When to let your kid quit — and when to make them keep at it
Just say no.
That’s something parents today should encourage their kids to say more of, experts say — at least when it comes to extracurriculars. Indeed, numerous studies on teenage stress suggest that many kids have more on their plates than they can handle.
And for parents, all those activities can break the bank. The average parent spends $739 on their kids’ extracurricular activities. Parents of high school kids spend even more: $1,124 on average, according to Huntington National Bank.
Still, as parents, we often want our kids to do numerous activities — at almost any cost — to boost their resumes for college and to help them develop outside interests and good relationships with other kids. But what happens when your kid doesn’t like their sport, club, job, or class? Should you let them quit?
Listen to why they want to quit. Sarah Stapp, the mother of a seven-year-old and founder of LatherUp Co., a kids’ products company, told Moneyish about a time her daughter asked if she could quit karate lessons. Stapp was surprised, but worked with her daughter to pinpoint the problem. “I asked, ‘What don’t you like about karate? What do you like about it? Why did you want to do it in the first place?’ It forces her to actually analyze what it is that she doesn’t like.”
With a discussion, you can figure out what the problems with the activity are and if there’s a way to fix them, experts say. For example, if it’s a problem with a person on the team, you might be able to help your child work out that issue. But if you hear that they simply do not enjoy the activity, that’s another matter.
Respond supportively. “Your message needs to be that you understand and empathize,” with their desire to quit, says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent.
In Strapp’s case, her daughter did drop karate. “I said, we’ll take a break, and if you want to try something else down the road, we will,” said Stapp. Karate lessons were right after school, and Stapp’s daughter was too tired after a long school day. The two discussed a number of other activities that weren’t as physically strenuous, and settled on gardening. “She found another thing that she liked. She just needed some decompression time.”
If you want your kid to stick with the activity, talk supportively with them about changes you could make to make them enjoy it more.
Know when they’re doing too much. When it comes to activities, there’s no magic number and some kids can do more than others, experts say. If your kid is constantly worn out, they may need to scale back. If they’re spending most of their time watching TV, they may not have found the right activity yet — and you should encourage them to try more.
Pay attention to their age. It’s okay to let your four- or five-year-old stop an activity they don’t enjoy, says Walfish, but leave the door open, and encourage them to try the activity again next year.
It’s a little different for older children, roughly eight and older, she says. Your kid doesn’t need to be part of a million clubs–but you should require them to choose one and stick with it. You’ll be teaching your kid an important life lesson: “Learning to tolerate delayed gratification is one of the cornerstones of staying motivated,” said Walfish. “People need to learn to remind themselves that letdowns and disappointments are temporary.”
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