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7 Times It’s OK to Encourage Your Kids to Quit Something

Although encouraging consistent quitting can affect a child's self-esteem, there are some instances where it may be warranted. Here's what the experts say about allowing a child to quit.

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Emotional red flags

Activities of any kind—even when they aren’t physical, like sports—can get kids moving, socializing, and finding their interests. But, what if you sign up your child for the soccer team, only to find out that, after three practices, he doesn’t enjoy it? John Mayer, PhD, author and clinical psychologist at Doctor on Demand, recommends children stick it out for as long as possible to teach the value of commitment, but also encourages parents to watch for warning signs of emotional distress. “If the activity is causing stress or hardship in the child, then a parent needs to reevaluate the usefulness of participation,” says Dr. Mayer. “Is this activity still fulfilling the purpose you signed them up for?” According to Dr. Mayer, parents should keep an eye on emotional red flags that could signal that an activity is doing more harm than good, such as loss of sleep, decreased appetite, signs of depression, and fear and/or temper tantrums associated with the activity. At this point, it may be best to drop the activity.

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Your dream or hers?

Encouraging a child to try new things is wonderful when it’s for the right reasons. Activities can help children meet new friends, learn respect for authority figures, work as a team, and more. Parents are often the main supporters of their kids as they try a new sport, musical instrument, or art class. But, parents can also be the main source of pressure for their kids to succeed. Frank J. Sileo, PhD, psychologist and author of Sally Sore Loser: A Story about Winning and Losing, says that when adults “take the fun completely out of the activity and an emphasis is placed on winning, being first, winning a trophy, that kids may begin to feel anxious about attending an activity or practice.” If you start to feel that maybe your child becoming a gorgeous ballerina was more your dream than hers, it may be time to relieve some pressure off her shoulders. According to Dr. Sileo, pressure may push a child past her physical and emotional limits, which can have long-term emotional and physical effects.

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More than meets the eye

It’s not something parents want to think about, but it is possible that your child is being bullied by others on his team or abused—physically or emotionally—by a coach. Parents can usually catch physical abuse more easily than emotional abuse because of bruising or scarring. If your child is suffering emotional abuse from his teammates or coaches, it could manifest in other ways that may not immediately suggest that his sport or activity is to blame. Dr. Sileo says to keep an eye on physical symptoms that seem to creep up randomly, like headaches, tics, and stomachaches. If you notice that your child is acting differently at home or school and you suspect it has something to do with his activity, you can start a conversation with him. He may just be waiting for you to open the lines of communication to he can feel safe talking about it. According to Dr. Sileo, parents should “make a stand. Do not take the attitude that your child has to ‘toughen up,'” if something is legitimately wrong. The sooner you talk about it, the sooner you can get to the bottom of the issue and decide what steps to take. Here’s what to do if your child is being bullied or abused.

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Too much, too soon

There’s something to be said about simplifying your family’s schedule. Sure, we want our kiddos to be involved with things they love, but when we overdo it with jam-packed schedules, everyone can suffer. According to CNN, 41 percent of children in a study conducted by KidsHealth said they feel stressed from overfilled schedules. Parents, too, may feel the pressure from running their kids back and forth between activities and being responsible for the associated financial costs. When extracurriculars seem to be more of a burden on the family than beneficial, it may be time to reevaluate them.

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School slump

Are your child’s activities becoming so overwhelming that her grades suffer the consequences? According to Darrel G. Floyd, superintendent of Enid Public Schools in Enid, Oklahoma, extracurricular activities can be just as important as academics, as they teach kids vital skills, like working together as a team and effective communication. But, ineffective time management can quickly turn skill-building activities into ones that overshadow academics. Parents can help execute a balanced schedule of academics and extracurriculars by closely monitoring their child’s grades and schedule. Help foster your child’s interest in school work by being proactive in talking about upcoming school projects and letting her know you’re available to help her when needed. Also, ensure that you have scheduled blocks of time for homework or studying each day that works with her activity schedule. But, if it seems that school is competing for attention with several weekly activities, it may be time for your child to give up an extracurricular.

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Take age (and quitting history) into consideration

A child’s age can, and should, be an important factor when considering whether to allow your child to quit a sport or activity. Preschool and young elementary-aged children are still figuring out what their interests are. More importantly, children trust their parents to guide them when they need help. If your young child is adamant about quitting and you feel like he’s given the activity a fair trial, you may consider letting this one slide. Older children, especially preteens and teens, however, should be encouraged to stick it out for as long as possible. Dr. Mayer explains that “consistently allowing [a child] to quit is detrimental to a child because it prevents them from developing coping mechanisms to deal with the difficult aspects of life and difficult life challenges.” Instead, talk to your child to try to get to the bottom of what’s bugging him. If he’s consistently persisted in other activities but doesn’t feel that this one is right for him, maybe it’s time for a free pass.

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Money pit

Parents can easily get carried away with signing up kids for new activities so they stay busy and find their passions. But, if you suddenly find yourself spending way over your budget on fundraising, uniforms, or traveling, you might need to consider simplifying your calendar and expenses. Even if your child loves all her activities, you can still sit her down for a one-on-one and explain why she needs to decide on an activity to cut from the schedule. If possible, allow her to make the choice by considering the one she’s least interested in. This conversation can double as an excellent way to teach your child about the importance of a household budget and how it can help the whole family.

Amy Boyington
Amy Boyington is a former preschool teacher based in Ohio and regularly contributes parenting, special needs, and family lifestyle articles to Reader’s Digest. Her work has also appeared in The Old Schoolhouse, Niche, MSN, and other publications. She has a BA in English and elementary education from the University of Phoenix and is a nominee for induction into The National Society of Leadership and Success.