opinion

Mental health: Dealing with kids when they want to quit

Parents sometimes ask me about the wisdom of having a child continue taking lessons if there is a lot of resistance. This is a hard one to call. Whether it is piano, swimming or hockey, there may be a time right at the beginning when the child does not want to go. This may also happen a few years later when things are becoming more challenging.

The way the resistance is handled is crucial to the final outcome. If a child is forced to do something that is extremely uncomfortable for them, they will come to hate the activity. Everything should be negotiable, except, in my opinion, swimming. The ability to swim could be a life or death matter at some point in the child’s life. Sports, music or dance will not be.

Still, we like to see our children develop their skills in some extracurricular areas. It is important to recognize that when a child wants to quit an activity, it may not be because of the activity itself. Perhaps there is not a good fit with the teacher, coach or teammates. It may also be because the child feels his or her performance is poor.

The first step should be to find out specifically what the child does not like, and what it would take for the activity to be more pleasant. Sometimes it might mean finding a new teacher or a new team to play on. In swimming, it might mean staying back one level, even though the child has completed it, in order to develop more confidence in the water. Sometimes a few private lessons, one-on-one makes a big difference.

If a child is telling you he or she is not happy, it is important to listen, take the comments seriously, and be sympathetic. See if together you can come up with a solution. Sometimes, just knowing that you understand makes it easier for them to continue. It is also important for them to know that you will not force them to continue if it is truly upsetting.

My first two children took piano lessons, and once they got a little older, started saying they wanted to quit. It was a struggle to get them to practice. I resisted and continued to urge them to do one more year, and then one more year. Ultimately, they quit, and neither has had the desire to return to it.

My youngest also took piano. When she started talking about quitting, I really listened to her. I told her that I wanted her to finish the year, and if she still felt the same way in June, she could quit then. This happened a couple of years in a row. Knowing, in June, that the choice was completely hers as to whether or not to register for the next year, she made the choice to try one more year. She played for twelve years and picked up two new instruments as well. Extra curricular activities should be a source of enjoyment for the child, and not simply a source of pride for the parents. Remember, childhood should be fun.

Gwen Randall-Young is an Alberta author and award-winning psychologist.

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