When to push your kids, when to let them give up?
April 10, 2015 7:15 AM   Subscribe

My daughter (7 years old) is constantly begging us to let her try new extracurricular activities -- dance, ice-skaing, T-ball, soccer. These activities are not cheap. However, she displays a strong propensity to quit and sulk at the first sign of not being an expert during the first go-round and obstinately demands to abandon the activity, saying she "hates" it. Given that some of these activities represent a significant non-refundable investment, when do you force your kids to keep going and when do you cut bait?

This is a problem that has presented itself recently with our 7-year-old. Most recently she begged to play T-ball (mostly because her school friends were doing it), but after the first practice she declared that she "hates T-ball and never wants to do it again." I suspect this is because there were some more experienced kids on the team and she was a little confused about the rules. The coach is a very cool and understanding guy, but my daughter tends to become frustrated when she isn't an expert at a new activity right out of the gate. We paid $135 for the short spring season, and I'm loath to just let her give up after a single practice, but she begged and pleaded that we never send her back and pledged that she wouldn't get out of the car if we took her. However, I really think she should give it a few more chances.

I'm a bit conflicted. I remember feeling this way as a kid after my first ice hockey practice (I'm sure my parents dropped a pretty penny on all the expensive equipment), and when I told my dad I wanted to quit after the first practice, he informed me that I'd be finishing the season, no discussion. Turns out, I ended up loving the sport and played for 8 more years - so I know that first impressions are not always accurate.

I am a strong believer in exposing my kids to a variety of activities, and I think team sports are valuable for building interpersonal skills. I respect that my daughter may eventually decide that T-ball isn't for her, and if after this season she decides not to do it again, I'm fine with that. But I'd really prefer for her to learn the benefits of persistence and at least finish this short season. However, in order to this, I'll have to play tough guy and force to her to go, dealing with tears and ill feelings. Forcing kids to do things against their will isn't pleasant for me, but sometimes I feel like a little tough love is in order to help build character.

In addtion to the T-ball issue, I'm concerned that this is a pattern that will repeat itself over and over: If at first she isn't an expert at an activity, she'll learn that it's ok to simply quit, rather than trying to improve. She did this with ice-skaing and dance lessons as well. When I ask her later, in a different setting why she doesn't like it, she can only articulate that "it isn't fun."

I would strongly appreciate advice from parents who have dealt with this and how to know when it is simply a temporary setback and when it is truly a bad fit for your kid.
posted by Creamroller to Human Relations (41 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
From a kid perspective, I think finishing the season or term is a fair compromise. It may help if you set that up as an expectation or requirement before signing up. Especially in team sports, it was effective for me when my parents stressed the fact that participating in a team sport meant my friends and teammates were depending on me, not just an abstract "team."
posted by craven_morhead at 7:21 AM on April 10, 2015 [36 favorites]

I'm not a parent but I think you should make her do it. My mom had very few rules but one of them was that we always had to finish a commitment if we signed up for something like dance lessons or a sport. I feel like that has been a valuable lesson that has carried over for me in adulthood: if you start something, you finish it. I am a very reliable adult and I believe this is part of the reason why.
posted by something something at 7:23 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

I have a similarly aged son with a similar attitude.
We have taken to discussing activities before signing up for them, trying them out in small doses if possible, and agreeing beforehand that signing up for something is a commitment to completing it.
He tried the same thing this year with baseball because he was on a new team.
I could care less about baseball, but he committed to the team and the coach is a super guy who understands kids. So when reminded of the agreement and how his team needed him, he went back in and played the first game. Now he loves it (being on the losingest team in the league, which is actually perfect for his skill level and his dad's knowledge of baseball).
posted by Seamus at 7:24 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I tried a lot of activities when I was a kid and quit them all relatively early. I wish that my parents had forced to me finish a full season of at least some of the things I quit!

I also think that this might have a larger teaching potential than t-ball (or ballet or whatever) in that letting your kids quit when they're not good at things immediately is a bad precedent for them to learn. I was a kid that had a lot of things come easy (at least academically) and to this day when something is difficult or not laid out clearly I have to actively refuse to let myself close the document/browser/whatever and put it off. I think that sticking something out (to a reasonable point) teaches problem-solving skills and prepares us for things not coming easy and having to work at them.

That being said, if after a season your daughter still hates dance/swimming/karate/whatever, let her try something else!
posted by hepta at 7:25 AM on April 10, 2015 [12 favorites]

You have a kid who wants to try new things instead of sitting in front of a screen. I think this is called "a good problem to have", and I'd shovel as many new experiences at her as possible. How about going out of your way to find sports/activities that are running taster sessions? (Guitar. I always wish I'd learned guitar. Just sayin').

