Let Your Kids Quit
I can already feel the shudders from all the high achieving parents out there. I’m one of you so I understand the word “quit” doesn’t sit well in your mind. Good parents teach kids to follow through. To finish what they start. To perform well. True. But if you don’t understand when to let them quit, you’re selling your kids short.
A baby doesn’t know if his first steps will get him to his mama’s knees over on the couch. Likely he’ll try and fall down a few times. Childhood and adolescence is a time of exploration.
You can feel the hopefulness in a bright eyed child. Those that want to play baseball, football, play the trumpet, and be a video game champion all in the same week. And what about the bright eyed parents who want to provide every opportunity for their children to participate.
One of the most common mistakes I think well-intentioned parents make is to confuse opportunity with commitment.
My son decided to try wrestling in high school. He had never wrestled before but thought it looked like fun and his football coach encouraged him to go out. At his high school, wrestling was a serious sport and required practicing over holiday breaks.
“Are you sure?” I probed. It required us to purchase special shoes and gear so I wanted to make sure he really wanted to do it. He was very excited and enthusiastically said “Yes!”
After daily practice he would come home giving no indication that he thought he had made a mistake. Over a month goes by and we were driving home from practice when I asked him if he was glad he decided to wrestle. He replied, “Not really.” I asked why and he proceeded to tell me why he didn’t like the sport, how much he dreaded practice, and how much he regretted this decision.
So I looked at him and said, “Quit.” He looked at me in amazement.
“But you bought the shoes, the gear, and I thought I had to finish this whole season because I chose to do it,” he replied. The look in his eyes was part disbelief and relief. What a teachable moment!
“You tried something new, stuck with it over a month, and have decided it wasn’t your cup of tea. That’s OK. I’m proud of you for trying something you have never tried before. That is part of life–learning what you like and what you don’t. You gave it a fair shot for over a month. It’s soon enough that your decision will not impact your entire team. This is a big time commitment to be miserable,” I explained.
So how do we distinguish when to teach the valuable lesson “follow through with what you start” and when it’s ok to let your kids quit?
- If your child has made an EDUCATED decision to join a team in a sport they are familiar with, then they need to give their all the whole season with the option of not continuing next season. Children need to appreciate how their decisions affect others (the team that is counting on them).
- If your child doesn’t want to go to practice, too bad. Make them go. These emotions are fleeting based on temporary feelings of laziness, apathy, worried over practice, etc. Or allow them 1 free pass they can use anytime during the season.
- If your child wants to try something that involves a financial commitment on your part, such as a musical instrument, then discuss ahead of time and ask for a minimum commitment. OR have him find a way to engage in a trial first that doesn’t cost money to keep his options open. His enthusiasm initially is no indicator of how he will feel in the future!
- Encourage your kids to try new things without the fear of having to commit for life. As adults, we try things out we don’t follow through with and thank goodness nobody makes us. Let them uncover their own talents and preferences. Don’t forget it’s THEIR life.
- Pay attention to each individual child’s signals of apathy versus unhappiness. Missing the queues can be detrimental.
- If you have an apathetic child, you SHOULD provide guidance and a push. The key is to gain credibility with him. You get him to agree to try but he knows he has an out. This will address the apprehension and he will feel supported rather than railroaded by you.
- Make exploration exciting not stressful. The speed lane to stressing your kids out is making them fulfill YOUR dreams instead of their own.
- Recognize apprehension in your child and provide the support needed as they exit their comfort zone. Kids need boundaries and a safety net. Provide both.
Finishing what you start is a lesson we all need to teach our kids. Just don’t take it too far.