To Quit or Not to Quit: Helping your child excel in the world of extracurricular activities

Your 14-year-old daughter comes home from soccer practice and tells you that she wants to quit. She has been playing since she was 3-years-old, she seems to really enjoy playing, and is pretty good at it.  Your 10-year-old son comes home from school and tells you he wants to quit playing the cello because it’s “stupid,” he “hates it,” and that you “can’t make him keep playing.”  You believe that he’s really talented and that he needs to be well-rounded to help him in his future.  Your 8-year-old runs up to you and says he wants to sign-up for boy scouts, but you don’t want to sign him up because he’s been involved in many other activities for a brief period of time before claiming to “hate it”.

Do these situations sound familiar?  Do you struggle with knowing when to let your son or daughter quit an activity, or when to make them push through it? Do you hesitate at the thought of signing him up for yet another activity that you know he won’t finish?  If so, you’re not alone!  Deciding when to enroll your child in an activity, when to let them quit, or when to make them stick with it, is a hard decision that nearly every parent has to navigate at some point.  Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” model to use when faced with these challenges.  The following tips might help ease the ‘when to quit’ decision making process:

How much of this activity is what your child wants to do vs. how much of it is based on your own wishes for your child?

All too often, parents lose sight of what is their child’s idea vs. what is in their own idea.  For example, you may want them to be involved because you did not have the opportunity when you were a child; or maybe it’s because you are looking at your child’s future and you have this ideal image in your mind about what your child needs to do to be that person you want him to be; or because you spent the money to pay for the season and the equipment and need to get your monies worth.  When these ideas occur it becomes easy to lose sight of what is best for your child. At this time, there can be great value in listening to your child’s thoughts and feelings and verbalizing your own thoughts and feelings, in an effort to maintain an open dialogue for problem solving.  Yes, there is real merit learned through perseverance and being resilient, but lessons are also learned when you allow your son or daughter to be flexible and change their mind.

Why is your child involved in the activity in the first place?

Ask your child if they enjoy the activity, if the answer is no, identify the reason for keeping them in it.  As a parent, it’s important to remember that just because your child is good at something, does not mean that they really enjoy it.  Is being good at something really a reason to “stick it out”?  One thing parents often forget is a child’s awareness of the time, energy, effort, and money that goes into being involved in extracurricular activities.  This impacts their ability to weigh in on decision making as well.

Specify expectations for your son or daughter when they are selecting, and participating in, extracurricular activities.

If it is important to you for your child to be involved in music, make that known through setting up limits and expectations from the beginning.  For example, you’d like you children to participate in an extracurricular activity, or your child may need to select their favorite activity, as you want to limit it to one activity per season (depending on your/your child’s preferences and interests). Also, before the season/lessons begin, discuss with your son or daughter the commitment they are making.  Inform them of the expectations of being involved in the extracurricular activity and when this commitment ends.

Be aware of the “honeymoon” period that occurs with starting a new activity. 

The “honeymoon” period is the time where your child is very excited to go to lessons or practice.  This is also the time when parents are often fooled into thinking that they really like playing the guitar, but in reality, they are just excited.  It’s like a new toy; a new experience that is fun and exciting, but has the potential to lose its luster.  It is important to not make judgements about your child’s interest based on the first few weeks of the activity, as this can influence your decision making and potentially increase your frustration when and if they decide the guitar is “not for them”.

Don’t be afraid to have a discussion with your son or daughter about why they want to quit an activity.

Evaluate the reasons why your child wants to quit, and talk it out with them.  Allow your child to tell you all the reasons why they want to quit.  Empathize with your child as they discuss their reasons for wanting to quit, and validate their feelings (they are real!).  Figuring out what to do is easier when the reason behind wanting to quit is clarified (e.g., being bullied, the coach is mean, physical injuries) or if your child is feeling anxious or frustrated (e.g., doesn’t like her coach, doesn’t like being put on the spot to perform, or feels as though she is unable to perform—score goals, pass the ball, play on key or on tempo, etc.).

Think about the message you want to send to your son or daughter based on what they share with you.  If your child wants to quit because they are being bullied and the coach refuses to address the situation, then quitting could be a teachable moment.  Allowing your child to quit would send the message that you care about their well-being, and that their voice matters.  However, if your child wants to quit because they are anxious or frustrated, quitting could reinforce for them that avoidance of a situation is acceptable. Learning the skills to manage emotions will benefit your child in the future when other frustrating and anxiety provoking situations come up—and they will!

Remember that every activity in which your child is involved is an opportunity for growth and learning.  Have a discussion with your son or daughter about the advantages and disadvantages of quitting activities.  Provide your REASONS (this is not a time to tell your child what they have to do) why you think they should stick it out (allow this to be a dialogue between both of you).  Then step away from the conversation for a day or two before making a final decision.

Parenting is hard work; just remember that you are doing the best you can, and YOU GOT THIS!

Written by Allyson Weldon, Ph.D. for the Linden Blog.  If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment at Linden BP call 440/250-9880.