Then, the stuff she asks to go to... well, I think it's fair for you to ask for some kind of commitment up-front in exchange.
posted by Leon at 7:26 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

We just went through this with soccer this fall with our 6-year-old and it ended up being so stressful for all of us. I don't think any of us really appreciated how hard a fun league would be when mixed in with the start of kindergarten and it ended up being pretty miserable for a few weeks, despite amazing coaches and really great families and kids on the team. So, moving forward our policy as a family is that we come up with ground rules before we get started. Kiddo now knows what it is to participate in a structured team activity like that, so is able to give a more informed decision about whether or not he wants to participate. If he says he does, we give him very specific expectations for his behavior there (e.g., he has to follow the coaches' directions, or will need to take a little time out until he's ready to go back and work with the rest of the team), and with specific expecations about our committment (e.g., you're going to be going for at least X weeks of the season, with one week of your choice to skip a game or somethign like that). Having the "out" of a week he can pick to skip gives him some additional measure of control that seems to make things more managable when he's feeling frustrated, and we have already laid out that this is a commitment and we can't just back out after a week or two. Seems to be working so far, but we're not going near soccer again anytime soon.
posted by goggie at 7:26 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

My younger kid can be like this. He wants to be good on the first try. Life isn't like that. I tell him nobody is good on the first try. Things get fun when we get good at them and to get good, it takes practice.

If it were me, I would make her finish out the season of T-ball. That's a lot of money and she begged and now she wants to quit? No way. I would make her finish even if she wasn't having "fun". Once she learns the game and gets a hit she will feel more confident and will most likely have fun. If it were my kid I would tell her she made a commitment and can't let the team down.

In the future I would make a deal that if she signs up for a team sport she must finish out the season.

Keep it positive and keep it fun but if she sits in the car and refuses to get out, drag her out. That's what I would probably do but I'm not parent of the year.
posted by Fairchild at 7:31 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

I have two ideas:

1) Tell her she can drop it now, but will not be allowed to sign up for any new things until the T-ball season is over because you already put the money into it, so she may as well keep going and see if it's fun;

2) Does she get some sort of allowance? The next time she wants to do an activity, make her put some of her own money into it, even if it's only $20. It might make her think more about what she wants to commit to and less likely to back out of things she's invested in.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:31 AM on April 10, 2015 [13 favorites]

This touches on issues that are broader than just these extracurricular activities and the money involved.

You should familiarize yourself with the work of social psychologist Carol Dweck. Her research covers the importance of effort, resiliency, and the willingness to face failure and keep trying. She contrasts this with kids (and people in general) who only want to do things that they are already good it. Dweck makes a convincing case that resistance to failure and working hard at things can be very life limiting.

She has written some popular books and a lot has been written about her. I prefer this short book that covers the highlights of her published research, Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development (Essays in Social Psychology).
posted by alms at 7:31 AM on April 10, 2015 [42 favorites]

I agree with a lot of the points above about being clear upfront that she's committing to a full season, and she can quit at the end of the season if it still isn't fun.

However, it also sounds like part of the problem may be that she's expecting to be good at things right off the bat. I'd also talk to her about that. There are a lot of things in life that get much more fun once you've practiced, and part of doing activities is putting in the time to get good at them.

Can you help her practice any of these skills in a non-class/game/practice setting? That might also help.

Also also, since these are all physical things, I'd confirm that she has the physical fitness to be comfortable taking part. It would really suck if the reason it wasn't fun was something like exercise-induced asthma.
posted by pie ninja at 7:34 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

With my kids we usually make them finish the term.

But we also have a light guideline that if you really don't want to attend a class/practice, it is an option, BUT you have to personally go to the teacher/coach and explain your absence. Out of two kids this has only failed for one class once in getting the kid to just go, because once he's there and sees all his friends and has to verbalize himself to his teacher that he is choosing not to come that day, he usually just goes. It's a bit of a Jedi mind trick that we are making them "go present their excuse" and not "go to class."

Obviously this involves way more parental effort than just skipping out.

