We’re going to shift gears a bit this week and talk about a subject that every parent will deal with at some point: How to keep your child from quitting. To be clear, this is not a discussion about “if” or “when” it’s okay for a child to quit a sport or activity. Obviously, there are many factors that go into that type of decision and it is far beyond the scope of our blog this week. Instead, we are going to focus on keeping children involved in activities that their parents see value in.
Over the years I’ve had many parents say, “You have a great deal of success with kids sticking with your program. How can I get my child to stick with soccer, baseball, piano, etc.?” Throughout my last 17 years of teaching children, I have seen some common threads in the kids that stick with things. Interestingly, it’s not the kids as much as it is the parents and their actions that make the biggest difference. After all, if given a choice, most kids would quit school, stop eating their vegetables, quit doing their homework, and probably avoid brushing their teeth, too.
Children, especially younger ones, have not yet developed the reasoning skills to understand that there are “peaks and valleys” in motivation and excitement. Their understanding of the value of perseverance is a little cloudy as well. Children are also not capable of fully understanding commitment (this is why children under the age of 18 can’t enter into legal agreements). In fact, medical science has concluded that it is not until age 25 that certain areas of the brain are completely developed! As such, we cannot fault youngsters for wanting to quit things. What we can do is try our best to help children develop successful habits and strong character through participation in activities and programs we know to be in their best interest.
Here are 6 ways to keep your kids involved…
1. Don’t make quitting an option. Avoid saying things to your child such as, “I hope you stick with this,” or “You’d better not quit." Kids know their parents would never allow them to quit going to school, eating their vegetables, or brushing their teeth. Create a similar situation by removing the option to drop out of other important activities. I was less than a year into my training when I wanted to quit doing martial arts. Luckily, my parents didn’t make that an option. Throughout the last 17 years, I’ve positively impacted thousands of lives through the values and benefits of martial arts. That wouldn’t have been possible if my parents had allowed me to discontinue my training.
2. Be aware that children are “present-focused.” Said another way, a child may be swimming and not want to get out of the pool to go to her dance class. That doesn’t mean she has lost interest in dance, it is simply a present mind focus that she is more interested in swimming at that moment. If she was in a consistent and structured swimming program, there may also be times that she doesn’t want to get in the car and go swimming.
3. Don’t allow your child to bargain or make the rules. Never make deals like, “You can skip your music lesson this Thursday, but you’re going twice next week." If you allow your youngster to dictate if and when they’re attending music lessons, it’s only a matter of time before they decide they’re not going anymore. Also, be sure to stay consistent. Kids are extremely routine oriented. Set a routine and stick to it!
4. Don’t give up, team up! The first time your child says, “I don’t want to go to gymnastics, piano, karate, etc.,” you need to let their instructor know. Some parents feel awkward about this. Don’t be afraid of offending the coach, teacher, or instructor. It is critical to work together to address whatever the issue is and work toward a solution together. Remember, “Don’t give up, team up!”
5. Don’t “take a break.” This one is really important in non-seasonal activities such as dance, gymnastics, piano, and martial arts. A lot of parents will allow their children to “take a break” for the summer or sometimes as punishment for bad grades or behavior. Statistically, about 97% of children who take a break will NOT return to the activity. Once you and your child are out of the routine of attending the activity and they are no longer actively involved, it’s extremely difficult to get back on track.
6. Never talk about money or inconvenience. It’s never a good idea to say something like, “You’d better be darn sure you want to play hockey again this season. I’m not about to spend $300 on skates, sticks, and pads then spend my Saturday morning at the rink if you’re not 100% into this sport!” Believe it or not, your children want nothing more than to please you and receive positive feedback. If you give them the feeling that playing hockey is selfish and creating a financial burden on the family, they will tell you they want to quit because they know it pleases you.
There you have it, six quick actions you can take to help your youngster stick with any activity that you feel is valuable and important for their development.