Q: If my child starts an activity and hates it, is it okay to let him quit in the middle of the program, or should I force him to continue? I’m worried about raising a “quitter”, but I’m also worried about turning my child off activity altogether.
This is a common conundrum for parents as they get their kids into just about any sport or activity. It’s a situation where you need to find the right balance.
On one hand, you want to trust your child’s ability to decide what they like and choose appropriately. On the other hand, you also want to make sure they are not giving up prematurely just because they feel stretched slightly outside their comfort zone with something new. So you need to take time to talk with them and listen to what they are feeling.
Here are some things to look for:
- If your child has only attended one or two sessions in the activity, they may not have had a real taste of the activity yet, or they may still just be overcoming initial shyness in meeting new kids. Encourage them to try at least five or six sessions, and consider making a deal with them that they can quit after five or six sessions if they still don’t like it. This is a good way to push gently outside your child’s “comfort zone” if they tend to be shy.
- If you have a small child, maybe they don’t like getting up early on a Saturday to participate in the activity, or being the youngest in the activity group. Try to find out if this is the case, and then address the issue at hand. Maybe you will decide to move them to a similar program that runs later in the day, or you will jointly decide to wait one more year to join the activity so your child will not feel intimidated by the bigger kids.
- If your child is close to becoming a teen or pre-teen, and this is their first time doing the particular sport or activity, you might find that they like it, but they lack many of the fundamental skills that the other kids have. As a consequence, they may feel inadequate and embarrassed. You can offer to get them some extra training time or extra instruction with an academy coach, or you can offer to practice with them at home so they catch up in their skills.
- If your child is registered in a team sport, you might discover that they prefer individual sports, or vice versa. Consider moving them from one to the other. Help them to explore different options by talking about all of the different types of sports and activities. Visit websites and learn more about each activity, and talk to other parents and kids who are doing those activities. Remember, the world of sport is not just hockey, or soccer, or tennis, or figure skating. There are a multitude of sports for your child to discover, as well as fun and demanding physical activities that we don’t traditionally tend to consider “sports”, such as dance and even skateboarding.
These are the most common reasons why kids may want to quit an activity. Of course, on rare occasion, there can be more serious reasons. You need to act quickly and decisively if you find any of the following:
- The coaches or instructors are neglectful or verbally abusive (or worse).
- There are parents in the activity setting who are verbally abusive (or worse).
- There are child bullies in the activity setting, and your child feels unsafe.
You can likely catch any serious issues early if you commit to attending at least the first three or four sessions of the activity. No one likes to imagine that these things can happen to their child, but it pays to do your due diligence as a parent. You may find it helpful to look at this quality sport checklist as well.
As you discuss the notion of quitting with your child, also check your own beliefs and concerns around the notion of quitting. We explore some of those concerns in our article about children who show no interest in sports.
Above all, have faith that there is an activity “out there” that your child will enjoy. Often you just need to help them to discover it at the right time with some thoughtful discussion and gradual exploration of the options. John Nash and Jeff Mallett are two parents who have great ideas on encouraging your kids in activity and sport. Jennifer Hedger says she also had the right kind of encouragement from her mom and dad.
So don’t imagine the sky is falling if your child says she wants to quit. See it as a signal that you need to sit down, practice some active listening and explore the options.
If your child wants to quit:
- Find the right age group.
- Make sure the time of day works.
- Make sure your child has the skills needed for that level.
- Try at least five or six sessions.
- Find the right activity: team or individual?
- Make sure coaches and parents are respectful.