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It's complicated: Knowing when to let kids quit an activity

Published: Monday, Sept. 30 2013 1:35 p.m. MDT

With a diverse array of extracurricular choices available to children who are only starting to discover their interests, at times kids just want to quit one thing and move onto the next. But when is it appropriate to insist children stay the course?

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Laura Kreutzer wrote a column for Sunday’ Wall Street Journal with the headline, “Should Parents Let Their Kids Quit an Activity?” The catalyst that brought Kreutzer to this question was the stated desire of her 8-year-old daughter, Neva, to quit dance lessons after three years because “it’s getting too hard.”

“When things start to get difficult,” Kreutzer wrote, “Neva's first inclination is to throw in the towel, and we often let her do it. … Although I realize that a part of her attitude is age-appropriate, another part of me doesn't want her to grow up believing that it's OK to just give up when things get difficult. … My husband, Clay, is less bothered by our daughter's love-it-or-leave-it attitude. He argues that at her age, Neva should be allowed to experiment, so she can figure out what she enjoys before having to commit. Quitting certain things now, he says, doesn't mean that she will become a quitter later in life.”

In the case of Neva’s desire to quit dancing, ultimately her parents allowed her to do so because she wasn’t letting down any teammates and Neva agreed to choose another extracurricular activity to effectively replace dancing.

Deciding whether to let kids quit is something that practically every parent wrestles with at some point. On one end of the spectrum are people like author Lisa Endlich, who explained on a Huffington Post blog last year why she never lets her kids quit: “At the risk of overgeneralizing, I think our children have so many choices of ways to enrich their lives that quitting has become an easy response to frustration or boredom. I regret many of the things in life that I quit, not because I was enjoying them when I left, but because if I had stuck it out and reached any sort of competency, I might have found that illusive enjoyment.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Boone offered a more nuanced approach to parenting kids who want to quit.

“When I signed up my 8-year-old son to play flag football recently, I encountered a startling statistic: 70 percent of kids quit youth sports by the time they are 14,” Boone reported in 2010. “… The issue of kids quitting — music lessons, summer camp, sports — has long been tough on parents. … The answer, of course, depends on the circumstance. … Parents should try to watch practices, assess the activity and the coach, then trust their instincts when a child wants to quit, (University of Alberta professor) Billy Strean says.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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