When Your Kid Wants to Quit -- Parents Weigh In!
Parents weigh in about when it’s OK for kids to quit and drop an activity.
By: Leah Maxwell
In theory, extracurricular activities are supposed to be fun for kids. It’s their chance to choose pursuits that will enhance their lives, improve their skills, build their confidence, and teach them a thing or two about commitment and perseverance. So you haul out the catalogs, look at your options, and sign your kid up for a thing or two (or three or four). Maybe you pay a deposit and/or buy a uniform and/or rearrange the family schedule to make time for everything everyone wants to do. You’re in this, you’re invested, you’re ready to go ... and then your kid attends one meeting/lesson/practice and declares she never, ever wants to go back. What do you do?
All kids grumble about their activities on some level, whether it’s about not wanting to get up early for a Saturday game or having to practice an instrument in order to earn some screen time. The tricky part is learning when the grumbling is more than just laziness or contrarian whining. At what point do the positives outweigh the negatives when deciding whether to allow your child to quit an activity before it’s over?
The experts are divided on what’s best for kids. “Take into account the child’s motivation for choosing an activity in the first place and the parent’s motivation for allowing it,” urges Dr. Jeanette Raymond, a licensed psychologist and family relationship expert with a private practice in Los Angeles. “If the child wants to drop activities at the drop of a hat just to be cool with the latest fads, then don’t allow them to quit. Make an agreement beforehand that anything they choose has to be adhered to for at least six months and then reviewed. If, however, the child chooses an activity to please the parent and get love by being obedient, then yes, let the kid quit.” Especially if he or she is brave enough to tell you so!
Another way of looking at the issue is whether we’re overparenting our kids by trying to protect them from making bad decisions. “I very strongly feel that parents should step out of the picture and quit getting involved in their kids’ decision making,” says Dr. Susan Smith Kuczmarski, author of three books on parenting and families and two books on leadership. “Parents should let the train wreck happen, so to speak, and let the natural consequences follow. If their child or teen quits, let them experience the results of that decision.” A negative experience is just as much a chance to learn and grow, she says, “but best of all, and with time and practice, they will learn to listen to their inner voice and call their own shots.”
There are so many factors at play -- age of the child, nature of the activity, monetary commitment, time commitment, temperament of the child, and effect on team members, to name a few -- that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. So how are real parents handling the “to quit or not to quit” question? Here are 15 accounts from those who have been there, done that:
1. “I let my son stop [soccer] because he hated it. I made him go enough times to know he didn’t enjoy it and because he does stick to other things. Sometimes I don’t like things. Why should he be different? Sometimes we are just not feeling it, and kids are like that too.” -Lawrence, mom of a 5-year-old son
2. “If my kid is miserable, they can quit. They don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Besides, most coaches want kids who want to be there. Having kids that are forced to go just makes everybody miserable.” -Kiera, mom of a 3-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 8 and 2 months
3. “If they’re on a team, quitting could mean that the team doesn’t have enough players. That’s when we have a discussion about commitment and the fairness to others who will have to pick up your slack. I hope I help them learn, though, that sometimes you have to take care of yourself first.” -Tamara, mom of two daughters, ages 20 and 16, and an 11-year-old son
4. “We’ll go for 15 minutes and if [my son] still wants to leave, we will. So far we haven’t. For long-term stuff, I gauge not just the pre-, but the post-[reaction]. Usually, he’ll grump pre- and be happy post-, so we keep going.” -Shokufeh, mom of an 8-year-old son
5. “My 7-year-old daughter did karate for a month. It wasn’t for her; I wasn’t going to force it. We had a discount coupon for a month of classes. She hated it, we quit when the month was over, and that was that.” -Cindy, mom of two daughters, ages 7 and 3
6. “Moaning and groaning? I’d probably have them finish out the season. True hatred/panicked tears/severe emotional reaction? I’d consider stopping mid-session. It also depends on the age of the child, the temperament, and how the adults in charge feel. Is my child disrupting the entire class and making it hard for the other kids to participate? Is my child taking up too much of the instructor’s time/energy? It depends so much on all of the factors for each situation.” -Sarah, mom of four daughters, ages 11 (twins), 8, and 3
7. “Yesterday was [my kids’] last piano lesson for now. [With] school, homework, swim team, etc. -- it just became too much of a chore. It became the thing they had to do rather than the thing they wanted to do because [there aren’t] enough hours in the day anymore. I figure if I force it, they’ll hate it. That’s not learning.” -Tim, dad of a 10-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son
8. “I let [my 3-year-old] quit dance and soccer recently after trying each once. I chose the classes, he didn’t, so I wasn’t going to force it. But he’s 3. It’s not the same as an older kid choosing an activity and then refusing to do it.” -Hillary, mom of a 3-year-old son
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9. “I hated track. My parents didn’t let me quit, so I tried to fail a test so they’d think it was affecting my grades. Finally, I faked an injury so I could stop competing. I think I’d rather let my kids quit. Ha!” -Ashley, mom of two sons, ages 4 years and 3 months
10. “Our 14-year-old is the king of wanting to do something until it’s time to do it. We now say that you have to stick through one season or you pay us back for the costs invested. We figure that’s close enough to ‘real life.’” -Sarah, mom of three sons, ages 14, 6, and 1
11. “My kids were sort of whiny and meh about soccer until they both played in their first game. Then they were over the moon, and they realized that the less-fun practices are part of the deal. So I’d say I would try and be sure they’d been exposed enough to make an informed decision that it wasn’t for them. But really, knowing when to quit is so hard -- I struggle with this at 40! I recently quit a particular workout program after deciding the commitment was more than I wanted, but it was so hard to sift through the feelings of ‘Am I just being a wimp/taking the easy way out?’ to figure out where I really stood.” -Linda, mom of two sons, ages 9 and 6
12. “In fourth or fifth grade, my BFF and I begged our parents to let us go to the YMCA summer day camp for a week, [but] Day 1 was terrible. That night we both begged to quit. Her parents let her quit, my parents made me keep going. After that, I knew quitting wasn’t an option, so I really chose activities carefully. Hard lesson but worth it. And I was old enough to be taught that lesson.” -Kate, mom of a 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son
13. “I think a lot depends on how much the kid wanted to do [the activity] and how much the parent just signed him up for it and thought he’d like it once he started.” -Christine, mom of an 8-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter
14. “We signed up [my 5-year-old] for soccer. We brought her to her first class. She cried and ran away from the group most of the session. We dragged her to the second session, where she planted herself on the field and refused to play at all. End of soccer for us. I couldn’t think of a reason to force her.” -Kristy, mom of a 5-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son
15. “I'm struggling with this with my 3-and-1/2-year-old. She loves dance when she’s there, and once we are in the car headed there she’s super excited to go, but when I tell her it’s time to get changed for class? Screaming meltdowny tantrums: ‘I don't want to go! I hate dance class!’ But she clearly doesn’t hate it when she’s there, and she’s really good at it, so I keep signing her up for it. And I wonder when it’s time to say, ‘OK, fine, we’re done.’” -Erin, mom of a 3-year-old daughter
As for me, I want my kids to learn all the positive lessons that come with fully committing to an activity/goal/group, and in that spirit, I’ll try not to be too soft when the subject of quitting inevitably comes up. I want my sons to know that the needs and feelings of other people are important -- including Mama’s need not to waste $50 on a uniform that never gets worn -- but, like most parents, I also want them to know their needs and feelings are valued too. In the end, the best thing we can do is listen – to our children and to our guts.
How do you decide when it’s OK to let your kid quit?
Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.
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