Know when to fold ‘em

It is generally accepted that persistence is essential for success and happiness. However, in their research, two scientists found that the persistence of unattainable goals in certain cases can be a detriment to health and well-being, especially for adolescents.

What does this mean for parents? If you are pushing your children to continue an activity that they do not like or in which they are not interested, you are likely increasing their stress levels — and yours too!

Sometimes all it takes is for parents to assist their child in setting new goals. This may help the child re-engage in the activity with a renewed definition of success. However, if goal redefinition isn’t working, consider quitting the activity if:

  • the child complains constantly before, during, and after the activity;
  • the child is not advancing as fast as his/her peers and is frustrated;
  • you must constantly push the child to practice the activity;
  • the child does not speak about the activity with pride or excitement.

What about the money invested in the activity?

If you have paid for a session, you may want to finish it and explain to your child about obligations and commitment, especially if the child is playing on a team such as soccer or basketball and other people are depending upon your child. If you have paid in advance, whether or not you continue with the activity, your money is already spent. The question is, do you want to spend your time pushing your child to participate in an activity he or she doesn’t like? Your time and your health and those of your child are usually worth more than money. Review the situation, ask questions, and bail without guilt if that is what is right for you and/or your child.

Remember that saying “no” to something you don’t really enjoy means you’ll be able to say “yes” to something that you may really enjoy.

10 Comments for “Know when to fold ‘em”

  1. posted by adora on

    There is too much bad raps about giving up. We all have opportunity cost.

    My parents forced my brothers and I to swim at least half a mile twice a week for about 10 years. We hate it. When I was old enough to drive us, we bunk off to the mall for an hour and wet our hair and clothes in the toilet before we get home.

    My brothers are extremely inactive these days, do so just to exercise our free will. People are always surprised by our physical abilities since we express hatred towards exercise. The skill does stay with you for life, but it is no good if you don’t exercise regularly.

    Same thing with piano, violin, soccer, and even studying.

    I think what makes us hate these activities most is that my parents themselves don’t engage in any self-improvement activities themselves. They just force them on us. “You will thank us one day.” (Not really.)

    I see lots of parents who can’t swim forcing children to swim. They are very annoying – wearing street shoes around the pool dirtying the joint. Sit around playing Angry Bird for an hour while screaming at them to swim more. If you want your children to do something, why don’t you set an example and do it yourself?

  2. posted by bradw on

    I had two good years of piano lessons during the five years my parents paid for them. Everyone would have been happier if I could have stood up and said enough.

  3. posted by JC on

    My son does not like team sports, so we put him in karate, which is quite expensive. He sometimes complains beforehand, but truly enjoys it once he’s at class and gets a sense of accomplishment from it. At times we have taken breaks of a few weeks, or even a couple of months in the summer but we go back to it. As adora has said above, parental participation does make a difference. A year into his program, I started karate as well. Due to some chronic health issues, I had to stop attending karate. I should be able to start up again before the end of the year. In the meantime though, I have done other forms of physical exercise as I have been able.

    Piano lessons were a different story. At age 9, DS wanted to take guitar lessons. It was already a family decision that the children take piano lessons for two years, at which point they could choose to go on, or to quit at that point. We agreed that we would buy DS a guitar at the end of two years of piano lessons if he demonstrated a commitment to the lessons. The last six months of piano lessons the only time he spent at the piano was the actual half hour at the weekly lesson. At the two year mark, piano lessons ended and we did not buy a guitar. He hasn’t been devastated, we don’t have a guitar sitting around not being used, and he did get some basic music training that he can pursue at a later time if he wishes.

    We are insistent about boy scouts. The merit badges are short introductions to a vast array of fields of study/interest that give him a taste of something without having to commit more than a few months investment into a specific activity at the same time focusing on personal growth and leadership. Those things he truly finds interesting, he can continue independently, those he does not he is not stuck in a year long program that will be causing grief.

  4. posted by on

    Great post. I agree – sometimes it’s appropriate to quit. I’ve had friends who continued doing things they didn’t have to. When I’ve asked why, they said: “Because I started it.” That’s not a good reason. Sometimes you have to stick it out but often you don’t. Sometimes it’s about trying something and figuring out you don’t like it. Why keep doing it if you don’t like it?!

