Is your son or daughter a chronic quitter? A teen-ager who cannot resist getting involved in every new activity that comes along; and one who badgers you for paraphernalia he needs to participate, only to lose interest and drop out after the first or second class or meeting?
Is your house filled with enough barely-used baseball mitts, musical instruments, and art supplies to open a retail store? And, most importantly, is this behavior normal? Will it gradually disappear, or should you take immediate steps to curb it? If so, what steps?
First, ask yourself whether or not a problem really exists. Your teen's behavior may just be the result of normal curiosity. If so, he should continue his explorations within reason. Eventually, he will find the niche he is seeking.
If you suspect a more serious problem, list each activity dropped by your "Quitter" in the last year, along with his reason for discontinuing it. Maybe he really didn't understand it. Perhaps the leader was incompetent, or your child felt, with or without cause, that everyone else in the group was better at it than he.
If any of the above is true, perhaps you can persuade your son or daughter to give the activity another try. A friend or relative may be willing to provide extra coaching or tutoring for a difficult class or activity.
Check the leader out; if he really is incompetent, see that he is replaced. (You don't want anyone else's kids stuck with him, either.) Remind your child that being the best is not the most important thing in the world. There are always those who have more ability, so quitting will not solve that problem for long. Encourage him to be a good sport and give it his best shot.
If your drop-out's reasons don't fit into any of the above categories, he may have developed a quitting pattern that can cause serious career and family problems later, unless steps are taken to curb it, now. Here's how.
Before allowing your child to add any new activity to his schedule:
- Have him read a book or several articles on any subject before becoming actively involved.
- Require him to research the cost of an activity and to pay a percentage of that cost himself.
- Require a ten-day wait after completion of requirements 1 and 2 before embarking upon any new activity. (Some extremely consuming passions mysteriously vanish following this treatment.)
- Make an iron-clad rule that once your child begins an activity, he must continue until it is completed or until a specific pre-set date.
- Encourage your teen to be more selective about his activities. Remind him that he doesn't have to become involved in an activity "just because it's there," or because all of his friends are doing it.
- Be patient. Re-training takes time; don't expect changes overnight.
- Be tough and require your child to stick to the rules.
If you are consistent in applying the above guidelines, before you know it, your former "Quitter" will experience the satisfaction of completing something worthwhile, and decide that being a "Finisher" is a lot more fun.
Keep Your Child From Being a Quitter
If your child plays sports, sooner or later you'll deal with a declaration of "I quit!" But before you say no—fearing your child will be branded a quitter for life—hear him out, and try to understand his motives.
Better yet, develop an anti-quitting plan even before he signs up for a new sport. Lisa Belkin, author of the New York Times parenting blog Motherlode, explained her sensible, workable philosophy this way in a post on quitters: "If you commit to a team you have to see the season through. If there is a financial outlay you have to promise a certain time commitment at the start. And if you want to quit because you are being hurt, physically or emotionally, then that cancels out all of the above."
Questions to Ask a Quitter
If you haven't previously laid out a plan like Belkin's, or you aren't sure whether your child qualifies for one of the safe "outs" Belkin lists, start asking questions (sensitively—this isn't a homicide investigation; your child will be more responsive if you choose a time and place that's comfortable to him). Try:
- You seemed really interested when you first signed up. What's changed?
- Have you been disappointed by your performance, or your team's?
- How do you think your coach/teammates would feel if you left the team?
- Is there something else you would prefer to do instead?
- Would you like to play the same sport, but on a different team?
- Would you like to continue to learn this sport, just not right now?
- Would you like to try a similar sport?
Next Steps When a Child Wants to Quit
Depending on what you've learned from conversations with your athlete, consider whether it's worth pushing to change her mind. Chat with the coach or teacher, who might have some helpful insights.
If you decide that your child needs to stick with the sport, make sure she knows why and for how long: "We've invested in these classes and the necessary equipment, so you need to continue until the end of this session. After that, you can try something different if you'd like."
If you determine that quitting really is the right move—say, your child's grades or her health are suffering—praise her for knowing herself well enough to make the difficult choice, and for coming to you for help. Remind her that she can try again later if she wants to, or seek an alternative. She might enjoy the same sport on a less competitive team, for example, or an individual version of an activity instead of a team (or vice versa).
Quitting doesn't have to be the negative it's often made out to be. After all, as Belkin writes, "Dabbling is not failure, it is the only way to find a 'fit.'" The more opportunities your child has to try new sports and physical activities, the more chance he has of finding a lifelong love.
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