Is my child a quitter? Why you shouldn't jump to conclusions

Trying new things is what childhood — even adolescence and adulthood — is about. If your child tries many new activities, not all of them will click. Are they a quitter? Or simply not interested? 

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    Wanting to quit a sport, club, instrument, etc., doesn't make your child a quitter by default. Here, Chinese children on a gymnastics team do stretching exercises at a sports school during the summer holiday in July.
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How many times have you signed your child up for swimming, soccer, gymnastics, violin or piano lessons, camp only to hear, “I don’t want to go”? It’s hard not to be furious – “But you said this is what you wanted” – especially when money is involved. Sometimes your child has been involved with the team or the lessons and says, “I want to quit.”

There’s no doubt that parents have hopes and expectations wrapped up in their child’s learning experiences. And what of the parent who never got the opportunity for anything extracurricular and is proud to be able to afford these opportunities for his child? Or the parent whose childhood was formed by her camp experiences, yet her child stubbornly refuses to go to camp?

Fears pop quickly to the surface: “She’s a quitter.” “He never can commit to anything.” “What will her boss do when she decides one morning she doesn’t want to go to work?” “He just gives up.” Those fears lead us to all kinds of bribery and manipulation to get our kids to do what we want, what we think is best, never realizing how powerful our own agendas are.

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“How far should I push and when do I let it go? Don’t I have to set high expectations?”

“I can’t let it go because he’s missing this incredible opportunity.”

“She’s being an unappreciative brat. Everything has to be her way. She has no consideration for what we have gone through to make this happen.”

It’s hard to let go.

The truth is that kids may want to join something, and if it doesn’t turn out the way they wanted, they will want to quit. Wouldn’t you? We jump to the “quitter” conclusion way too quickly and decide that our child will never follow thru on anything.

Do you remember being pressured to do something you didn’t want to do? Did you ever think something was a great idea and then changed your mind? Of course you did. That didn’t make you a quitter.

Youth is about taking advantage of opportunities to try out all kinds of different things. Most children don’t know where their passions lie for many years to come. If a child hits on an activity that is of great interest she will stick to it; but if she tries something that isn’t what she wanted, she will want to stop.

Many kids find nothing of interest until high school, college or even beyond. We need to present opportunities to our children with the expectation that if it clicks, great, if not, oh well, let’s try something else. When he finds a match for his interest, he will stay. Knowing that requires our trust in our child’s potential. Think of these opportunities as a smorgasbord giving your child a taste of many things. Some are good, some not.

What to do in the face of refusal or desire to quit:

• Look at all the facets. Could it be the teacher, particular instrument or sport, or other children involved that your child doesn’t like? Perhaps your child is feeling stressed and over programmed and simply needs a break from activities.

• Acknowledge your child’s dislike, boredom, wish to stay home. Acknowledgement does not mean agreement. “Sounds like you changed your mind/are not happy with this program anymore/don’t feel like going today.”

• Use logical consequences. If he wants to quit, let him know about the teacher or director’s point of view. “She is expecting you. You will need to let her know that you won’t be coming. I’ll get the number so you can call.” “The team expects you to be there. We need to show up today so you can talk to the coach.”

• Problem solve. Make sure you feel balanced so you don’t become resentful and reactive. “So you want to change your mind. We all do that from time to time. I have spent quite a bit of money on this program. While I don’t expect you to take responsibility for that, how can we make this fair for both of us?” Then go to the bargaining table and come up with something that works for both of you.

Remember, everything you offer or make available to your children is your choice. You can always say, “No. I don’t want to do all that driving,” or “We can’t afford that this year.” If you try to make your child happy by going out of your way, you will react strongly and forcefully if he decides later he doesn’t want to do it.

So take your child to the smorgasbord table, let him sample and decide for himself. His own motivation and engagement, whenever it comes, will serve him well.

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