The other really helpful thing we've done is use multi-sport camps in the summer and spring to try activities out, usually the local inexpensive ones where okay, they're not really skills developing, more running around courts with balls, but it gives us a way to figure out what works without investing in a whole season. With my kids we usually make them finish the term but we do have a rule that if you really don't want to attend a class/practice, you have to personally go to the teacher/coach
posted by warriorqueen at 7:34 AM on April 10, 2015 [28 favorites]

My rule with my 8-year old is that when we sign up for an activity, it's for the length of some natural duration, like a term, a season, or it could be a month. We have lots of conversations about how new things are hard and "the more we practice, the better we get." It seems to help most days.
posted by bardophile at 7:35 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm a softie. I'd probably coax her and maybe also throw a ball around some mid-week to build enthusiasm. I believe that each t-ball session will probably be a little more fun than the last, but don't know if you can make your daughter believe this.
posted by puddledork at 7:36 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like your daughter, I was a trier-and-quitter for anything that I wasn't immediately the best at (see: piano, tap dance, soccer, gymnastics, jazz dance, acting... the only thing I kept at was ballet, and that was also the only one in which I had a modicum of talent). My parents let me quit pretty much as soon as I said "I quit." At the time it was what I wanted, but I grew up into a person who still can barely tolerate not being immediately good at something and who for a long time still got frustrated when something wasn't fun and easy right away: an algebra weeper, a sulker in gym class, a thrower of board games, a chooser of an easy college major, a law school dropout. Make her finish the classes you paid for! Learning to put up with a difficult activity and learning you can find it less difficult and even eventually enjoyable is a lesson better learned at 7 than at, say, 27. Trust me on that!
posted by millipede at 7:37 AM on April 10, 2015 [17 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm detecting a consensus here...

Thanks so far for the great suggestions. I particularly like the one about making the child verbalize to the coach that they won't be participating, putting the onus on them to take responsibility for bowing out. I'm pretty sure my daughter would rather deal with an hour of practice than have that sort of uncomfortable conversation with her coach (who, I should add, is a cool guy who wouldn't give her any problems...but most 7 year olds are naturally shy about this sort of stuff)
posted by Creamroller at 7:40 AM on April 10, 2015 [15 favorites]

With my child, we've gotten through the rough start in some cases (ice skating in particular) by doing a couple of private lessons with the coach in between group sessions. Of course, this costs more money, but for us it has paid off in our child's comfort, enthusiasm, and learning. It's great to be able to say, "Remember how nervous you were at the beginning? And then you learned more and now it's fun!"
posted by xo at 8:06 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

We paid $135 for the short spring season, and I'm loath to just let her give up after a single practice
Ouch, $135 is a lot of money for what amounts to only one practice if she quits right now. I feel your pain. Nope. She really needs to finish out the season (it runs through the end of May I presume?) -- because this is a team sport and a baseball team needs a certain number of players; she'll be letting all of the other kids down if she drops out.

Or you could let her quit, in which case, how will she learn the value of that $135 you're throwing away, which you yourself had to do work to earn? She could pay you back by doing extra chores over time - a 7 year old is fully capable of contributing this way. It still wouldn't solve the problem of her quitting inconveniencing everyone else on the team.

I'm seeing this as a family financial issue. You say she has a habit of asking to join things "dance, ice-skating, T-ball, soccer" and then quitting right away. This is costing you lots of money (you could sit down and calculate how much, and I think that would be enlightening.) So, why do you and your spouse keep saying yes? Give that some thought--- what are your values that make you keep prioritizing these activities she instantly dislikes? What would saying "no" to your child the next time she asks to do something similar feel like?

Most recently she begged to play T-ball (mostly because her school friends were doing it)
This reads like a kid who wants to do whatever it is her friends are doing, not because she necessarily is fired up about the nature of the activity itself. The tell is wanting to quit after the first try. That's unusual. I say this as the mother of a 7 and 5 year old who play various sports, and my husband has coached baseball for 4 years now. I wonder if part of the issue may be that wherever you live the kids are (over?)scheduled into lots of activites such as sports and lessons, and maybe it seems to her like that's the only way to socialize with her peers outside of school. Look for other ways to meet her peer-socialization needs that don't involve significant, nonrefundable cash outlays upfront.
posted by hush at 8:09 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't spend much time listening to her complaints. Say positive things and then change the subject. When it's time for the next practice, she may be ready to go again. The bigger issue isn't that she is starting a pattern of quitting when things get tough, it's that she's the tail and you are the dog, and she is wagging you. Don't sign her up for anything that you don't want to. If she asks and you say no, and then she begs, give her time out or just leave the room. Make certain that everyone in her life is on board with this- it doesn't help her for you to say no just so that dad or grandma can say yes. It will make her manipulative. And yes, I am speaking from experience.
posted by myselfasme at 8:17 AM on April 10, 2015

Sounds like the kid has no concept of money. Nip that in the bud, quick!
Like others have suggested, you should give her an allowance (for age-appropriate chores, NOT for doing NOTHING!) and make her chip in a reasonable percentage of her allowance, based on the cost of whatever she wants to get into.

