We’ve all been there: Your child begged you to let her take on a particular activity so you went to the trouble of researching it; finding out where the activity takes place; enrolling; paying for the activity, uniforms and equipment; encouraging your child to practice said activity; taxiing your child to and from the activity each week (sometimes several times a week); even getting involved yourself as a volunteer helper, coach, car pooler, or on washing duty… Yes, you put a lot of effort and money into this so called “dream” but then your child seems to lose interest, doesn’t want to practice, too tired to go to classes, mucks around in class or refuses to participate, and says they want to “quit”.
“Quit” is a loaded word in our society synonymous with giving up, dropping out, not continuing, abandoning, or avoiding. People fear that quitting reflects badly on their character – they are not dependable, they didn’t persevere, they “can’t hack it”, they are weak…So when our kids want to quit something, many parents are confused as to how to manage the situation.
Martin Camiré, a US professor who specializes in sport psychology and positive youth development suggests that it is actually developmentally appropriate and even beneficial for kids to try an activity, then lose interest and want to try something else. Research indicates that children under twelve years should participate in a number of different activities because that is how they learn what they like and what they are good at (and not so good at), and develop different skills. This time in childhood is referred to as the ‘sampling years’.
Children have an innate drive to learn, experiment, be curious, and use trial and error. With these characteristics comes the desire to try many different things. Sometimes when a child tries something new, they love it and want to continue with that activity. More often than not, kids will try something, get a taste of it, feel satisfied that they have found out what it is about, then want to try something different.
To Quit or not to Quit?
There are arguments for and against letting children stop extracurricular activities once they have committed to them. Some appear to be fairly solid in their logic, and other a little more dubious.
- Kids are more likely to give things a try and have a positive approach to new activities because they know they can stop if it doesn’t work out/suit them. Children who fear being forced, coerced, or judged into sticking with an activity are less inclined to seek new experiences, and can experience lower self esteem.
- Kids are encouraged to listen to their inner voice about what feels right for them. This is an important skill to develop so when our children are faced with more challenging issues in life, e.g. drugs, unsafe situations, they are more confident in making choices that feel right for them rather than succumbing to pressure from others.
- Trying lots of different activities allows a child to choose from a broader range when deciding what they do want to persist with.
- Trying lots of activities teaches many different skills the child can use in other areas of life.
- Motivation to do activities comes from the child rather than the parent. Kids are more likely to stick with an activity they like once they find it because it meets their needs, rather than because an adult is making them do it.
- Ending or leaving an activity or situation that doesn’t fit is a normal part of life. Allowing a child to leave an activity that doesn’t suit them respects the time they spent on that activity (it was not a waste of time), helps the child retain his or her dignity (not shamed for quitting), and also allows the child the opportunity to potentially re-visit that activity at a later time or stage of development.
- An open, respectful relationship between child and parent is fostered as the parent is focusing on the child’s needs and desires rather than getting caught up in the money spent, the commitment made, or what others think – external standards.
- Some research suggests that kids who are taught that skills and talents can be developed and grown through hard work and practice, are more confident and happy within themselves.
- The child may be experiencing a temporary difficulty within the activity and should be supported to work through that difficulty, not give up.
- Family values on perseverance, “sticking with things”, “not giving up”, and “facing a challenge” may conflict with the idea of ending an activity.
- Parents want to give their kids every opportunity and some wish that their parents had been able to, or wanted to push them into doing activities or pursuing interests when they were a child, so as parents themselves now, they want to be able to do that for their child.
- Some parents experienced being forced to participate in an activity as a child by their own parents, and recall that they ended up loving the activity once they persisted with it. These parents don’t want their own kids to miss out on loving an activity because they leave it prematurely.
Change your wording
So what about if we change the wording around quitting? As mentioned previously, “quit” is a word with negative connotations in our society and is associated with alot of undesirable things. But are we really talking about quitting when it comes to our children’s extracurricular activities? Researchers suggest it is beneficial to take a less hard-line stance and differentiate quitting with taking a break, ending an activity, sampling an activity, having a trial, or giving it a go. These words and phrases suggest a less permanent termination of an activity than “quitting” and can leave the door open for a child to resume the activity at a later date or stage of development if they are interested.
Rather than catastrophizing our child’s loss of interest in an activity, we can help our child to end an activity with dignity.
