Does your child sign up for activities - sports, dance, clubs, music lessons - and then quit when it gets too hard or they say they are sick of it?
Because parents know how they had to persevere in life, they are naturally worried their child may become a quitter. I recently read a book titled “The Self-Driven Child” and was reminded of the concerns I had experienced with my own children. I thought I would share some of the strategies and suggestions for helping our children in these situations.
Don’t think of your child’s character as fixed.
Most of our worries about our children are about the future. We see an aimless 20-year-old in the 9-year-old who quits, but who they are now is not who they will always be.
Explain the difference between “I don’t want to” and “I don’t feel like it”.
Distinguishing long-term desires from immediate feelings will help children understand the difference between an immediate task and ultimate goal. This is a lesson that doesn’t register right away, but it’s worth planting the seed and emphasising over time.
Let them know you see the areas in which they do work hard or show motivation.
Say “I know you’re someone who can stick with things when they’re important to you”.
Get to the root of their concern.
Why don’t they want to go? Perhaps they feel they aren’t as good as the others. What might make that better? Extra practice with your help? Help them see we often have to be not so good at things for a while as part of the process of getting good at something.
Children should have control over their own lives but that doesn’t mean they can back out of a commitment, or waste the money parents have paid for lessons or gear. If they are adamant, then expect them to write a letter to the coach or organiser explaining why they are quitting. This makes them take ownership of their decision. They cannot ask parents to phone and get them off the hook.
It may take a while to find what really motivates and enthuses them. There’s no rush!
We can’t make them develop grit.
We can expose them to things they may like, support them in sticking with things as they get harder and express confidence that they can handle the stress or the boredom.
The world is so complex that we have no idea where the things that will motivate our kids come from.
If we encourage children to keep seeking what they love, and to work hard at it when they find it, that will help them grow into confident and self-directed young adults.
Finally, as we go into the mid-year break; our first 3 week one, I trust that we will all find some extra time to spend with our loved ones, rest and gain renewed energy to make the most of the remainder of the year.
At a time when he was feeling the pressure, King David wrote in Psalm 55:6: “I say to myself, ‘If only I could run away from all of this! If only I could run away to the place of rest and peace’”. Find a time run away; if not physically, than find a way to let your body and mind rest from the hard work of the first semester.
Acknowledgment: William Stixrud is the co-author, with Ned Johnson, of “The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control over their Lives.”