When your child wants to quit their hobby, should you let them, or insist they stick with it? Georgina Blaskey finds out
Ever heard the phrase, ‘winners never quit and quitters never win’? For many adults, the word ‘quit’ is so loaded with failure, that as parents we can find the concept hard to stomach. Why? Our view of quitting is intrinsically linked to our own upbringing. Were we allowed to quit activities we didn’t enjoy? Were you one of those forced to perform in violin recitals, only to deliver an at-best squeaky, stilted version of Three Blind Mice while your parents smiled, so happy they’d given you the musical opportunity they never had?
There are scenarios where quitting is the right thing to do but there are also times when perseverance must be encouraged. If your child, who has until now been an enthusiastic and successful member of her swim squad, one day says she’s quitting, it might be a shock. Until then she has enjoyed it, as a family you’ve designed your lives around her schedule, and she has genuine talent. What do you do?
Clinical psychologist Dr Nihara Krause suggests going through a process to ascertain the situation: “Consider their age,” she explains. “Children will expect different things at different stages. A younger child will expect instant gratification so it may be difficult for them to wait and learn. It’s better to try the activity a few times at taster sessions to work out if it’s suiting them.” You should also be honest about your goals. “Parents may want to give their children opportunities they missed out on, they may have had to stick at something themselves or have time and money invested, but it’s important to be honest about why you are being so insistent.”
Getting the balance between quit and grit starts with asking the right questions. Does your child want to quit because they feel like a failure? Do they feel awkward when they are there? Do they have friends there? If they are finding it hard to integrate you may need to help them boost their social skills. If they feel anxious, you may need to offer support. “Many children are doing so much, they are tired,” reminds Dr Krause. “They have school, homework, and then a club. What is meant to be fun may just feel like more hard work.”
We are all guilty of overscheduling our children with extracurricular activities, but why? To make them more appealing to their secondary school? To compete with other mums? Personally I want to expose my children to a variety of activities in the hope they will find something they enjoy. While my daughter most likely won’t perform with the Royal Ballet, she may develop a lifelong love of dance. My son may not play rugby for England, but he’ll cheer them on from the stand with a good understanding of teamwork and the complexities of the game. In my view there are some things children should never quit – academic effort is non-negotiable in our house (please note, effort, rather than attainment). They will learn their times tables and cursive handwriting, they will finish their holiday reading and homework. With that in mind, I feel the other things they do must be enriching. At times, this means doing things they don’t feel like. Often they’ll go lukewarm on choir practice or Saturday football, only to come back round a week later. Persevering through the dips is part of the journey.
But when a dip turns into a desire to stop, how do we teach children to quit healthily? The language we use can have an impact. We can talk about giving something ‘a go’, about choosing something else. If we despair or get angry, we are reflecting our feelings on to our child. We may also put them off trying new things. Children generally don’t want to disappoint their parents so it’s important to give them a clear understanding of what is involved. For example, if you’re going skiing for the first time, explain to your child that it’s something ‘we have to try three or four times before we feel confident and able to do it’.
Be aware that different children respond to different activities. Some like discipline and rigour, others will not. “The motivation they need to produce a result must come from them, and they need to feel they can build on the result,” says Dr Krause. “If you have a child who is regularly quitting, look for a pattern. It could be related to confidence, anxiety or social skills. Do they need help?”
Being clear about why they want to quit, understanding the reason and accepting their decision is a learning curve for the whole family. Sometimes quitting can be the bravest decision we make.
What to consider before you let your child quit
Listen to your child
Ask your child to explain why they want to quit. Listen to what they’re saying, gently ask questions, and try to empathise.
Understand the whole story
There are often two sides to a story. Listen to your child and then listen to their teacher or coach in order to make sure you have all the facts.
The importance of commitment
We want to teach our children to keep their commitments in life, so we must teach them to understand the importance of following through with what they say they’ll do.
Persistence is the key
Thomas Edison famously ‘failed’ 10,000 times on his way to inventing the light bulb. What if he had simply quit along the way?
Quitting on impulse is misguided
Encourage your child to spend time reflecting on things in order to make a decision they won’t regret.
Children often quit for the wrong reason
Try to get to the bottom of why your child wants to quit. This may take some decoding on your part. “It’s not fun anymore” could mean “Kids make fun of me.”
Challenging experiences can build strength
Patience and perseverance are two virtues that your child can use throughout their life.