She'll have some skin in the game, maybe feel the sting of capriciously spent money, develop a notion of what money is and does, etc.

I recommend the book Smart Money, Smart Kids, as a guide to age-appropriate money knowledge and handling, from, like, two years old to late-teens.
posted by Deemonie at 8:20 AM on April 10, 2015

I was a whiny quitter as a kid, and I wish my mom had made me stick with things, because I grew up as one of those cliched smart kids who is used to things being easy and quits at the first sign of having to actually work.

With my kid (who isn't old enough for sports yet), I would absolutely make him stick it out. However, you should lay this out ahead of time going forward - tell your daughter that it is a lot of money, it will likely be hard work, and if this is something she wants to do, she has to commit to it. If she threatens to be a brat about it, so what - she'll probably not want to embarrass herself in front of her friends. In the future, it also might be a good idea to see if you can find an option for her to briefly try something out for free before committing.
posted by Safiya at 9:03 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

If the problem is not knowing T-Ball itself, and not, say, bullying, then yes, finish the season with whatever extra practicing or easing into practice you can give her as support. Maybe question her a little to make sure she's not having trouble with the other children or adults. This experience will probably also make the next big commitment easier to talk about in advance. (And the next time she is super into something she hasn't done at all, find out if there are one-time lessons or summer camps that spend enough time to teach the skills without being a season long commitment. I know there are some sport camps that cycle through several sports in one week, giving a decent taste to each one, which is hopefully enough to at least know which one to spend some more time with before she makes a season-long commitment.)

Also look into regular playdates with friends -- is there a friend in afterschool care who could come over every Monday with your daughter? Are you emailing the planning parents often enough to get your kid on their calendar? Are you calling up the last-minute parents when you're free? If you give her more time with her friends that isn't part of expensive organized activities, maybe she that's the part she really wants.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:08 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

tl;dr Have her agree in advance to enjoy the learning, experience and fun with the other kids for X weeks. Otherwise you won't sign her up.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:12 AM on April 10, 2015

So much good advice! The "ok but you have to tell your coach why" move is some ninja-level parenting and I'm going to remember it. But agreed that you need to stick it out for the season. The worst that can happen is that she has to run around being bored for a few hours every week. She'll get a little exercise, probably pick up at least a few sports rules. She'll be fine even if she does say "never again" at the end of it.

All I can add is, before you worry too much about Oh No My Child is Already Ruined (as we all do from time to time) is remember that she's only 7. That is really young. If you help her, she will learn how to stick with things. She will even get better at judging what she really wants to do vs. what she kinda wants to do. Kids have a lot of choices and sometimes it bewilders them, because they haven't done anything yet and thus, have no way of knowing what they want. So they have to flail around before they can figure that out.
posted by emjaybee at 9:14 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's so easy to get locked into a power struggle in these sorts of situations. Is there some way you can sit down and have a talk where you listen to her sympathetically and strategize on some compromises that everyone can live with? I mean, have you never walked into a new situation where we didn't know what was going on and felt confused, intimidated, and outclassed and just wanted to quit? How many askme's do we get from grown-ass adults feeling overwhelmed and hopelessly incompetent in the first few months of a new job? Tough love actually is not the most helpful response in those sorts of situations. So see if you can acknowledge her feelings as real and come up with some ways that will help her feel more comfortable for the duration besides just never going to another practice again: like, would it help to borrow some equipment and practice at home? spend some time talking about the rules before the next practice? invite one of her friends over to toss the ball around in the yard? try to meet her in the middle if you can.
posted by drlith at 9:15 AM on April 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

Both my kids (almost 11 and almost 13 now) are like this. I think they get excited about the idea of something and then immediately realize it cuts into their valuable doing-nothing time once the activity starts.

We have had a strict follow-through policy since they were little--if you sign up, you're in for the whole season/session/run-of-the-play. This is because of the value of money, and the importance of not letting the team/cast/whatever down.

This means a lot of stuff happens once and never again, but it also means one of them has continuously participated in the school play (she does bitch about it every year, but she always ends up being glad she did it and always gets excited about it when it comes back around), and one of them is in her second season of a sport despite not being particularly good at it yet and despite one of her friends opting out this year (she just liked it enough to want to go for it again).

