You’ve bought the supplies, paid the dues, your child starts an activity… only to announce not long after that he doesn’t want to participate. The shoes are too tight, the coach is too mean, the drills are ‘boring,’ it’s just “not fun.” Yes, extracurricular activities can be enriching and rewarding, but sometimes your child wants to quit not long after he’s begun. What’s a parent to do?
We’ve handled this scenario differently at different points in our kids’ lives. Here are a couple of examples: DD took ballet lessons with a wonderful, warm teacher. She initially loved the classes, but suddenly stopped wanting to go around February. The more the teacher talked about the end-of-year performance, the less DD wanted to go to dance class. We encouraged her to see dance class through to the end of the year since the others in her class were counting on her in their performance. We provided her with extra support by volunteering to help out during the lead-up rehearsals and during the performance itself. She opted not to continue with ballet.
On the other hand, DD tried soccer a year or so ago. She was happy the first few games, but soon started to complain that she didn’t want to go. Her shoes were too tight. She was “too shy.” Her socks didn’t feel good. Her hair looked “dumb.” The shin guards felt funny. The closer we came to game day, the more drama there was. We took a good look at our family schedule, the extra hours we committed to practice and games (because it involved four people going to these practices — not just DD but her two siblings and me or hubby) and we looked at the tears and anxiety DD had — and we decided to let her quit mid-season.
It’s a delicate balance encouraging kids to persevere and allowing them to quit. There’s not always a clear answer on what to do or how to proceed.
If you let your child quit, are you raising a quitter?
Dr. David Elkind, a professor of child development at Tufts believes it’s fine for kids to give up an activity if they don’t appear to be enjoying it. He goes on to say that just because he quits activities as a child does not mean he’ll grow up to quit every job he has. In fact, trying to force them may only develop anxiety that could make the reluctant to try other new experiences.
So what do you do to help your child avoid quitting?
The first steps should be taken even before your child enrolls or re-enrolls in an activity.
- Educate yourself before your child begins about the coach/leader and the environment of the sport or activity. Is the coach too intense or too lax for your child? Does the activity demand too much of the family (fund raising, too much time traveling?) Are there too many practices or weekend commitments to suit the needs of your family?
- Talk in advance with your child about what is a reasonable trial period for a new activity. If it’s a team sport explain that quitting would be letting the entire team down so it’s important to try to persevere through the entire season.
- Create the proper environment of support for your child’s interests. It’s natural for there to be a lot of initial excitement that fades away over time. If she is starting a new instrument, set up practice guidelines well before the sparkle of trying a new instrument fades away.
Figures show that by the age of 12, there’s a 75% chance your child will quit youth sports. Know your child: does your child have the tendency to complain or quit when things get challenging or does he have a valid concern. Trust your instinct on whether it’s right for your child to quit. There are times when your child is better off psychologically not continuing with an activity.
When it comes to quitting or pressing on, here are some steps you can take:
- Take the time to learn about the child’s experience and feelings so you can uncover the nature of the problem and judge how best to proceed. Are meetings or practices well run? Are there social problems (such as teasing, name calling) within the group that could be addressed? Does the activity create too much pressure for your child? Talk with him about his performance, abilities, successes and goals in the activity. What does he expect from himself? Does he feel his coach demands too much? Does he feel he’s not performing as well as he should? Has his performance plateaued? All these impact how a child feels about participating—especially when it doesn’t feel ‘fun’ anymore.
- Help you child work through problems they are having. Enlist the support of your child’s coach or activity leader. Sometimes a talk with the coach or instructor will help solve conflicts or address the problems.
- Talk with the parents of other children in your child’s activity. That will give you a good gauge to see how your child is doing in relation to others her age. They can give you some useful insights in how to talk with your child.
- Evaluate whether your child’s schedule is overbooked. Does your child want to quit because her schedule is too full? Is your child tired? Does your child need more down time? Remember that family time, downtime and socializing with friends are as important as those extra activities kids are involved in.
- Encourage your child to continue—but with a time limit (the end of the season, three weeks, whatever).
- Is your child burned out from his/her sport? There’s a fine line between being challenged and being pushed too hard. Signs of burnout can include:
—complaining about practice
—not sleeping or eating as well
—irritability or apathy for the activity
—increased physical complaints
—ambivalence toward practice or competition
—frequent missed practices
—poor attitude or effort
—a change in how well they are doing with their schoolwork
Remember that it is beneficial for kids to play many sports for different coaches and to try a wide array of activities – sports, music, art, dance, scouts, etc. It provides them with diverse experiences. Kids’ activities especially for those under the age of 10 should be fun. The focus is not only gaining new skills and becoming competent, but forming friendships and building confidence. Remember that children under the age of nine don’t have a clear sense of what activities they will like. They are testing the waters and seeing where their interests lie.
Here’s one last example from our family—and honestly the issue that led to this post. LD has been doing gymnastics since he was five. Last year he had an amazing coach, but due to family commitments LD’s junior coach had to leave. The head (senior) coach of LD’s gymnastics team is amazing, inspiring and a great leader. But this summer LD was very discouraged with the young substitute (junior) coach they had hired temporarily. LD came home telling us he was no good, he hated gymnastics and finally at the end of the summer declared he was quitting. We had long, long conversations with LD to discover what was really going on. It turns out this young coach yelled at the boys and told them they’re weak or that what they just did was cr**. LD was discouraged and demoralized by this style of coaching.
We decided to talk with the head coach to tell him LD was thinking of quitting. We had a long meeting with the head coach and with LD. We didn’t point fingers at the young coach, but talked more about how deflated and discouraged LD was. The head coach was surprised to hear how bad LD was feeling about his gymnastics. He told LD how strong he was and how much he had improved. He said LD wasn’t the only one bothered by the (yelling) style of this young coach and that he would try to address that. In the end, LD decided to continue gymnastics for the year. (With hubby and I asking again and again, are you sure that’s what you want? Are you positive?) He now has a new junior coach.
In the end — the key for us when grappling with this scenario was to be supportive and to listen carefully… talking it through as a family to decide whether quitting was the best option.