It’s not about getting taken down or knocked down. It’s about getting back up and what that teaches you.
Quitting is a behavior learned early in life. There are many causes but almost everyone that really examines quitting sees its incubation in childhood. Showing children how to work hard and persevere through a challenge is one of the major roles of a parent. Sticktoitiveness needs to be role modeled, its importance explained and expected by parents. Unfortunately we are experiencing the most emotionally wounded generation of all time. Long time victims of anything are generally quitters. They quit improving themselves, it usually starts sometime in childhood and the consequences follow them through life.
Some Case Studies:
Let’s start with the act of quitting an activity the child initially wanted to do. A few years ago my own son asked to quit soccer. We talked about the reasons that he wanted to quit: he found it boring, wanted more physical freedom and to play with boys that didn’t cry all the time. It was a pretty basic club with a small group of non-physical boys so it made sense to me. I told him that I understood but he’d have to finish the season and agreed that we would revisit after the season was over. It would have been easier for me to give-in to the non-stop complaining during the rest of the season, but it would have sent the wrong message to my son. After the season he chose to play flag football. He learned that he has to finish what he starts and that he has to think through his decisions so that both of us understand the rationale. As a parent, it’s crucial to resist reacting to the impulsive whining and complaints from kids on a bad day of practice or a game. The old adage of getting back on the horse certainly applies here. If the complaints persist, as in the case of my son, then you listen and make a choice to quit after they’ve fulfilled their initial commitment. Quitting mid-season firmly cements fear and doubt in their mind the next time they encounter a challenge. This process is to hard for most kids to understand, especially while immersed in the sport, parents need to take the lead.
I’ve seen newbies to very skilled kids quit sports for all sorts of reasons. The underlying reason to me is a lack of resiliency. They can’t bounce back from a problem that they experienced. The problems usually revolve around having to work harder than they want to, expect to, are accustomed to at home or from simply losing. A few years ago I coached a boy that was a relatively good 2nd/3rd year wrestler. He kept going to open tournaments in PA and he’d lose to a hammer in many semifinals or finals matches. Most of the kids he’d lose to had wrestled twice as long as him. He just couldn’t emotionally deal with the losses and quit the sport – mid season. Wow. He didn’t realize how well he was doing and couldn’t put the losses into perspective. If he kept up with his pace of development he would have been one of those hammers in another season or two. This quitting behavior will follow people around forever unless they change their response to losing or whatever drove them to quit. I know that it’s scary to come up against another human being in competition, especially if it’s a physical competition. However, being a successful grown up demands that you don’t fold when you’re physically nervous, scared or under pressure. In fact, that’s actually what being a grown up used to mean.
What happens when you give in and let them off the hook? Or what if you let them quit the things you’re not interested in but not the things you’re passionate about. Sometimes the parent doesn’t like or know the sport and lets the child quit creating a very inconsistent message about quitting. This just means that resilience isn’t a true value for the parent and they’re teaching that they can just make excuses in life when it doesn’t go their way. Teaching kids that they’re not responsible for their decisions in life sets them on a collision course for bad choices and poor coping skills as grown ups. One of the biggest contributors to happiness is not quitting when you encounter a challenge or make a mistake. If you can’t accept reality and you blame others for your own misfortunes it is a path to unhappiness. Another predictor of success and happiness? Resilience and Grit.
Where does it come from?
This inability to bounce back from a loss has been taught by no win youth sports and educational systems as well as parents that might role model this behavior. The pressure kids put on themselves to win also gets distorted. Try to emphasize the giving of 100% effort and that winning and losing will take care of itself.
My own son recently gave up baseball, which he was pretty good at for Lacrosse. He’s just learning Lacrosse. I’m sure that he is like most young boys; they want to have fun and get better. Will he regret changing sports? He knows that he’s committed for the season.
There are a number of reasons a kid might want to quit an activity. There are precious few exceptions to consider letting a kid quit something:
- He wants to quit something his parents forced him to do. If a parent coerces a child to play piano or soccer was it really the kids choice? It’s not really quitting if it wasn’t their idea or choice.
- Getting demolished or manhandled in a sport that the kid isn’t ready for. This is in the safety category. Some football leagues don’t have weight classes/limits and having an unfit 60lber go up against a 120lber might not make sense.
- Emotional maturity: kids who cry during competition might not be ready for it. This isn’t really an exception because you should still work through the fear at practice and not quit – just hold them out of comp till they’re ready.
Letting your child be a quitter will handicap them in all future endeavors. Learning to work hard to overcome obstacles and get better is a critical life skill. Don’t let your kids quit activities they wanted to do. Encourage them, help them process the internal fear that they are facing and your child will be better off in the long run. Give your kid the gift of resiliency and grit.
I speak from experience. I quit in the biggest wrestling competition of my career thinking that I was punishing my idiot coach. Boy was I wrong. It took me a couple of years to get back on track. I still think about that day on a routine basis. It was a mistake that has helped to motivate me and drive me for more than 30 years. Don’t give your kids life long regrets or the habit of creating them.