WORDS: Madhavi Nawana Parker, Positive Minds Australia
Over time, it’s natural some hobbies and sports will cease to hold your child’s interest and they will want to stop, or exchange them for something else. We can’t expect them to embrace everything we’ve introduced to them and sustain their interest forever. Over time, children curate their lives to do what’s most meaningful to them, after all, it’s their life. It’s natural they will go through phases where they don’t want to stick something out and ask to pull out. We need to dig deeper at that moment and help point them in the right direction.
Instead of a blanket rule like, ‘in our family, we never quit’ or ‘if we don’t like something, we don’t do it,’ try to be flexible and adaptable with each child and situation.
Your child can learn a lot from sticking to something they initially wanted to do and no longer want to do, as much as they can learn from hitting pause on something that simply isn’t for them.
Here’s what to consider when navigating whether it is or isn’t okay to quit.
- When your child wants to stop doing something they once loved or just started, take a look under the surface. When you’re willing to get curious and find out more about what your child is thinking and feeling, they learn they can express their opinions, without judgement. This builds their self-esteem and strengthens their relationship with you. It doesn’t mean you put them in the driver’s seat – they still need your leadership and decision-making skills to make the final call. Comments like, ‘tell me more,’ and ‘help me understand what you don’t like?‘ can be helpful. You could also ask, ‘what might help you feel better about going?’ and ‘do you think you just need a break more than stopping completely?” The more you know about what’s behind their wish to quit, the easier it will be to make a judgement about whether or not it’s a momentary impulse or a reaction to a genuine challenge.
- Is now the right time to ‘quit?’ Are they mid-season and their peers are relying on their presence? Are they going through a rough patch in other areas and asking to quit this, has nothing to do with the activity itself? Is the activity important for their wellbeing and personal growth?
- What lessons are you trying to teach? Every family is different. There are no black and white answers–whether to let them quit or make them persist is full of grey areas. For some families who don’t allow their children to quit something they committed to, they believe this teaches resilience to stick with things you don’t enjoy and shows commitment to completing something you started. Others argue that doing this can create more anxiety as a child starts to worry that committing is risky because there is no way out once you commit, because of their family’s ‘no quitting under any circumstances,’ policy.’ These children might become indecisive and be less positive about trying new things, in case they dislike it and have to continue it ‘no matter what.’ See how there are pros and cons of both?
- If they are quitting because their team is struggling or they find it embarrassing to not be the best player, maybe they need to stick it out a little longer. There are lessons in failure, disappointment and loyalty, we all need to learn. Children benefit from building coping skills through the uncomfortable emotions that come with the real life, ups and downs of childhood and come out stronger with your loving, empathetic support.
- Is continuing compromising their mental health and wellbeing? Sometimes, an activity genuinely causes more stress than they can cope with.
- Could you swap the activity with something else? Sometimes it’s as simple as exchanging guitar for piano, rather than stopping music altogether.
- Will quitting affect their relationships with peers – will they be letting anyone down? If it’s the middle of soccer season and the team is already short on players, how might this impact on their friendships?
- Are they fine once they arrive and it’s the process of getting ready to go that bothers them?
- Are they overscheduled? Is this a cry for help for more rest and play?
As always parents, listen to your child, tune into your intuition, and the answers will come. You’re doing great.
Madhavi Nawana Parker, Director of Positive Minds Australia is a widely published author of resilience, wellbeing, confidence and social emotional intelligence books, articles and programs.