You spent three years driving your young and greatly promising son to hockey at 5am three times a week, and now he wants to quit. Your daughter is an amazing tennis player, has been chosen to play pro, but would rather stay home and update her social networking page. You know that if your children only applied themselves in what they are good at, they would go far, but how do you convince them of that?
The truth is, in this department, often our own children are the ones who ‘know what’s best,’ and the best thing to do is just listen. Don’t despair. There may be justified reasons for Junior’s decision. To find out if quitting is truly the best option, ask yourself these five simple questions:
1. Have they grown out of the activity?
Often, as parents, we choose an activity for our children when they are too little to know what inspires them. They may have mentioned they liked playing the violin when they were three, but at nine, it is perfectly normal to feel differently about it. If it is important to you that your child play an instrument, ask them what instrument they prefer to play instead of the violin. For some parents, quitting one thing just to start something else seems like a waste of time and money. In reality, if your child enjoyed the experience, it was extremely valuable to them. It was a great opportunity to learn something new, and challenge their brains. It also helped them discover themselves, build their self-esteem and better understand what inspires them. Now they can say with great clarity whether they really like the piano or singing or drums. The knowledge gained can be applied in a new situation. In fact, new research shows the more variety children are exposed to while learning, the more they increase their capacity to learn. Even if your child chooses never to play an instrument again in their life, those years you invested in will never be lost. They contributed to their development. If your child no longer finds the activity interesting despite having talent and a great instructor, don’t be afraid to make a change. If they can’t choose a different activity either, it’s okay to skip one semester or two.
2. Is the teacher to blame?
Don’t immediately jump to conclusions here. More often than not, the teacher has nothing to do with your child’s disinterest. If your child tells you they no longer like their lessons, it wouldn’t hurt to sit in a class and watch the dynamics between your child and the teacher. Ask the child what they like or dislike about the lessons. Your child needs someone who believes in them and understands their interests and learning style. Extra-curricular activities are different from school where your child is expected to ‘fit the model.’ Think back to when you were a student and what a difference a good teacher made. Sometimes, trying a different teacher or coach might re-ignite your child’s passion and feel like something new.
3. Is the timing right?
Your child might love playing hockey, but 10 hours of practice a week, on top of a full class schedule, might leave them too exhausted to realize it. Sometimes there is no flexibility with an activity, especially if the child is at a more advanced level. More often than not, trying an earlier class, or a Monday instead of a Friday, will help them regain their love for the game. Make sure your child’s extra-curricular activities are scheduled at times when your child is not tired or hungry or needing a break from school. Activities right after school are tricky because there’s no time for your child to get home. A little downtime and a good healthy snack are often needed. Friday nights might be when your child and their friends get together, and going somewhere after school becomes a chore. If your child wants to quit an activity, try to find out together if it truly is the activity that has lost its appeal or just bad timing.
One more thing with respect to timing: As parents, we must be aware of our children’s needs above all else. There have been times in the past where my children wanted to quit an activity they really loved. When they did, we realized that all they needed was one or two low-key semesters, where they got the chance to do other things at home or just rest. After a good break, they were the ones who asked to go back to the activities. Children are not always aware of their own needs, and might confuse the need for a break to not liking an activity. Don’t let instructors tell you that your children will ‘fall behind’ if they stop coming. You are not training an Olympic athlete; enjoy the journey together.
4. Is it their passion or yours?
Your father played soccer. Your father’s father played soccer. His father’s father and grandfather played soccer, too. You had dreams of becoming the next soccer star, and now your son is the greatest soccer player in his team. His coach loves him; his teammates look up to him. There’s just one problem: your son wants to quit. You know he has great talent, but how do you make him understand that? Well, you don’t. Your son has to decide for himself what he likes. He might not be into sports at all, and as much as that might break your heart and go against all family traditions, you must respect your child and seek to understand what things he likes. Once you know, do your very best to support him and encourage him to pursue his interests. You never know, maybe all he needed was to try something new for a while. Or maybe it really wasn’t his 'thing.' In any case, supporting him in his decision was the best thing you could have done. No great soccer players get there without passion.
5. Are they simply too busy?
Children today lead a far busier life than any of us did in our youth. In the name of being great parents, we provide our children with so many great opportunities that often it doesn’t leave them with enough time to just play or relax. If your child wants to quit an activity (or all of them), listen carefully to what they are saying. Take a break for a while. Before starting again, make sure that you include your child when deciding on their schedule. Decide together on one or two activities they really like. Then leave enough free time during the week and on weekends. If your life after 3pm revolves around co-curriculars, it is a clear sign that you’ve overdone it, no matter how talented your child is.
Chances are, a child’s decision to quit an extra-curricular activity will revolve around one of these five points. Once you have had the chance to make the necessary changes, you may find their interest will reignite. In any case, the best thing to do is to openly talk with your child. No matter how young they are, involve them in the decision-making. Don’t worry about how many times your child wants to change and try something new. As long as they are inspired and physically active, how they achieve that goal should always be their decision. In this case, ‘sticking with it’ is definitely not the best approach.
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