Creative Child

Should I Let My Kid Quit?

by Mary Reckmeyer

Letting Your Kids Make Their Own Discoveries (and Mistakes)

Talents are so innate and ever-present that you might not even realize you have them. And your talents are inseparable from your behaviors and perceptions of the world.

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I also met a man named Matt during my research whose talents emerged when he was growing up on a farm in Iowa. He was in 4-H, and over the years, he participated in all of the clubs 4-H offered. After winning first-place ribbons at the state fair for almost every activity in a particular club, he would quit that club.

The adults in Matt’s life wanted him to stop jumping from activity to activity. But his father soon recognized that Matt loved to learn and felt a need to get started, work hard and win — then start something else. With his father’s support, Matt would find new projects he could start and complete successfully before moving on to the next thing. Matt grew up and became a serial entrepreneur, starting his first business from his dorm room when he was a freshman in college.

Kids need to be allowed to take ownership. They need to be able to explore and have experiences that help them discover what they do well and really enjoy.

They also need to be allowed to fail — or even quit — without the fear of shame or rejection for not meeting someone else’s expectations. Activities should be about their individual development, not about your preconceived notion of what they should do.

Determining whether or not to let your children quit depends on your family and your children. It takes some careful consideration to figure out what’s really going on.

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Before they quit an activity, ask your kids some questions: 

  • Ask them why they want to quit. Are they backing out because they’re bored or because they don’t feel that they’re successful?
  • Ask them what they want to do. What are their interests? Do they love art and creating? Do they love tinkering and figuring out how things work?
  • Let them choose an alternative. If they want to quit violin, and music’s really important to you as a parent, would they try piano lessons instead?
  • Find a compromise if there’s a commitment. Can they handle a few more practices and then make a decision?
  • Determine if they’re overscheduled. Are you and your kids running ragged because of after-school and weekend activities? You might need to lighten the load and eliminate an activity.
  • Let them see you enjoying activities and hobbies. Is there a softball or bowling league you belong to or can join? Do you want to take those guitar lessons you never got around to?

Letting your kids quit an activity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, despite the negative connotations. It might open up possibilities you didn’t consider for them, and it might lead to them discovering their passion.

Mary Reckmeyer, Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Donald O. Clifton Child Development Center, which has received national attention for excellence in early childhood education. She has written books for children and parents. Her most recently published book Strengths Based Parenting: Developing Your Child's Innate Talent empowers parents to embrace their individual parenting style by discovering and developing their own — and their children’s — talents and strengths.

Mary is a former preschool and elementary teacher who holds degrees in educational psychology and education. Her research focus is on youth strengths development, educational programming, and lifespan development.

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