7 ways to get kids excited (about almost anything)

How is it possible to keep kids engaged, entertained and excited in a world filled with high tech gadgets, 3-D movies and flashy computer games? Whether you’re a parent, teacher, coach or children’s minister you’ve probably wondered how you can compete with the multitude of sights and sounds which vie for kids’ attention every day.

Most of us can’t compete with the entertainment provided by a TV, iPod or gaming system — but we can offer encouragement, support and guidance to get kids excited about ideas and interests which might be outside their usual comfort zone.

1. Get excited yourself.

The kids in your life look to you for an example, which can be a really good thing — or a really bad thing. Excitement can be contagious, but so can boredom and apathy. (Remember the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?) Kids are more likely to become a fan of a particular sports team if it’s the team they see you’re passionate about. If you “hate” brussels sprouts, they’ll probably turn up their noses, too.

YOUR enthusiasm about a subject (including God) makes an impression on kids who are watching and listening. If you’re apathetic about going to church, your kids are more likely to drag their feet when getting ready on Sunday morning.

2. Encourage trying new things.

Starting in 1972 and running until 1984, the Life cereal commercial is one of the most successful TV advertising campaigns in history. The commercial is over forty years old, but it still works — because everybody can relate to two kids who won’t eat something new. (“Let’s get Mikey. He won’t eat it, he hates everything.”) But, guess what? When Mikey tries the cereal, he likes it.

When you want to get kids excited about something, find a way for them to experience it—don’t just talk about it and hope they’ll get on board. Years ago, I bet my pre-teen son five bucks that he’d enjoy the film version of a classic novel despite the French subtitles. He was positive he’d hate it but went along to win the money. Guess what? He loved it and his worldview got a little bigger. (And I rewarded him with $5 for trying.)

3. Make it fun.

Kids are pretty easy to read. If they’re having fun, you’ll know it. If not, it’s painfully obvious. Here are a few things that help make for a fun experience:

  • A sense of achievement: This is the kind of fun we feel when we overcome a challenge or finish a task. To feel something is fun, it has to walk the fine line between being challenging enough to keep kids engaged and interested, while not being so hard it’s frustrating.
  • Appreciating others’ achievements: Listening to music, laughing at a funny movie or watching sports on TV is passive fun — it provides a mental break and an entertaining alternative to “real life.”
  • Feeling an adrenaline rush: When something is new and exciting, or even feels a little dangerous, it creates a rush of excitement which can be intoxicatingly fun. That’s why most kids love roller coasters.
  • Hanging out with fun people: Ever really enjoyed some time with your buddies even though you were playing the most ridiculous game, or doing nothing particularly exciting? It’s about the companionship. When friends welcome us with a smile, accept us in spite of our flaws, and are there for us with empathy and support, we feel secure and happy.

4. Include their friends.

If you work with kids, you’ve probably observed that most look to the adults in their lives as their “audience” until about 4th grade. In other words, getting approval from and being noticed by significant adults is most important. As a child gets older, the audience increasingly becomes his or her peers — so it’s essential to help kids learn to choose friends who will be supportive, encouraging and a positive influence.

If you want your kids to be excited about something, try to get their friends excited and involved, too. This requires wisdom and balance, of course. Peer influence can be a positive force, but it’s also important to help kids learn to think independently and make decisions for themselves. Just because their friends are involved in something doesn’t mean your child will enjoy it, too (but it helps).

5. Set a challenging (but achievable) goal.

It’s hard to get excited about something if you don’t believe it will somehow make a difference in your life. It’s also hard to feel motivated if something seems out of reach or impossible to achieve. Most Olympic swimmers didn’t set their sights on the gold medal as children — they first focused on winning a local swim meet, then a regional championship, and so on. The success and feeling of accomplishment is exciting and provides motivation to reach even higher.

Teaching kids to work toward goals gives them a valuable gift and empowers them to achieve wonderful things in every area of life. They are also much more likely to stay committed to a goal that is “theirs” than a goal which someone else sets for them. When it is their goal (not yours), they are more likely to believe in it — and are more excited about working hard to get there.

6. Praise them for their effort.

We live in a results-oriented society. While it’s certainly not bad to strive for excellence, it’s not good to measure success solely based on results. Not everyone can be the best at everything, and kids need to know that’s ok. “It’s not about being the best (singer, athlete, student, whatever) — it’s about DOING your best. And when you do your best for God’s glory, He can take it and make it into something truly great.” In other words, it’s about the effort. When kids know you’re proud of their effort, they are excited, encouraged and motivated to continue.

As a side note, praising kids for the wrong reason can actually be detrimental. Researchers have discovered that children receiving praise for personal qualities (“You’re a great artist!”) have lower self-esteem than those praised for their efforts (“You did a great job drawing!”). Avoid praising kids about things over which they have no control. This includes any natural and unchangeable attribute such as intelligence, physical attractiveness, or athletic or artistic gifts. Instead, direct your praise to areas over which they do have control — effort, attitude, responsibility, commitment, discipline, focus, decision making, compassion, generosity, respect, love…and the list goes on and on.

7. Help them discover their gifts.

God gives every person unique gifts and talents to bless others and help further His kingdom. That’s not just true for adults, but for kids, too. When given the opportunity to discover and develop their gifts, kids become more confident about who they are and passionate about what they have to offer the world. Be alert for special interests and talents and pay attention to activities that sparks your child’s joy and excitement.

There’s nothing more exciting than tapping into one’s gifts and experiencing God working through you to accomplish something special. When it’s no longer about what you can do through your own efforts, but what He can do through you, the pressure is off!

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” (Eric Liddle, Olympic gold medalist and missionary)

It’s not always easy to gets kids out of their comfort zone, but YOUR interest, attention, support and encouragement are important factors to help get them excited and involved—about church, or anything. And guess what? When you share an experience with a child, chances are that you’ll have more fun and get excited, too!