It can cost a lot in terms of money and time to try new things, but they'll simply never DO things unless they get the chance to try them. And they can't know how they feel about the activity, realistically, unless they give it a real chance.

One thing you can look out for, as a way to "try before you buy", are shorter, cheaper camps that let your child try an activity with less commitment on all fronts. Parks and Rec, the Y, various summer programs might offer things like a two week swim team "rookie camp" or a soccer "fundamentals" program that will allow her to see what she thinks before you write a huge check for equipment and seasonal dues.
posted by padraigin at 10:23 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was one of those smart kids who was used to being really good at a lot of things that I tried, and when there was something that actually required working at it, I would get really upset and frustrated and want to quit. To this day I'm still sad and a bit resentful that my parents let me quit piano lessons, because I think if I'd actually learned to be persistent and learned the value of practicing a difficult skill, it would have given me a good skill that could help me in my current professional life (plus I would possibly know how to play the piano and have a better grasp on music theory). I have no specific advice on how to get her over the frustration hump, but lots of people up above have weighed in with some good tips there.
posted by matildaben at 10:27 AM on April 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

A point that I wish I had learned as a child: you don't have to be good at something for it to be fun. She may never be "good" at T-ball, but that doesn't mean she can't enjoy playing it.

I am 35 and this still describes me to an extent: "strong propensity to quit and sulk at the first sign of not being an expert during the first go-round and obstinately demands to abandon the activity, saying she "hates" it".

If you are concerned that this is a pattern, I would consider (in non T-ball environments) really concentrating on praising her level of effort only rather than her achieved result. She gets the rewards for the means (being a "good sport" and trying hard), not the end product.
posted by bimbam at 10:35 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

I haven't read all the responses, but I have to deal with this sort of thing with my son a lot. It's for a different reason--he's shy and wants to be near me and not amongst strangers--but getting him to participate can be really tough at first.

A 3 pronged approach:
1. Firmness: You have to do T-Ball. You wanted to do it, you made a commitment to the team, and you need to follow through. I will march you right over to the coach and stand with you while you cry if that's the way it's going to be, but I'm sure you'd rather not embarrass yourself and walk over with your friends instead.
2. Compassion: That said, as your parent, I'm going to be sitting on the sidelines at every game. If you look over, I will be watching you, and I will give you a sign (thumbs up, or a secret sign you agree on) that I'm proud of you whether you hit or catch or miss everything. I'm proud of you every time I see you try.
3. Bribery: I know it's hard for you, so to sweeten the deal, if you do a good job--which means trying, not winning--at practice, we're going to get you an ice-cream/movies/new book/visit your favorite playground as soon as you finish.
posted by tk at 10:36 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

When I was a kid, we were a Choose-Your-Activity-And-Stick-To-It-For-All-Eternity-Even-If-It-Ruins-You family. There was No Quitting Allowed. Ever. There was no missing practice, or class, or games for any reason short of hospitalization (I remember falling asleep out of sheer exhaustion in the dressing room at the end of year recital the year I had chicken pox, while my Mom put cover-up over every single one of my spots so I didn't look like a speckled butterfly on stage). There was even no deciding at the end of a dance season that maybe next year you wanted to do basketball instead of ballet, because we made a commitment to ballet x years ago, and We Do Not Quit. (I exaggerate a little....but not a lot). We were fiercely stubborn and sticktoitive.
In the beginning when my siblings and I were very young, this was a top-down policy (Mom would not let us quit), but it became a self fulfilling prophecy eventually (quitting something you've been doing for 3 or 5 or 10 years is waaaay harder than quitting something you've been doing for 1), and over time my siblings and I all totally internalized this policy and to this day are all HUGELY quit-phobic. This is sometimes beneficial (as in right now, as I'm continuing to work my way through a PhD that has sorely tested my persistence and resolve, but I'm hangin' in there, which is the right choice for me right now), but it has also sometimes been detrimental (for example, staying in a relationship longer than is good/happy/healthy because we don't want to be "quitters" or give up).

So I think a balanced approach is best: make her finish out the season, but also make sure that she knows that once that commitment it fulfilled, there is no reason she ever has to play t-ball again if she doesn't want to. She made a choice to play (a choice that had financial repercussions), so she needs to ride out the consequences of that choice...but next year/season/whatever she's free to make another choice (and ride out those consequences, too). One thing that I wish my parents had helped me learn, is that while persistence is a great quality, equally so is being self-assured enough to walk away from something that truly isn't good for you. There are occasions when quitting is not only OK, but right. Before you can make that call, though, it's important to try something long enough to find out. I think a t-ball season is a fair amount of time for a 7 year-old to feel out a new activity, and making sure she understands that once the season is over you trust her enough to not only let her decide for herself if she wants to play again, but also that you're willing to continue letting her try other new things, too, will go a long way in reinforcing both her sticktoitiveness AND her self-confidence.

