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Why Quitting Can Actually Be Good for Kids

Everyone needs to learn to quit. Really, they do. Whether it’s a bad job or a bad relationship, at some point in life you need the skills and the experience to say, “I’m out of here.” Of course, the tricky issue is determining the right time for your child to throw in the towel, and how to help them learn from it. Think of extracurricular games and lessons as an opportunity for them to hit the “quit” button – it’s a low-cost way to learn a necessary life lesson. Hey, they can’t quit the family and they can’t quit school.

Kids don’t have the experience to know that new things are often frustrating, confusing, even disappointing. Hard work and perseverance often lead to great pleasure and payoff but how can a five-year-old, seven-year-old, ten-year-old know that? It’s your job to coach and encourage kids through the process of learning a new skill. It’s also your job to help them know when it’s okay to give it up and to teach them to evaluate the pros and cons of such a decision. Ideally, of course, we’d like to see a kid finish out a commitment: the sport season, the set of lessons, the camp session. But as adults, we also know that there are many things that aren’t worth slogging through the crap for: a horrendous teacher, bullies in a group, inconsolable frustration. Sometimes a kid just isn’t ready. Whether due to his or her makeup, family circumstance, illness, stress – sometimes all the activities combined are just too much.

Start by helping them to sort out why they want to quit. Is it because they didn’t get the part they wanted (Hamlet? quarterback? prima ballerina)? Yes, that’s disappointing, but that’s life. Are they frustrated trying to learn a new skill (all thumbs on the piano, two left feet at soccer, tongue-tied onstage)? Encourage children to complete the season, set of lessons, or performance and to look at it as a learning experience.

If their unhappiness is caused by more than not being the star of the show or not being a natural athlete or performer – say they’re not getting playing time or are left out of the group or are being made fun of – then it’s your job to help them. Start by facilitating a conversation with them and the coach or teacher. In the end, you’re the mom. If there’s just too much psychic or physical pain involved (even if you think they’re being overly sensitive – remember you’re not them, and their feelings are real to them), by all means help find a graceful way out. Suggest that this isn’t the year for soccer, violin, volleyball, but maybe they’d like to try it again another time. If your child is enrolled at a private facility and you’ve paid for lessons, negotiate a partial refund. If you believe that substandard adult supervision is the reason for their leaving, have a conversation with the director or owner of the facility and advocate for a full refund on that count. If you are participating through a town league or recreation program where coaches are volunteers, fold your tent and chalk it up to the cost of life.

In the end, offer your kids praise. Let them know how proud you are of them for understanding themselves well enough to know their limits and what they like and don’t like. Encourage them to try something new.

Sports, theater, music lessons, and art classes are add-ons in your already complicated life. They require paying, planning, driving, carpooling – not to mention time spent watching, cheering, encouraging, or nagging behind the scenes (did you practice the piano for thirty minutes today, Asa, really?). Often, while trying to do what is best for our kids, we take on more than we can handle. Like a boiling pot with a too-tight lid, the steam comes out the sides. Or we get a little overcooked and can’t see clearly what is really going on. Sometimes you just need to say no. You are allowed to keep some unstructured, unscheduled time in your life!

 

Excerpt from SMART MAMA, SMART MONEY: Raising Happy, Healthy Kids without Breaking the Bank by Rosalyn Hoffman (NAL, March 2012)

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