Your kid shows a lengthy dedication to a sport or activity. Then you hear the words, “I want to quit.”
For parents, it can be tricky to know whether a child should learn to push through challenges, or if it’s time to turn away.
“I think you need to have a dialogue whether your child stays or not,” said Tracy Duncan, retired University High School gymnastics coach. During her 15-year tenure, she watched the scenario play out many times.
“You need to ask, ‘Did you have a bad day with the coach or is there something more than that?’ Maybe the child is not getting along with teammates. Are the children in this situation mature enough to understand? You need to drill down.”
Duncan’s other suggestions are to look for any warning signs that a child isn’t in a safe situation, and for parents to make sure the talk is about the child and not them.
“When it stops being about the child and it starts being about the parent, that’s a concern, such as if it’s, ‘We’re paying so much for this.’ ”
A few gentle questions might uncover a root issue, like if it’s a desire for change or more about wanting a different routine or teacher, said Margie Heller, a violin and viola instructor at Holy Names Music Center.
“Any of those things might be a problem, so it’s really just trying to listen to the child,” she said.
Duncan said a simple approach might be to mention when children were happy in an activity, then ask them what changed.
“Maybe the child is sick and doesn’t know how to express it. It might be something completely other than the sport.”
Molly Kreyssler, a Coeur d’Alene educational coach, suggests starting a conversation with the “why” question then asking about a child’s emotions.
“I think there can be some ownership of, ‘What would you like to do?’ Kreyssler said. “Sometimes a child will say, ‘I want to keep swimming, but …’ and the but comes.”
Kids might need help thinking about motivation or whether they’re fearing failure.
“Is there an obstacle they’re shying away from?” she asked. “Maybe their learning has become more challenging versus there is something else going on affecting their emotional well-being, and they should step away.
“If there is a failure or making mistakes, how do you get up or how do you learn from that? It can be good to re-frame it and talk to kids about other skills, like how to stay positive, how to learn, how to keep going.”
Parents might ask older kids if they’ve thought through consequences of such a decision, Kreyssler said.
“They may be thinking about immediate relief, versus can they picture the pros and cons?”
Sometimes, burnout can be a factor and kids feel too much pressure, said Matty McIntyre, Gonzaga Prep boys basketball coach.
He encourages balance for his daughters ages 7, 11 and 16. If they want to try a new activity after a season ends, that’s OK.
“I’m of the mindset of letting them explore all different opportunities,” he said. “My daughter did gymnastics for three years and she loved it, and then at the end of one season, she said, ‘I want to try soccer.’ So we did soccer for one season and she said, ‘That’s not for me.’ ”
“It’s giving kids a lot of opportunities.”
Spokane voice and choir teacher Ann Benson played cello from age 9 to her college freshman year. Her daughters in fourth and sixth grade now excel in activities.
“Every child and every family is different,” Benson said. “It’s a balance.”
By college, Benson had reached an elite level with a small group of cello students taught by the first chair in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Then she hit a wall.
“I think it was a combination of different things, including I had tendinitis,” she said. “I had to evaluate, do I really want to do this as a professional?
“I realized looking back with 20-20 vision that I also think the truth is I loved being good at something. That was real armor for me getting through middle school and high school.”
But it might help parents to be mindful of whether a child had tied too much self-worth into an activity or sport, she said. And changes can work out.
Her older daughter, in ballet since kindergarten and taking five classes a week, recently decided to be in a children’s theater production.
“It became this huge conversation,” Benson said. “She’d say, ‘I love ballet. I just don’t know if it’s the only thing I want to do. I want to be in a play.’ ”
Her daughter chose time to do the play, and was able to cut back her ballet schedule to three classes a week for a while.
Duncan had certain guidelines for her children.
“My rule with my kids when I put them in an activity is they have to give it six months,” Duncan said.
“If they joined a team, they had to complete a season because the team is counting on you. I’d say, ‘If after that season you don’t like it, you don’t have to stay.’ You have to give it time to see if it’s a good decision.”
McIntyre said his daughters have to finish out an agreed time or season.
“Once you commit to something, you finish it,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in favor of them joining a team and then quitting half way through, unless there was some radical circumstance.”
Heller at Holy Names Music Center said it’s common that children start out excited about music and progress quickly at the beginning. Then kids can hit a plateau.
It might help for parents to talk with the teacher or coach for ideas, Heller said, because that person might have noticed something. “Maybe they need a little change in their routine.”
Sometimes, kids enjoy the sport or activity but at a less intense level, Duncan said. They might just need a break.
“You don’t want your child to get to the point they absolutely hate it,” Duncan said. “If they get a break, maybe they’ll come back with a passion.”
A parent could ask if a child wants to see it out for a few months versus quitting on the spot, said Heller.
“There does come a time with many children that they decide they’re no longer interested,” she said.
“That’s part of a child’s job to try different things and decide what they enjoy, and as they get older there are a lot of choices. Maybe a parent can set a date in the future and say, ‘I don’t want you to quit right now, but we’ll keep talking about it, and maybe three months down the road we can consider it if you still feel that way.’ ”
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