How Do I Help My Middle-Schooler Discover Their Talents?

A middle-schooler’s talents and interests can become lifelong pursuits that shape their futures. An expert offers insights.

Discovering inner talents and passions is one of life’s great rewards. By the time kids reach middle school, they probably are starting to identify some interests and exhibit certain strengths.  As parents, we want to help our kids along this path of discovery. The question is, how?

“One of our taglines is ‘Explore. Discover. Excel.’,” says Dr. Susan Corwith, director of the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. “You have to be open to exploration to eventually excel at something.”

Here are some action steps you can take as you help your middle-schooler discover their talents:

Encourage exploration and curiosity

Middle school is the perfect time for your child to take a deeper dive into interests and activities. Corwith suggests incorporating a sense of curiosity and discussion into daily life with your child.

According to Dr. Corwith, parents can foster a sense of exploration by:

  • Promoting higher-level thinking at home. “Engage in things you can talk about as a family, rather than just asking your child ‘Did you do your homework?’” says Dr. Corwith. Some suggestions: helping with family decisions or asking for input on a variety of topics.
  • Connecting with opportunities: “Your child’s school is a great place to start,” suggests Dr. Corwith. Keep an eye out for activities that align with their interests, whether it’s a new robotics club at school, a class at the park district or a creative writing workshop at the local library.

Set clear and achievable goals

Goal setting is a powerful tool that helps young learners focus their energies and gauge their progress, says Dr. Corwith.

Dr Susan Corwith's Quote on the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern

You can help your child implement goal setting by:

  • Discussing yearly goals: “Start by asking your child what they want to get out of the next school year,” says Dr. Corwith. This could range from academic goals to personal development ones like learning a new skill or improving at a sport.
  • Prioritizing interests: “Help your middle schooler prioritize their activities based on what excites them the most, rather than overcommitting,” Dr. Corwith suggests. This focused approach can lead to more meaningful and satisfying experiences.

Make the most of community and online resources

The world outside home and school is brimming with opportunities for learning and growth, says Dr. Corwith.

You can access what’s available in your community by:

  • Exploring local and online resources: “Libraries, museums and community centers often offer programs tailored to middle schoolers,” Dr. Corwith notes. Online platforms can also provide information on local events and additional learning resources. “School is also a great place to start. Most middle schools have lots of activities and competitions.”
  • Leveraging connections: Encourage your child to talk about their interests with friends, family and teachers who might know about unique experiences and resources.  “Sometimes, the best opportunities come through personal connections,” says Dr. Corwith.

Exposure to a broad spectrum of activities

Providing your child with a variety of experiences helps them broaden their perspectives.

 “A lot of parents feel that they have to push academics, but opportunities for leadership and growth can come from a variety of activities and areas of interest,” says Dr. Corwith.

Kids Playing with LEGO and Robotics and Center for Talent Development
Photo Credit: Center for Talent Development at Northwestern


“Have your child consider their purpose. Do they want greater depth to a subject? Do they just want to dabble or meet other students? All of our courses are fun, but some are more advanced or accelerated than others so it helps for kids to have a goal in mind.”

Recognizing and supporting interests

Let’s say your child has joined a class or an organization. Then they decide they don’t like the activity after all. Now what? 

“Understanding and supporting your child’s interests requires attentiveness and open communication,” says Dr. Corwith. Here are some things you can do:

  • Have regular check-ins: Frequent discussions about their activities can help you distinguish between fleeting interests and potential long-term passions.
  • Be flexible: Allow your child to withdraw from activities that no longer interest them. “It’s OK to shift gears,” says Dr. Corwith. “Encourage kids to finish what they start but let them know they don’t have to continue after that.”

Balancing encouragement and pressure

However, Dr. Corwith cautions against joining activities just for the sake of being able to say you’ve done it. Besides being stressful for kids, this approach is not necessary. 

“We’ve talked a lot with folks on campus, others who work in college and career development and the message is clear: you don’t have to be involved in everything. What are you passionate about? What can you really dig into and what can you become a leader in? Those are the things you should encourage your child to pursue.”

Dr. Corwith suggests that you strike a healthy balance by:

  • Setting expectations: Communicate clear expectations and discuss the commitment involved in new activities. “Make sure kids understand that once they commit to something, they need to give it a chance,” says Dr. Corwith. “A lot of high-achieving kids haven’t experienced a certain level of challenge yet. It can be uncomfortable at first.”
  • Encouraging self-motivation: Help your child find intrinsic motivation in their activities, which is key for long-term engagement and satisfaction. “Kids have to want to do something for it to be sustainable,” Dr. Corwith says.

The best way to help your middle-schooler discover their talents? Be open to exploration, says Dr. Corwith. “Something that begins as a hobby can end up being a career or lifelong pursuit.” 

To learn more about the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University visit

Jennifer Kales
Jennifer Kales
Content editor Jennifer Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years creating advertising copy, blogs, books and everything in between. She loves helping Chicago Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with audiences.


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