By Dr. Gerald Deskin, Ph.D.
Our children are involved in more and more activities. Some are physical activities such as team sports. Some are enrichment activities such as learning to play musical instruments. All of these activities can be either a wonderful opportunity for children or they can lead to failure. Every parent wants his or her child to be a winner, not a quitter. When the child wants to stop an activity, parents are often unsure of the reason why. Should they allow the child to stop? Does this brand them as losers or not? Parents need to listen to their children and evaluate their decisions.
Children quit for many reasons. The activity maybe wrong for a particular child, or the timing in a child's life may be wrong. Children want to stop because they are not getting on with the other children or may not like the teacher or coach. A particular activity may be boring for a child, or he/she may not be interested in that activity at a particular time. Sometimes children initially want to do what their friends are doing and then find it is not to their liking. Parents often choose activities like playing the piano, or a team sport, and the child doesn't have the skills or maturity to enjoy the activity. Finally many children are over-extended. They enjoy an activity, but are involved in so many that they have no time just to be themselves and play.
Parents need to understand the child's needs and discuss any activity in advance. A good way to handle this is to discuss every new activity with the child first and give them options. For example, if a parent thinks it might be a good idea for a child to take karate, allow the child to sit in for a few sessions before signing him/her up. Another approach is to allow the child to try for a given period of time, such as a month. Start with a small contract and stick to it.
A child needs to know what is involved if he/she agrees to an activity. That is, how much time and practice is involved? If team sports are involved, how much time can the child be expected to play? What skills are involved? If it is a baseball, does the child have the requisite skills to play, or will there be inevitable failure at first? Nobody likes to be the worst member of a team, even if practice leads to eventual success. Parents need to evaluate their child's strengths. Teaching a tone deaf child a musical instrument will lead to frustration and failure on the child's part as well as the parents.
Parents need to support their child in an activity. This means that there may be a long learning period before the child is good at the activity. Too many parents appear to demand instant skills in a child learning a new activity. Parents need to compliment children on trying and doing their best even if growth is slow and sometimes painful. Support your child verbally. Some children feel better when their parents attend their sporting events. Others find great difficulty when their parents are there since they don't want to fail for their parents. How does your child feel when you are there, or not?
A child can learn a great deal from some activities. For example, in a team sport a child learns socialization skills. Learning to be a team member is a necessary skill to becoming a team leader in the future.
When a child wants to quit an activity it may be an awareness that this is not for him/her. Children sometimes show greater wisdom than their parents about what is good for them. It does not brand them as a quitter necessarily. Listen to your child. On the other hand the child who often wants to quit may be saying something about their self-esteem. They may feel that they are not good enough to do most anything. If so, they may need professional help, or just the support of parents in making smaller steps at first in choosing the right activity.
Suggestions for parents:
Parents should think not only of what their child needs, but what activities will lead to success, not failure.
Your child may need some initial preparation before parents choose an activity.
Be sure to discuss with you child what activities they would like to try, and make it clear that it is just a trial period.