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Life with Liz: Knowing when to quit

Published September 29. 2017 10:16AM

When is it OK for kids to quit?

I’ve been struggling with this question for a while now. For some things, the answer is never.

Homework, school projects and anything related to academics falls into this category. We get into some battles over some nonfavorite subjects, or some challenging work that may take some extra effort on their part.

It would be easy to let them slide, to turn in some incomplete work, or to use a homework pass to get out of it. That would only be a temporary fix, however, and sooner or later, they will need to face the music and either do the work or accept a failing grade. So, no giving up. Get the work done.

I like the “never quits.” They’re easy. I know there will be battles, but I know that I’m not going to change my mind.

Sometimes, I need to take a little walk, and tag the WH in to help get the work across the finish line, but hell or high water, it will get done.

Extracurricular activities are more of a gray area, though. My kids have tried a variety of sports over the years, and up until now, they’ve maintained more than a passing interest in just about everything they’ve tried.

As they’re getting older, however, the commitments required by their teams are greater and it’s becoming more apparent that they’re going to have to start to be more selective in their activities.

A and I recently had a conversation about being sure that he can balance activities, especially with the added school work that has come with middle school. “But, Mom. I don’t want to quit,” was his response to quite a few of the activities that are on his plate.

On the one hand, I was proud of him for not wanting to be a “quitter,” but, on the other hand, there is a limit to how many activities an 11-year-old can be involved with and be productive at all of them.

I had to laugh during this conversation because I frequently hear, “I just want to quit this stupid (fill in the blank)” every time I roust him off the couch to head out the door to practice. I learned early on that this response was not so much, “I want to quit the activity,” as it was, “I would prefer to lie here on the couch reading a book or playing a video game.”

Who wouldn’t? Honestly, that’s my preference every morning when it’s time to go to work.

So, the initial protests of “I want to quit” and “I don’t want to go to practice tonight” fall on deaf ears, out the door they go, and off to practice. A few hours later, we are usually sitting down to dinner hearing nonstop about all the great and funny things that happened at practice and what new skills were learned. I love to remind them that only a few short hours ago, they wanted to quit.

A few years ago, A had a really bad season in one sport. It was a combination of many things. He had just moved up an age group, so his skills weren’t quite as strong as his teammates’. His coaches were relatively inexperienced, and he was on a team that had a lot of different personalities that didn’t work well together.

It was a painful year, and at the end of the season, A asked me if he had to sign up again next year. He wanted to quit. However, I knew he still loved the sport, and that it had just been a rough season.

We had another long talk about all the things that he wasn’t happy about, and how we could try to change them next year. He agreed to give it one more year.

The next year, I am happy to report, everything changed. He was on a different team, with a different group of kids and a different coach, and it completely renewed his interest in the sport, which he has continued to this day and enjoys immensely.

When a kid wants to quit, I think it’s important to understand if they truly don’t like the activity, or if there are other factors at play.

This past year, all three of my kids requested to stop swimming. As their coach, this was painful for me to hear. I sat down and talked with them about why they didn’t want to swim anymore. A told me he didn’t want to quit swimming forever, he just felt like he needed a break. We made a definite plan to take a few months off, and decided when he would come back, and that we would drop down a level of competition when he came back.

G told me that he just prefers to play other sports, and he wanted to join other teams and he just didn’t like swimming as much as he liked other sports.

E told me that she hated swimming forever and never wanted to swim again, and that’s as far as that conversation went.

However, when I started practice this fall, she packed up her bag, jumped in the pool, and has been enthusiastically participating since, so maybe she’s changed her mind, and not pushing her and keeping my mouth shut might have been the best thing I could have done.

Teaching your kids to honor and respect a commitment, but at the same time staying true to their own interests and desires can be a tricky path to navigate. As a parent, I want my kids to live well-rounded lives that include many different types of activities.

We have a rule that if we start something, we see it through to the end of the season or whatever the session length is. This helps set a finish line, so that even if my kids end up not liking something, they know it will be over at some point. They have to learn some coping mechanisms to help them get there.

Overcoming adversity, dealing with different types of coaching or management styles, and being challenged to step outside their comfort zones is great preparation for life. I’m not about to quit on helping them to become the best people that they can be.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.

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