.....but I'm not a parent, so.
posted by Dorinda at 10:51 AM on April 10, 2015 [15 favorites]

I think I was fine with T-ball, but when the kids starting pitching I hated it. I despised it with a burning passion. My parents forced me to do the whole season (I think). To this day I loathe anything about baseball, I can't even say the word without a sneer and anger.

So, at some point, it's gotta be okay to quit. Maybe she has to prove to you that she'll like the activity before you invest money in it? Maybe agreeing ahead of time to stay a season or trying it out some other way first.
posted by flimflam at 11:51 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have quit everything!

except piano.

We, like everyone's advice, had to finish a season/term/what you signed up for. My parents were always pretty frank about money too, which I think probably helped? they would say "we paid $135 for the spring season. Unless you have money to pay us back for that, figure skating is now non-optional."

Quitting piano was not optional in my house, everyone finished up until their grade 8 theory and practice. We all desperately wanted to quit, but after sitting on the piano bench crying for 3 hours being ignored, I think we all just realized it's easier to just practice for 20 minutes. Beyond that we HAD to do some kind of sport every season except summer.. our choice. I guess it never occurred to me that I was quitting things so much because I still had to do something? I didn't just get out of sports. So when I found something I didn't directly hate (softball) I continued with it until high school because it was easier than starting new things I was bad at every term. (and I was bad at everything, because I am short but have crazy long limbs and am gangly and skinny and that is like the worst body type for sports.)
posted by euphoria066 at 12:06 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree with the policy of committing to the season you signed up for. For one random datapoint, I similarly signed up for softball as a kid, hated it pretty much immediately, and my parents made me ride out the season. I never really grew to like it, but it also didn't scar me or anything -- it was however many hours of a semi-unpleasant activity, then it was over and I moved on to other interests and it was fine. There should absolutely be the opportunity to quit after the given committment is over, and I'd actually spend some time talking things over with your daughter after the season to consciously think about how things went, if she'd want to do this sport again, why or why not, what she'd do differently, etc.

I will also say that I would generally (in this sport and other activities) make sure to attend some practices and keep an eye out both yourself and in your daughter's commentary for bullying or other non-"I just don't like it" reasons why she might want to drop out (i.e. exercise-induced asthma, an abusive coach, etc. etc. etc.). It would really suck to end up stuck in a committment with those issues at play and have your parent say "Hey, you signed up, now you gotta suck it up." Doesn't sound like that is the issue here, but it is something to keep an eye out for.

Separate from this, I would also work with your daughter on figuring out what physical activities out there she DOES find fun. Maybe she is not and will never be a team sports person. I was not and am not -- I just really hate the competitive atmosphere and it makes me extremely stressed to have teammates counting on me to not mess up. Because of this, my parents kind of labeled me as "not sporty!" and as a result I just kind of...didn't do much exercise of any sort until I got to college. I eventually discovered that there are athletic things I really really love -- weight lifting at a gym with a women's weight room, Pilates, running that doesn't happen in a race, in my case. And I'm way happier and healthier for having found these activities! I also certainly learned teamwork and cooperation in other ways that weren't so dependent on my eye-hand coordination. While team sports can be awesome for some kids, I think it's good to emphasize with your daughter that they're not the only way to be active or to spend time with friends or to work together with other people -- you can and should do all of those things in lots of ways, and it may legitimately take some experimentation to figure out the right fit for each person.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:24 PM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

At least until she builds a little confidence and work ethic, it would help her a lot if you gave her extra coaching and practice. I know that's not always going to be possible, but doing it when you can might be good enough.