  5. posted by Laetitia on

    In regard to testing a child’s commitment to one musical instrument before providing access to another, this only really applies if the instruments are related in some way (e.g. same form of playing or how the music is written).

    My mother tried the trick of not providing access to a saxophone unless I learnt to play the guitar first (I think because she liked the sound of the guitar (she herself plays no instruments) and was hoping I’d get into C&W or because there was already an old – go-out-of-tune-as-soon-as-you-touch-the-strings one lying around the house). The problem with that idea is that guitars can play chords and, unless it’s classical / Spanish guitar, the music is generally not written on a regular staff and often gives no indication of length of note. Saxophones on the other hand are incapable of playing a chord and the music is similar to that of one line of piano music. Needless to say, I never learnt the guitar because I wasn’t interested in it at the time. 15 years later I had the $ to take up sax for myself but I often wonder how things would have been different if I’d been given access to it in my teens – 15 years lost?

    If you or your child aren’t finding enjoyment in one instrument, it could be the wrong instrument, rather than a lack of commitment to learning any instrument.

  6. posted by Laetitia on

    Oops – meant to say “this may only apply if the instruments are related in some way”. I’m sure JC knows his / her son better than I do to know if he’s trying to ‘pull a fast one’.

  7. posted by G. on

    It may not be the activity, it may a differing mindset between child and teacher or coach. A teacher or coach who only settles for a “I’m going to Juliard (or Olympics or other lofty rarely achieved goal)” ambitions may cause a child who wants to learn just enough to play decently much grief. Or the child who is aiming for the lofty goals and has a teacher who’s not up to the task. In that case, the teacher or coach should say they’ve taken the child as far as they can.

    And sometimes, there will be those child and teacher/coach combinations that for whatever reason just. don’t. work.

    We kept DS in Cub Scouts until the end, even though he wanted to quit about 6 months before the end. At the time he didn’t really appreciate it, but at the end ceremony, I think he was a tiny bit glad he finished it out. At least the photos show him smiling. We did not make him go on to Boy Scouts.

  8. posted by ChrisD on

    Though I agree with this a lot, I think in some ways learning something new might be a time to ignore your feelings. This probably applies more to adults than to children, as an adult you may be used to being good at what you do and if you try something new there may quite a bit of frustration to go through before you get to the good bit as you begin to get good at the new skill (I’m assuming kids are more used to this). Therefore I would always advocate finishing some predetermined length of time to give something a ‘fair chance’, but after that, definitely quit. Or do what I did when I was 9, ‘forget’ so many recorder lessons that by the time you finally turn up they have assumed you were no long longer taking lessons :-).

  9. posted by Lisa on

    I have a different perspective on this. I wish my parents had forced me to stick with more activities–or at least any activity. I had a natural tendency as a kid and teen to give up on things as soon as the novelty wore off. I begged to try swimming, drums, karate, Girl Scouts, and various art classes, and then quit as soon as things were no longer easy for me. This tendency extended into school and social obligations. I would slack off or back out, and I was always allowed to get away with it. At the time I was always relieved to quit, but it took me until my late twenties to learn the value of struggling through something until you achieve proficiency.

    In the end, I made the decision to grow up and learn to finish what I start, but it took several painful years of quitting jobs, changing majors, and dropping out of college to get to that point. I know that my parents were just trying to give me what I needed, and they were always very understanding about my feelings. But sometimes I wonder if what I really needed was more of a kick in the rear.

  10. posted by Debbie M on

    Yes, you can err in both directions. I’ve learned that I tend to err in the direction of quitting too soon, so if I feel any doubt in my mind, I try to stick with it a bit longer. However, if there’s no doubt, I let myself move on.

    I think where you are makes a difference. There are some towns my sister lived in that were so small there was only one fun thing to do–even though she wouldn’t have thought of picking that activity on her own, she got into it and stuck it out. Also, your school may have an obvious best teacher or coach which may be a good excuse to try out an odd subject or sport.

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