Teaching Perseverance

By Sharon Naylor

June 6, 2012 6 min read

You surely want your child to excel in any sport or activity he or she participates in. But what happens when your child says "I want to quit"? Do you shake your head no and say, "You have to honor your commitments," or do you call the coach to say your child won't be back?

It's a dilemma for parents who want their children to expand their horizons, develop skills and build a good college r?sum?, but it's an equally large dilemma for the child who wants out.

Some of the most common reasons a student may wish to quit a sport or activity are:

--It went from play to pressure. According to Dr. Philip Dembro, life coach and author of "The Real Purpose of Parenting," "play is a necessary and healthy part of the human condition, where we begin to learn the connection between 'fun,' 'learning' and 'effort.'

"As a child gets older, into their 4s and 5s, they begin to take that learning into organized sports such as soccer and tee ball." This is where adults today begin to take away the fun of the game and focus solely on the outcome, which is "winning," says Dembro, "and parents often get caught up in the winning and losing."

As the child gets older, the pressure to win gets more intense, so by the age of 13, why would a child want to play, when winning is the only valued option? According to Dembro, 75 percent of kids who play a sport are quitting by age 13.

--The child is overscheduled. With multiple sports and activities booking up their schedules each season, children can feel stressed and overextended, then tempted to lighten their load by dropping an activity or two.

--They're afraid. According to Len Saunders, author of "Keeping Kids Fit," children may develop a fear of failure, fear of getting hurt, fear of losing, fear of not pleasing others or "a fear of time sensitivity, where they feel there are not enough hours in the day for everything."

Your child's desire to quit will stem from his or her own particular issues, which you must find out in order to handle this dilemma. According to Robyn Odegaard, CEO and owner of Champion Performance Development and author of "Stop the Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams," the first step is listening to them.

"It's amazing what kids will tell you when you ask, and then you stay quiet," she says. "So often parents don't allow enough space in the conversation for a child/teen to answer, or will ask multiple questions in succession. Asking one question and allowing the child/teen to answer will prompt a thoughtful response. Rapid-fire questions just cause a child/teen to shut down in confusion."

Some questions to ask during this conversation with your child include (courtesy of family life instructor Anastasia Gavalas):

--Why did you choose to join this activity/sport?

--What didn't happen that you were hoping to accomplish?

--What do you think would have made it better?

--What did you learn about yourself from this experience?

Your child's responses will give you insight into his or her deeper experiences.

*Deciding What To Do

Odegaard says: "Unless the situation is dangerous or emotionally damaging, you may recommend that the child live up to his commitment and finish out the season. I believe it is important for children to be taught to follow through on their commitments, particularly when other people are counting on them."

Explain these values to your child, and if this is the lesson you'd like your child to learn, enforce your rule to follow through until the end of the season. Some parents help their child over this hurdle by returning fun to the activity, such as playing catch in the yard or going to the batting cages, but emphasizing enjoyment rather than pressuring to be a better hitter "so you enjoy it more." If your child rediscovers the fun aspects of the activity, he may be more comfortable staying until the end of the season.

Parent Nikki Thompson enforces a rule that no quitting occurs mid-season. "If they choose not to pick it up next season, that's fine -- but not before it is over," she says. "When I was a kid, I joined almost every sport and activity, but I quit before the season was over. I hardly finished anything, which created a negative cycle as an adult. I didn't want my kids to continue this vicious cycle." Thompson says she talks with her kids, encourages them and sticks with her rule.

"Sticking it out is always a great option," says Saunders. "But maybe they do have a good reason for wanting to leave the sport. Yes, being on teams and clubs in high school does look great on college applications, but they're always looking at grades and test scores first anyway."

An overextended, stressed and miserable child won't perform well on academics, so think carefully before you push your child to keep a commitment that is clearly causing him more harm than good.

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