With tee-ball, for example, buy some tee-ball equipment -- balls, bats, gloves, and tee -- and go play it with her. Involve relatives and friends where possible. You build skill and confidence only by batting and catching and throwing and running over and over and over with some proper coaching, and you can pick up good coaching tips for this age level just by checking youtube and maybe buying a book.
posted by pracowity at 12:52 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Like your daughter, I was a trier-and-quitter for anything that I wasn't immediately the best at (see: piano, tap dance, soccer, gymnastics, jazz dance, acting... the only thing I kept at was ballet, and that was also the only one in which I had a modicum of talent). My parents let me quit pretty much as soon as I said "I quit." At the time it was what I wanted, but I grew up into a person who still can barely tolerate not being immediately good at something and who for a long time still got frustrated when something wasn't fun and easy right away

Yea, this is pretty much me. I was made to do a couple things through to completion or for a long while(piano, art classes, maybe a few other things) but was mostly allowed to quit when i wanted to even if that was quickly, or just do one class/level of something and quit after a month or a couple weeks.

This made me the whiniest little shit about the stuff i WAS made to do. What i'm saying here is, if you commit to making her do some minimum amount of stuff, you have to go all the way and apply it consistently.

I also think you should do that, because being able to quit whenever i wanted made me grow up to be both complacent in staying in situations i was comfortable with, and really bad at following through with shit. I'm pretty bad at finishing things i start, and the approach and mindset quitting when i felt like it allowed has really bled out in to my entire life.

My partner likes to jokingly say i wasn't spanked enough as a kid, but i think it's really that i was just allowed to do whatever i wanted even when i was just being a whiny brat, except sometimes because reasons. Which is honestly worse than either or.
posted by emptythought at 3:01 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

This was addressed recently in the Slate Parenting podcast. (Which I love and recommend wholeheartedly.)

Personally, if I shell out good money for something, my kids have to at least see through a season of something. I've put my (7 year old) boys in tee-ball, soccer, and baseball and they basically hated all of them but there was no way I was going to waste my money and let them quit halfway through.
posted by pyjammy at 3:16 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just to toss in a dissenting opinion-

I quit stuff as a kid and I'm glad I did. I don't think it made me a less capable adult. Think of it this way- everyone eventually has to quit a sport/activity sometime unless they are really good and go pro. My boyfriend played tennis in college. Quite good. One day after college he had just had enough and quit. This happens all the time with people of all skill levels. I swam competitively in middle school. Quite good. One day I had enough of doing 200 laps very day as warm up and it got to the point where I would really have to go "all-in." I quit. I'm glad I did. I don't truly regret it- only in a fantasy in which I went to the Olypmics or something which probably never could have happened anyway. And I've quit at things I was just bad at too. Like the time I went to karate with a friend. I was the new kid, and I didn't have glasses or contacts that day. I sucked. I was teased. The others were much better than I was. I honestly believe this was worse for me psychologically and more harm was done because I tried to stick with it when I should have quit sooner. My only regret is that I did not quit sooner.

Adults quit things all the time. I think it makes very little sense that you cannot just try something out for free, or at least cheaply, first. The harsh truth is that sometimes some people are naturally gifted at some things, and sometimes some people are naturally quite bad at some things. Yes, dedication can improve every skill level, but is it worth it in all cases? Your daughter sounds as though she is aware of her peers; it is not easy to be the new kid or be the worst at something. Very hard psychologically for a kid who just wants to have fun, especially in a competitive sport.

There are valid reasons in life to be a quitter. Always having to win, doggedly pursuing one thing- these can have downsides.

Life changes and we drop hobbies for whatever reason. And yes, essentially, it is a hobby and not a job unless you're making money or getting a scholarship out of it, meaning the ultimate goal is fun.

-A Proud Quitter.
posted by quincunx at 5:09 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think you should make her stick it out. Children get a massive sense of achievement from persevering and finally succeeding at something; how sad to take away her opportunity to experience this. It also the main quality that will determine how successful she'll be in life. I recently read an article (can't remember where though) where experts stated that 'grit' was the determining factor as to how far professionally, academically etc kids got in life. Not talent, not connections, not brains. Grit. The ability to persevere and stick it out.

Children who found something difficult yet did it anyway and worked through it had much more resilience and went further than kids who might have been more academically inclined but just didn't put the work in. I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I have a three year old who is already showing signs of giving up immediately when he can't instantly do something so grit and perseverance is something I may need to instil in him.

