and I fell more in love with her.

The message I was initially giving Inaya by suggesting she choose soccer more than she normally would was, “Sometimes you have to do what the other kids are doing, just to be social.”

Um…that could really turn around and bite me in the butt, couldn’t it? Like at a party in her teen years? Oh my gosh, let’s not talk about that yet.

By the end of the game, which she loved doing, she said to me, “That was really fun. It helped me say things that I didn’t know how to say.” (In particular about how she would like to divide her play time).

We have a lot to learn from these kids – let’s help them express their messages, and most importantly, let’s pay attention to the ways they are already doing that!

She can get lost in activities like this one - designing outfits and choosing accessories.

She can get lost in activities like this one – designing outfits and choosing accessories.

Inaya and I are working on a little something for you – a self-discovery game that you can work through with your kids so that you can learn what makes them tick. Her name is definitely going on it as co-creator because, as she put it, “I’m doing a lot of the work here.” I’ll let you know when it’s ready!

In the meantime, though, please give the above exercises a try, and don’t forget to do the exercises yourself – drop me a line if you have questions. I also would love to hear any stories or examples from your own experiences, either in the comments or privately.

For an adult version of a self-discovery ‘game’, take a look at my workbook What If?: 52 Questions Designed for an Entire Year of Self-DiscoveryKnowing who you are and how you feel about things…really connecting with your Self…allows you to make choices that create a happier, healthier life. Your way.