“We don’t quit in our family”

At some stage in your parenting journey you’ve probably heard the words, “I want to quit”. When your child utters those words – one of two things usually happens. Either a wave of sweet relief rushes over you at the thought of no more taxi driving, or your heart drops in disappointment. At which point you are likely to say something like,“I’m sorry, you what?”

“I’m not doing it” your child says, referring to the thing you’ve been paying for and driving them to for years.

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What to do next

You’ve heard these words before over the years. But you’ve always managed to coax your child around. So you start over with the same old but’s that have worked in the past —

  • “But, you are so good at it – you can’t give up now?”
  • “But, you have worked so hard – you can’t give up now?”
  • “But, your team needs you – you can’t give up now?”
  • “But, we don’t quit in our family – you can’t give up now?”
  • “But, you can’t just do nothing – you can’t give up now?”
  • “But, you’ll be right after the holidays, you can’t give up now?”

The harder you try to convince your child of all the reasons to persevere, the harder your child digs in their heels about quitting. The idea of your child missing out on the benefits gained from their hobby of choice over the years leaves you with a grief of sorts. The rehearsals, friendships, memories, practices, the trainings. Your child has had enjoyed a sense of accomplishment and belonging to a team, along with dedication, hard work, recognition, self confidence, and discipline. All of it has been so valuable. And now this – they’re giving up.

You’ll recognise this moment when it arrives. It’s a time when your previously compliant child solidly puts their foot down and says no more. Your best attempt to talk them around is futile, they have made up their mind. So where do we go from here? We can push them along regardless, or we can lean in to what is actually going on. Just quietly, I would recommend the latter. Because if you continue to push your child along a path where you’re invested more than they are, you’ll find that the cost is particularly high.

The importance of play

Play is recognised as one of the single most important tasks of healthy development. It’s the on ramp to creativity, productivity, mental health and wellbeing. It’s actually important that our kids enjoy what they do. So if all of the enjoyment is stripped out of an activity for a child, then perhaps it’s a reason to find something else they can love. Sometimes swapping orchestra for orienteering, or ballet for basketball, can be just what the doctor ordered.

There comes a time in every child’s life when they need to find their own motivation for doing what they do instead of borrowing ours. So, how can we help our kids make wise decisions about their hobbies and interests?

Find out what your child is objecting to

When your child puts their foot down, it’s important to understand what they’re objecting to. It’s worth using simple curiosity to unearth what they are struggling with. Here are a few questions you can ask –

  • “What’s up?
  • “Why aren’t you enjoying it anymore?”
  • “Have you felt like this for long?”
  • “What else don’t you like?”
  • “Is it about the team? The number of practices? The time of the trainings? The coach?”

It might feel like you are indulging their negativity – you’re not. You’re creating some space for them to vent about what they are struggling with.

Stop using the word but

Let’s assume your child is well aware of how keen you are for them to continue with the activity. Over the years, as their motivation has waned, you’ve managed to talk them around and keep them plugged in. But this time, your child has reached the end of being shuffled along by your enthusiasm. Now is your time to try something different. Instead of telling them all the reasons why they shouldn’t give up, stop and listen. Let your child express what is not working for them.

Be their cheerleader – not their manager

Having listened to all of your child’s reasons to quit, it’ll be tempting to jump right in and give them your side of the story. This is not the time to convince them why they are wrong, or just give them another shot of motivation. Instead, lean in with your support. Support sounds like, “I can tell that you have really thought about this / I have so admired your commitment to get this far / you have such determination / I’ve loved watching you excel”. This is the time to appreciate what they have accomplished, not what they have yet to do.

Buy some time

It’s never a good idea to drop an activity halfway through the season or on a whim, so it’s worth agreeing to take time to think it through. Dumping and running is seldom a good way to part with all that you’ve invested in the activity. Now that you know how your child is feeling, there will be a sense of relief for them, so a wind down period like the end of the term or the season or the year might be a good plan. This way you can chat with others like coaches, team members, partners and glean some ideas about the best way forward. A rushed decision can sometimes lead to regrets, so chat with your child about what it might look like to transition well.

If not this – then what?

After you’ve done all that listening, and you have understood things from their perspective it’s time for some blue sky thinking. Resist the urge to rush in with your next suggestions, help your child to dream about what’s next. You may have an understanding that doing nothing is not an option so you can ask them, “So if not this, then what?” Play is the birthplace of joy and creativity so work out where can your child play in new and interesting arenas. Ask them what else they are into. You might be surprised at what they have in mind next.

The leap of faith

One of the most satisfying experiences we can have as parents is to see our kids hit their stride and excel at what they do. Unfortunately though, we don’t get to choose the things that they excel at. All kids reach an age and a stage when they need to fully buy in to their own journey. As parents, learning to trust the process of stepping back allows our child to step forward. This can feel like a leap of faith. But ultimately, it gives our kids the opportunity to chase their own dreams and take ownership for themselves.