On a secondary note, are there multi sport programs offered in your area? Where I live, you can enrol your child in single term blocks that offers a variety of sports over 12 weeks or so, which means they get a little taste of everything. That way they get a sense of what they might enjoy without getting trapped doing something they hate for weeks on end. Just a thought.
posted by Jubey at 6:52 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing the other posts that indicate that they were this child. This was me. I tried everything - dance, karate, soccer, gymnastics, piano, etc. And, as soon as I wasn't immediately awesome at it, I quit and my parents let me. I have now grown up into an adult that still gets incredibly frustrated when I am not amazing at something as soon as I try it. I wish my parents had forced me to stick it out longer on some of those things. My vote would be to force her to stick with something for a reasonable period of time. Not just for the money that you've paid, but also to help her understand that working hard and practicing something can be rewarding. Hope this helps.
posted by FireFountain at 8:40 PM on April 11, 2015

My mother sent me a mean-spirited mail once reminiscing about how I tried to get out of doing every exercise in the swimming class she put me in when I was five. Mrs. hobo remembers giving up on a really cool martial arts class that she wishes she'd stuck with at about the same age.

So when we raise babby hobo, we've tended to compensate for this. But we got started pretty astonishingly early, entering into 3+ dance/drama/voice classes before the 3rd birthday, joining toddler football (soccer) at age 2, and starting swimming at 4months. So we went through this struggle a few years ago at age 3.

A 3-year-old is going to play very different games to get out of something, and in many ways isn't subtle enough to make it as hard for you. But of course the blunt approach can be hard as well. I have memories of dropping the little one off kicking and screaming in a circle of other tots (all of them holding that calm attentive "wow, I guess I'm not the loud kid right now" stare).

I'd duck round a pillar and the noise would stop suddenly. I'd check with other parents, and they'd confirm that everyone was playing together nicely. Once I was out of sight, the audience vanished and the tantrum performance just stopped. That's what gave me the confidence to just push on: firm during class, then an outing as a reward after. So the kid works hard and plays hard.

This all stepped up a notch as we got into things that needed practice at home. Mrs. hobo studied piano for a long time, and her notion of just about every activity you'd take is that you need to spend at least your class length each day practising the craft. This means the "do-nothing time" alluded to earlier is basically nonexistent, and babby has to come to us to watch part of a DVD or something on youtube.

But all of this required a united front, and the early start may have helped rather a lot. We're now used to a work hard/play hard cycle, and we have a time-out system that's an opportunity for babby to reset a confrontation and start over (explicitly one minute for each birthday you've had) rather than a punishment of any sort. So if the fight over practising a dance routine or music piece gets heated, we point out that you're only wasting your own time and we could have sorted this all out half an hour ago but for the complaining. And if things overheat, off the kid goes for several minutes to just calm down and try again with a clean slate.

Of course sometimes we get back an order to go take time out that would consume the better part of an hour. We've taken up on that, occasionally ☺

We still go through feelings at the start of football, but we know we can be firm because we'll come out of things happy. It helps to look for or engineer or encourage some sort of happy outcome as best you can. Otherwise, after a term of misery, yeah it's probably fine to drop it.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:25 AM on April 12, 2015

I'm yet another MeFite who as a child didn't persevere with most things I wasn't good at, and wished I had. Except the things I was forced to persevere with. I still hate soccer - and yes that was "only" one season I was made to struggle through!

Things you hope your daughter will learn if you make her keep going this season:
- Perseverence can be rewarding
- To take responsibility for her decisions
- Commitment is important
- Something (I'm not sure quite what) about money

Things she may actually learn:
- If she makes a bad decision she will be punished, even if she made it with limited information (and children generally have limited information)
- Her parent/s are stubborn and even vindictive
- She'll also be punished for arbitrary things like the fact that the season is non-refundable
- Her parent/s value perseverence (and possibly money) above her own feelings

She's only 7 years old. A season of sport is a long time for her. You don't need to start worrying now that she's going to forever be a "quitter".

Maybe help her reflect on where her natural curiousity lies, and what sorts of things she tends to enjoy. Find some relevant, real life examples or stories about people who enjoyed doing things for a long time, even if they weren't sure at first or weren't good at it. That way she can learn about the "growth mindset" described by Carol Dweck.

We criticise kids these days for wanting instant success, yet we teach them to value external rewards (praise, good marks, etc) more than their own enjoyment.

(On preview, re previous comment, it's pretty well-established that kids need "down time").
posted by 8k at 1:54 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ah yes, and I should now step in in support of quincunx's comments! We push, and this has resulted in our child competing in festivals for medals and trophies. This goes well against my undeachiever instincts!

But the goals we had for pushing weren't competition. We just wanted a child who could swim, ride a bike, do a cartwheel, and enjoy making or dancing to music. We don't want a spot on Britain's Got Talent or anything, and the festivals have just been a goal to encourage practising (and boy have they worked!). So while we've reached a point where the kid is competitive, that's all from within. All we led on with was "once you learn how to do this won't it be great?"
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:48 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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