How to Identify Children's Likes & Dislikes

By Erica Loop
Giving your child choices during play helps to identify interests.
Giving your child choices during play helps to identify interests.

No two children are completely alike. Even though two or more children of the same age may have similar interests, identifying your child's likes and dislikes helps you understand what makes her an individual. Let your child know her personal preferences are important to you. This validation may encourage her to make life decisions that more closely align with what makes her happy.

Encourage Your Child to Explore

Play up your curious child's desire to explore and allow him to make his own discoveries. For example, the Greenspan Floortime approach is a method in which infants and children explore the environment at their own pace. Instead of directing the child during play-times, the parents allow him to take the lead. You can try your own modified version by providing your infant, toddler or young child with a variety of toys and play-things with which to experiment. He'll show you what he likes and dislikes. He may gravitate to the buildings blocks, but completely ignore a ball or crayons and paper. Continue to introduce the items to him over time. Doing so helps you to figure out what he truly doesn't like and what he is just temporarily ignoring. Shunning the crayons for the blocks one time may not mean that he hates art. But, a repeated lack of interest may mean that coloring or drawing isn't a preferred activity.

Talk About Likes and Dislikes

Between the ages of 5 and 6, your child is able to start expressing her likes and dislikes in a more complex way, according to the website Scholastic Teachers. Even though a younger child can say "no" when she dislikes something, kids in kindergarten and up are developmentally ready to explain the lack of interest. When your child turns her nose up at a food or snubs a seemingly entertaining activity, ask her what's going on. This can help you to discern the difference between worry and true dislike. For example, your 7-year-old may say that she doesn't "like" ballet class. Ask her why. You may find out that she's nervous to dance in front of others or that she thinks her teacher doesn't like her. Likewise, asking your child to tell you why she has an interest in something can help you separate what she truly enjoys from what she thinks is popular or socially acceptable.

Talk About Your Own Interests

When you talk about your own likes and dislikes, your child will listen. While your child doesn't have to share the same interests you do, explaining why you do or don't like certain activities, foods or other things provides him with new ways of thinking. If your child is young, simplify this and use words that he'll understand. For example, tell your toddler or preschooler, "Mommy doesn't like carrots. But, that's alright because I do like spinach, tomatoes and cucumbers." You can go into more detail with an older child, explaining the reasons behind your like and dislike lists. Doing so can help your child to think about, evaluate and express his interests. It may also give him a way to point out his likes or dislikes to you. Hearing your interest may make him realize that he has a like or dislike that he never really thought about.

Suggest Activities Built on Interests

You think your child is showing an interest in activity or even a potential career path, but you aren't entirely sure if you're truly seeing something she "likes." Older children and teens are developing the independent thinking needed to make their own choices. When your child starts to choose one activity over another, help her to explore this "like" by building on it. For example, if she picks up and reads your fashion magazines, explore the possibility that she might like design. Enroll her in a children's design course or suggest that she reads books about fashion and professional designers. If she shrugs off the idea, she may not have a true "like." If she chooses to explore it further, she may have a real interest.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.