Let Them Quit If They Want

February 16, 2018

Children are often shuffled from piano lessons, to dance classes, to soccer practice after school and on weekends. But what happens when they say, “no”.

According to an ABC Radio Perth report Psychologist Justin Coulson said he regularly fielded requests for advice from parents who are concerned that their children are quitters.

“They contact me and say:’ She won’t do her piano lessons, she won’t go to her dance classes, he won’t go to sport — the kids have no resilience and what do I do to make them keep doing it?'” Dr Coulson told ABC Radio, Perth.

“The easy response is, if it matters more to you than your child, then you probably need to stop.”

Many parents nowadays want to give their children opportunities to learn and to excel in areas they may have never had the opportunity to experience.

But push them too hard, Dr Coulson warned, and they will crack under the pressure.

“It’s not across the board but certainly there is increased expectation on kids today than there was 20 or 30 years ago,” he said.

“We just want our kids to have every advantage and opportunity so they can have wonderful lives — but it’s not always going to be to their advantage.

“A lot of people say it’s good for them, it will toughen them up.

“But with too much pressure, they crack, they end up with anxiety, stress and perfectionistic tendencies which only exacerbate the anxiety.”

A child may have an off day occasionally even with an activity they love.

But if they are consistently not enjoying their piano lessons or sports practice, then Dr Coulson’s advice is to just let them quit.

“We are not going to turn a seven-year-old who hates being on the cricket pitch into an eight-year-old that loves it just by pulling out the whip and cracking it,” he said.

“If we go all tiger mum and make a nine-year-old daughter practice the piano more and more until they get the song right, that’s not going to endear her to the ivory keys of the piano.”

The challenge for parents, he said, was to help their children find something they love doing and give them the opportunity to pursue it.

But he acknowledged it can be difficult for parents when children themselves don’t know what they want, or initially take an interest in an activity, only to give up a short time later.

“I had a daughter that wanted to be a cyclist,” Dr Coulson recalled.

“I’m a really keen cyclist and she saw me riding my bike at the velodrome and said, ‘I want to do that’.

“We had no resources at the time and we scraped and saved and got enough money to get her a bike for the velodrome and we borrowed some kit.

“She raced for about four weeks and discovered she was not even in the same league as the other kids.

“We talked her through it and said it was about persistence and practice and training.

“We got her training more and we started to build up her strength, but after about another eight or 10 weeks she turned around and said, ‘I don’t like this’.

“That was really hard for us as parents to accept because we had invested so much.

“But we sold the bike and we gave the kit back and we found something for her that she really did love.

What’s your opinion, would you let your children quit?

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