One of the most challenging decisions we have made as parents is when we decided to stop our daughter’s singing lessons. As a parent, while I want to encourage my daughter to work through challenging situations, I also don’t want to watch her unravel to the point of hating voice training and forever closing the door.
It is understandably frustrating for parents to invest time and money in an activity to only pull them out after a few practices or lessons. As parents, it also makes sense that we want to teach our kids how to be resilient adults who overcome challenges and never give up.
The good news from the experts is that for kids around 12 and younger, quitting an activity does not mean your kids are more likely to quit or shy away from challenges as an adult. The data shows that kids deciding to quit at this age is beneficial and developmentally appropriate. It is also an opportunity to build trust between you and your kid.
Below are six tips to help you process and react positively when your kid asks to quit an activity.
Tip #1 Look for Symptoms
During the duration of the activity, consider any changes in their behavior. Some kids feel trapped or have trouble sleeping. Others might be anxious, and in extreme cases, suffer from panic attacks.
One symptom I read about was a ten-year-old boy who wanted to quit water polo. After confiding in his parents who understandably didn’t want him to stop, since he was an outstanding player and they had already invested time and money, the boy started to worry about being late. No matter where the family was going, if they were on time or not, he obsessed about being late. Soon after his parents permitted him to quit water polo, his anxiety about being late stopped.
If your kid is showing signs of being anxious, stressed out, or angry, it’s probably time to let go. Most of us will have to work through our own disappointment in how much money and time we’ve invested in the activity. That is understandable. But I’d also suggest focusing on building a new level of trust with your son or daughter. In a stressful situation like this, when we react positively, he or she knows they can trust you to listen and consider their point of view when a situation is not working out for them.
Tip #2 Letting Go
The most challenging question for many parents is how to know when it’s time to let go and allow our kids to quit an activity. Here are some tips to help you through the process:
- Observe your kids—There is a difference between your kid having a bad day or a string of bad days at soccer practice, and your kid reaching the point that he or she isn’t passionate and doesn’t want to play soccer anymore.
- Each activity is different—For example, your son or daughter may want to quit piano lessons, but you helped them stick to it, and now they’re doing great. We must be careful not to assume the problem they are currently having with an after-school art class is the same kind of situation. The point is to treat each case on its own merits.
- Who is more relieved—After your son or daughter works their way through a challenge, but he or she seems more relieved that you are relieved, it’s maybe time to let them quit.
Tip #3 The Sampling Years
Experts believe the “never give up” lesson many parents cite as a reason not to let their kids quit, is too abstract for young kids. Many experts agree that kids around 12 and younger benefit more when we provide them several different types of activities such as sports, arts, music, academic clubs, and so on.
Five benefits of embracing the Sampling Years model include:
- Kids are exposed to a variety of activities to help them find what they love, and when older, they concentrate on fewer activities, perhaps one or two.
- When we expose our kids to a variety of activities, they learn a range of skills.
- When parents seek out a variety of activities, it becomes much easier to let our kids’ natural curiosity and intrinsic motivation to decide if they continue with the activity.
- Providing a variety of opportunities is more developmentally appropriate than pushing them to focus on one or two activities before they turn 12.
- The benefits of an activity are more realized in kids who choose and decide themselves to stick to an activity.
During these sampling years, prepare yourself. While your kid may love something at first, after the honeymoon period, they will often lose interest. Remember, this is about trial and error, and you can’t try something without sometimes quitting.
Tip #4 Before Signing Up
Before officially signing up your son or daughter, check out these tips. While we don’t want to discourage our kids from pursuing their interests, we also want them to have realistic expectations of what they are signing up for.
- Set Expectations—Before signing your kid up for an activity, set up a time- or practice- related expectation. For example, come to an agreement that your son or daughter will do their best to complete the entire season or a certain number of lessons. After the agreed-upon point, he or she can quit and choose a different activity.
- Meet the Instructor—Before signing up, visit a game or practice or lesson if possible. Meet the instructor and learn about his or her teaching/coaching philosophy.
- Attend a Trial Class—If available, have your kid attend a trial class. Often there are similar free and informal activities available that your kid can try out and see how they like instruction before you pay for lessons. And if possible, attend the class too!
- Informal Experience—Before signing up for a season or lessons, check around the community for an informal and free experience. For example, if your kid wants to sign up for guitar lessons, consider asking a friend who plays guitar to show your kid the amount of practice it takes to play guitar. Other examples of informal experience include books and YouTube videos.
Tip #5 Before Quitting
Before quitting an after-school activity, here are a few tips to help you through the process
- Visit with the coach or instructor. Let them know the situation and ask for their opinion. Sometimes an adjustment can be made. There are situations when the coach, or instructor, is unaware of a problem and can provide a satisfactory solution.
- Could your kid be too busy? There are times when it’s not the activity, but rather that our kids are too busy.
- See if your kid can finish the season or the set of lessons you’ve already paid for. If that’s not the case, lower your expectations, and see if they can finish three more practices or lessons. The idea here is not to keep them in a bad situation but to buy a little time to explore the problem and see if it is solvable. Again, if your kid is too stressed, can’t sleep, or angry, consider quitting the activity immediately.
Tip #6 Is There Something Else Going On
Sometimes the stress around an activity has little to do with the activity itself. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you try to pinpoint why your child is asking to quit.
- Is the coach or instructor’s personality or teaching method not compatible with your child?
- Is your kid being bullied by someone else in the class, on the team?
- The basics: is your kid getting enough sleep, water, exercise, or free play time?
If our initial reaction when our kids come to us with their unhappy feelings about an activity is to demand our child finish out the season, it will have a negative effect in the future. Pause. Listen carefully. Explore what your child is sharing with you. Follow up with the coach or instructor. Ask other parents about the kid’s experience with the activity. Attend a practice or class. And be flexible. Remember: just because our kid quits an activity does not mean they are doomed to fail in their future endeavors. Far from it. If we don’t consider their point of view and show that we are willing to work with them, do you think your kids will come to you in the future when they are unhappy about another class, situation, or relationship? Probably not. So take a wider view, and consider your kid asking you to quit an activity as an opportunity to build trust between the two of you. That will take some of the sting out of the time and money you’ve already invested. Soon, it won’t seem like such a big issue.