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The Great Parenting Debates

When your child wants to quit an activity

“My son quits every activity I take him to!” complained a mother the other night at a PTA meeting where I spoke about Pressured Parents. “What should I do?”
That’s a good question, because at one time or another all of us parents face this dilemma. What do you tell your child who wants to quit soccer? Piano lessons? Cub Scouts?
How hard it can be for parents to figure out how to do the “right thing.” Especially when you've already done one “right thing” -- introduced your child to an activity that she may like or that we see value in.
So let yourself feel your own frustration for a bit. But then you can try to find out why your child wants to quit. Is the activity too hard? Was the coach mean last week? Does your child not like baseball? Or does he simply want to keep playing at home? Sometimes kids will give us a clue to a problem. If, for example, your child feels he’s “not good” at his music or sport, he might be old enough to understand when you explain that by going to practice or a lesson, he’ll become more competent. He’ll start enjoying the activity more as he builds his skills. On the other hand, maybe what your daughter says will tell you that she’s too young to start swimming, and you ought to let her stop, and think about signing her up again when she’s older. If you can get information from her, that will help you figure out what to do.
But if your daughter flat-out dislikes ballet, then it’s time to let her quit. Find out what she does like, and let her lead the way to another activity. Maybe she’ll like Girl Scouts better. Finding what that interests her, and helping her develop it is key. That nurtures her autonomy, and her internal motivation, which will serve her well in the long run.
Sometimes kids want to quit because they simply want to feel more in control of their activities. Here’s a very common story: a pre-teen or teenager wants to quit piano or tennis. His parents try to persuade him not to, but then reluctantly agree. A few months or a year later, the child says “I want to start piano again!” The hiatus has allowed him to choose the activity again for himself, to exercise his autonomy.
Then there’s deciding whether to allow your child to miss a practice or lesson. I remember when my son Jeff was about eight and didn’t want to stop playing with his neighborhood friend Larry and go to soccer practice. “Your team wants you to come,” I said. “You don’t want to let them down.” I let Jeff skip a practice or two – and tried to get Larry to sign up for soccer -- but let Jeff know that I thought it was important to be consistent at activities. Eventually he came to love soccer, and played on a club team and then on the high school varsity. So I guess it was okay when I let him miss a few practices when he was eight. Even though back then, I wasn't sure it was the "right" thing to do.
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