When should I let my child quit?

The question for every child

There are many mums and dads who have had that repetitive discussion with their child about starting a new hobby during which their child promises again they won't give up and will stick with it forever as they know that this is what they want to do!

Fast forward a month or two and they are on to the next definite hobby for life. First it’s the piano lessons then the guitar tuition then ballet classes then judo…the list could be endless - one a month!!

There have never been so many activities for kids to get involved in.

The question is should children be encouraged to try out lots of different activities and hobbies or should they be forced to stick one thing out and endure perseverance? Should you let your kids quit when they want?

There are many different parenting arguments on this topic and how it should be approached. Different people have very different opinions on whether children should be allowed to quit. It would be wrong to write here that there is one correct answer for parents. Two equally accredited experts could give two very different expert opinions.

Bellow are just some of the interesting debates surrounding the topic:

  • Tiger mums
  • The 'let kids quit' vs 'push kids forward' arguments
  • Is the question really "WHEN should I allow my child to quit?" 

Tiger Mums

One interesting approach, which might seem unfamiliar to our western ways is Amy Chua’s ‘Tiger Mums’. This is a traditional Chinese method where parents put pressure on children to succeed both academically and in their leisure activities. Parents do not let children quit and instead force them to practice for hours pushing them on through the tears and complaints. In terms of academic achievement, British Chinese children are the most successful ethnic group in this country and some people argue that it is the Tiger Mums approach that has made these statistics so.


Professor Chua’s List of Rules for Children of Tiger Mums

  • no grade lower than an A
  • nothing less than top of the class for any subject except gym and drama
  • no television
  • no computer games
  • no sleepovers
  • no play dates
  • no parts in school plays
  • no complaints about not being in school plays
  • no musical instrument except piano or violin
  • no choice of extra-curricular activities.

What A Tiger Mum Says

The following quote from a Daily Mail article is interesting as it shows the argument from a Tiger Mum's point of view, highlighting her reasons for taking this approach:

It honestly wouldn’t occur to me that my children can’t do something, I assume that if they practice and practice and practice – which is why an adult needs to be there, enforcing it – then they will achieve. When people say to me, “Why can’t you just let them be happy?” I don’t understand what that means. Happy is doing well and having a sense of pride in yourself.

If you are interested in reading more about Tiger Mums, an article published in 2011 in Times Magazine US is very enlightening.

This article relates Amy Chau’s relationship with her daughter and why she thinks the Tiger approach is the only approach for success. It also highlights America’s fears over this approach and the criticism Amy received.


Different Opinions

Not everyone agrees with the Tiger Mums approach. An article in The Telegraph argues for a different approach and talks about a counter argument.

In that article, Dr Levine (leading the charge for the ‘Underparent’ approach) says: “I’m not saying that doing well academically isn’t important, but when I talk to the CEOs of tech companies here in California, they all say that there are other skills they are looking for in their employees – creativity, flexibility, resilience, communication skills and the ability to collaborate and motivate. You don’t get those by concentrating solely on an academic measure of success.”

'Let the kids quit' vs 'Push kids forward'

Let kids quit: Childhood is for exploration

Annie Fox, M.Ed., Author, Educator, and Online Adviser

There could be several reasons a new activity fires up a child’s imagination. Their best friend may be doing it. Some adult made it sound irresistibly cool. Love is love but sometimes infatuation turns to contempt. Should a child be permitted to quit an activity he or she has committed to? Yes!

My daughter, at age 8, dropped violin after 3 months. She was relieved and we were grateful! That said, quitting deserves thoughtful consideration and parents need to explore the reasons. So talk about it calmly and find out what’s going on before a final decision is made. Maybe the adult in charge isn’t supportive. Perhaps a kid in the group is giving your kid a hard time. Maybe your child’s expectations for proficiency don’t match the reality of the work required.

If whatever is causing the cooling off can be addressed then “I quit!” may turn into “OK, I’ll give it another try.” But if the core issue is “This just isn’t for me, Mum” then please, respect that! Do NOT make the child feel like a “quitter.” Applaud his/her honesty and remind them that childhood is for exploration. Some things are a perfect fit for you and some aren’t. That’s good to know.



Push kids forward: Perseverance is important

Dr. Susan Bartell, Psychologist and Author, US

Children often give up quickly when success isn’t easy or immediate. This is because learning to push through frustration to find success can be a tough fought battle. However, if you allow your child to give in to uncomfortable feelings that make them want to quit, you communicate that that hard work and perseverance aren’t important. In fact, by not pushing your child, you deny them the opportunity to learn to cope with frustration, and eventually they will stop trying at anything.

By allowing your child to give up, you also communicate that you don’t believe they are capable of succeeding. Therefore, if you allow your child to quit, they will never learn how to manage frustration and will become a quitter.

There are exceptions (like a verbally abusive teacher), but in general, you should require your child to see an activity through to the end (finish the season; complete the school year). At a natural conclusion, you can decide whether it is in your child’s best interest to let them move to another activity, or whether pushing to persevere (despite protest) is warranted.

Extracts taken from an article on Education.com and advice from Susan Bartell.

Is the question really 'WHEN should I allow my child to quit?'

Flora, UK Primary Teacher, focusing on Special Needs

I believe the real question is WHEN should you allow your child to quit. I believe it is important that children learn from an early age that you can’t walk into something and succeed straight away. Children have to appreciate that in order to achieve well at something they need to work hard, and persevere. It will become near impossible to ever achieve goals in life if they have learnt to quit as soon as something gets difficult.

If however, children really aren’t enjoying an activity it can’t be productive to force them into it. There does not seem to be much point in sticking with a hobby, for example, musical instrument lessons or kids sports club, if your child has given up trying or started skipping lessons because they just don’t care. Forcing your child may also be counter-productive as it might lead to further conflict and a battle of wills. In order to successfully force your child to stick with an activity against their will you will need a lot of strength in being strict and sticking with your word.

I personally believe that children need to have time to relax and be kids! There seems no harm in trying out different activities in order to find out what they enjoy. You won't know if you like something until you try it. I therefore believe that you need to judge it on your child’s and your own beliefs, and if your child is quitting make sure it is for the right reasons and not just because they can!




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