- Josephson (2014) defines quitting as “giving up in the middle of something”. Unless you child is showing great distress at being involved in an activity, it may be worth considering discussing with them how you can support them to complete the activity and then stop it, e.g. rather than walking off the field mid-game, finish the game; or finish the current programme. This would likely include agreeing on an end date so you are both working toward that together.
- Talk with your child about what they dislike about the activity. It may be something that can be addressed and changed which will then help your child to feel more comfortable with the activity and want to continue. If your child is unable to identify any particular issues, it may be because the activity no longer suits them, at which point it would be appropriate to help your child plan how to end their involvement appropriately (e.g. plan an end date).
- Let your child pick the activities they want to try. A child is more likely to enjoy something they have chosen rather than something they have been forced to do.
- Think about how you may be able to help your child have a try at an activity before signing up. Many activities allow a trial period where your child can come and suss out what it’s all about and see if it suits them or not before you have to enrol them in a programme. Or see if there are ways your child can sample the activity outside classes, e.g. go to the ice-skating rink as an outing and see if your child even likes ice skating first, or go to the park and kick the soccer ball around with a few friends. It may be useful to get out a library book or watch an online video about an activity with your child to find out more about it first.
- Don’t stress too much about it. Remember childhood is a time of experimentation, “sampling” and curiosity. If your child tries an activity and finds they don’t like it, use that as a learning opportunity: Finding out what we don’t enjoy is just as useful as finding out what we do enjoy and where our talents lie. See it as a learning experience for them, rather than a failure
- Balance organised activities with free play. Kids lives are often over-scheduled with structured activities and they don’t get enough time to just play. Free play is important for kids socialising, being creative and curious, and having a sense of freedom and down time.
- Consider health. Check if your child is getting enough sleep, eating well (including enough water), and getting opportunities to move physically. When these basic health needs are not being met, children will find it much more difficult to pursue extra activities.
- Check out the instructor and programme before enrolling. Psychiatrist Martin Camiré says that the adults who lead an organised activity, e.g. coaches or teachers, have a huge influence on the success of that activity. If your child has an instructor who is disorganised, poorly trained, or just lackluster in their involvement, this will impact negatively on your child’s desire to participate in the activity.
- Consider family values. Help your child plan for and participate in activities that they enjoy and which sit with the family values. If a family value is to see something through to the end, avoid enrolling your kid into every activity they show a passing interest in. Try a few of the above-mentioned tips first such as a trial period, or outings focusing on that activity so your and your child don’t end up in situations that conflict with the family value.
- Look for trends. If your child repeatedly wants to quit activities, see if there are any similarities in the activities chosen, whether your child wants to stop when faced with challenges, or whether there are other activities he may be more suited to, e.g. music vs sport. Most children will need support through temporary challenges in activities they participate in, but if
you are concerned seek assistance from coaches, family members or health professionals.
- Take a break. If an activity is causing stress, tension, tantrums, and battles every time, arrange for your child to take a break from it. If life feels more balanced and harmonious without the activity, then you will know you have made the right decision for you and your child.
Children today have a huge range of extracurricular activities they can choose from that may suit interests in areas of music, sport, creativity, mental stimulation, physical movement, and team work. However, many parents are faced with the experience of their child starting an activity then losing interest or finding they dislike the activity and wanting to “quit”. Experts suggest that childhood is a time of experimentation, trial and error, and curiosity referred to as the “sampling years”. That is, it is developmentally appropriate for children to chop and change between interests in the pursuit of finding activities that they really enjoy and/or are good at. So, rather than getting hung up on our kids “quitting”, it is beneficial to re-frame this phenomena as a natural part of life and learning, and support our kids in ways that help them experience opportunities and make decisions with respect and dignity.
Goldberg, S. (2014). Quitting activities: Choose Dolphin Parent over Tiger Mom. Today’s Parent. Retrieved from: http://www.todaysparent.com/family/activities/kids-quitting-activities-dolphin-parent-tiger-mom/
Josephson, A. (2014). The Difference between Quitting and Ending. Jag Gym Blog. Retireved from https://annejosephson.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/the-difference-between-quitting-and-ending/
Murphy, L. & Braden, J. (2016). Should you let your kids quit extracurricular activities? Today’s Parent. Retrieved from: www.todaysparent.com/kids/should-you-let-your-kids-quit-extracurricular-activities/
Wolfenstein, L. Dabbling, Digging Deep and Quitting:The Real Costs of Parental Pressure. Life Learning Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.lifelearningmagazine.com/1104/dabbling_digging_deep_quitting.htm