To quit or not to quit? Letting a child give up on an activity is always a difficult decision. On the one hand, we want them to learn that perseverance is an important skill. On the other hand, we want them to be able to make decisions about the course of their lives.
To decide if it is best to persist or if changing directions is the right option, there are a few questions we (parents) and our children need to answer first.
Two years ago, my daughter wanted to quit tennis after training for a year and loving it. I’ve never played tennis, but I could see she had a talent. Her quitting sounded like a waste of potential to me. She came home after training one day saying she didn’t want to go to tennis lessons because she didn’t like it anymore. But the week before, she came home telling me all about the great time she had at tennis. I immediately thought to myself, “There is more to the story that she is not telling me.”
After failing to get a more descriptive answer as to why tennis suddenly became an unenjoyable activity, I decided that the issue needed further investigation. I told her, “OK, let’s make a deal. You continue with tennis until the end of the term, and I’ll watch your practice next week. Then we can talk about what is bothering you and I’ll be able to understand it better.”
Ten minutes into the lesson, I knew what was bothering her. As you may know already, my daughter gets anxious in public performances. Because she was very skilled at tennis, the teacher was using her as an example to demonstrate the activity to other kids. She still loved tennis, but she hated being in the spotlight.
In this situation, letting her quit tennis would send the wrong message. First, she would be giving up on a sport she liked to avoid anxiety. Second, this was a problem we could solve without her quitting. Continuing with practise would teach her more than tennis. It would teach her problem-solving (because she would have to think about ways to make the tennis lessons enjoyable again), assertiveness (because she would have to communicate her needs to the teacher by asking not to be used as an example every time) and strategies to cope with anxiety (because she might be asked to demonstrate a skill now and then).
I’m pleased to say she still plays tennis and enjoys it.
5 factors to consider before letting your child quit an activity
Why did your child start the activity?
This question is aimed more at the parents. Did your child ask to enrol in the training, or did you decide it would be a good idea to get your child to learn the piano because you played the piano when you were a child? Does your son want to play rugby, or were you a rugby player in high school but missed the chance to play professionally due to an injury? In other words, did the desire to do the activity come from your child’s interest or your unfulfilled dreams? These are difficult questions to answer. Take your time to reflect, sleep on it if you have to and be honest.
What is the value of the activity?
Quitting school or quitting Xylophone lessons have very different implications. Is the activity teaching important life-long skills, or is it just a small bonus? To make a decision, it is also important to consider your circumstances and family values. As an example, to me, swimming is vital. We have a pool at home, and the kids love the beach. Swimming lessons are not optional because I believe it is a safety matter. They don’t have to become competitive swimmers, but they do need to swim efficiently before I let them give up.
Has anything changed?
If your child has been loving the guitar for two years and suddenly had a change of heart, there could be other reasons driving this decision, rather than the activity itself. Has the instructor changed? Have the students in the group changed? Is there anything interfering with the relationship between the parties involved? Can the problem be solved?
How long has your child been doing the activity?
Often, kids want to quit too soon. Starting a new activity requires them to try something new and get out of their comfort zone. They might feel like the activity is too hard or that everyone else is better than them. Giving some time for confidence and competency to develop often pays off. However, if the child had a good go at the activity but insists it is not for them, it may be better to let them quit.
Is the activity attainable?
Quitting because something is “hard” is not a good reason. Most worthwhile dreams are hard to attain, but perseverance brings a great sense of achievement. However, sticking with something that the child evidently won’t gain competency at may be a waste of time. I can’t dance; it feels like I was born with two left feet. If my goal were to learn to dance to join the International Dance Academy, it would be a waste of my time, but if I wanted to learn to dance for fun or fitness purposes, that is a different scenario. I would probably go for it.
Quitting is not always a bad thing. Quitting can teach children to respect their feelings and act in ways that promote self-growth. It teaches them self-respect and the ability to understand they have the right to end something that makes them miserable. There are many opportunities in life to teach kids about perseverance. They will soon realise that it is impossible to give up on everything that doesn’t bring them joy. If we could quit everything that we don’t like doing, they wouldn’t have clean clothes or food to eat.
You can use the Superpower Kids My Problem Solving Strategies printable to help your child consider all options before quitting.