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Which parent hasn’t had a child who at some point says they want to drop a sport or a team? End dance or music class? Or an activity that you as a parent may have invested a lot of money or time, perhaps cheering on the sidelines or proudly clapping at a performance?
Whether your child is performing well or is mediocre, stopping may not be the solution. We all felt this way for a variety of reasons. Switching and yes, quitting, however, can turn out to be a smart move for kids.
In this guest post, Phyllis L. Fagell LCPC, school counselor at the Sheridan School in the district, therapist with Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, Maryland, and author of Middle School Matters, explains why quitting or persevering can be very beneficial for you.
Guest post by Phyllis Fagell:
After a heavy defeat at a national fencing tournament, 15-year-old Sophie stopped crying. She said, “What am I doing here? I don’t belong here, ”recalls her mother Jen“ JJ ”Cannon. Whenever Sophie asks if fencing is worth the ups and downs, her mother reminds her that she can always take a break and reevaluate. Cannon sometimes worries that these experiences are doing more harm than good, but she also realizes that fencing has become part of Sophie’s identity.
“What I know, and my husband agrees, is that it is so much more than fencing a fight – winning or losing,” explains Cannon. “Being alone on the strip strengthens and characterizes them and belongs to a club that has become like a family.”
As a middle school counselor, parents often ask me if their child should quit an activity. As with Sophie’s scenario, there are usually no straightforward answers, but I’ve come to believe that the decision-making process is far more important than the outcome. By delivering the following five messages, you will raise a child who knows when to switch.
Update the exit
There is a misconception that quitting is cowardly, but if you insist that your children stick with an activity that makes them unhappy, you can inadvertently teach them to stay in bad situations. On the other hand, children who find the courage to drop a despicable activity have more control over their fate.
A child may stay on the course for a number of reasons. They may have been told that they are gifted or shouldn’t waste the potential. Or maybe their parents have invested so much time and resources in an activity that the child is afraid to admit they are unhappy. It can be difficult for an adult to change direction, let alone a young child, middle school student, or teenager. You may need explicit permission or benefit from hearing stories from times when you were faced with a similar choice.
In her book Enough As She Is, Rachel Simmons writes about the feeling of scorching loneliness as a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford. “I haven’t made any friends. I spent most of my time in the cavernous Bodleian Library or wandered the misty streets of Oxford wondering what was wrong with me. But I couldn’t believe I was going. Who cancels the Rhodes Scholarship, the rarest gift? “She testifies. When she stopped, she kept it a secret for a decade. She was convinced that quitting defined her character. “I know something else now,” she writes. “Adolescence is a time of difficult transitions and making the decision to change course, break off, and – with the right support and reflection – quit can be a spectacularly bold act of self-respect.”
Assure them that changing gears can improve their wellbeing
Persistence and grit are important, but walking away can help children live happier, healthier lives. Several studies, including one by Canadian researchers Gregory Miller and Carsten Wrosch, have shown that people who can let go of unreachable or unwanted goals enjoy better wellbeing and fewer illnesses.
Help your children find out what drives them, what they really enjoy doing, and what they want to achieve. As writer and educator Alfie Kohn writes in the Washington Post, “Even if you don’t crash and burn from a class trip, you may not be nearly as good as if you stopped, re-evaluated, and tried something else.”
Give examples of people who have panned successfully
Quitting may not feel intuitive. If your child (or you) needs reassurance, consider the many examples of well-known people letting go of one goal in favor of another. According to Business Insider, Vera Wang switched from professional figure skater to fashion designer. Astronaut John Glenn became a US Senator in Ohio. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a backup linebacker for the Canadian Football League before moving to television and movies, among other things.
Think of an alternative plan
Your child may know they are done with a chase but don’t know what to try instead. “One tip I give parents is to tell their children that there are different things to try,” says Britt Rathbone, the director of an outpatient psychiatric practice for teenagers in Bethesda, MD. “We never really know what someone is going to like. You don’t have to stick with it. Take out a list of activities, choose something, and just give it a try. Say if you don’t choose something, I’ll choose something for you, and if you don’t like it you never have to do it again. “Rathbone recommends building risk taking around their strengths and interests. If they struggle socially but enjoy drawing, enroll them in an art class.
Include them in problem solving
Together, create pros and cons and help your child assess whether it is time to reduce their losses and move forward. Acknowledge what to lose and what to gain.
We have a cultural bias against quitting and we tend to think of it as “giving up,” but that is wrong. Quitting can give your child the opportunity to discover new passions. As Simmons says, “wrong turns are rarely dead ends.”
Copyright @ 2019 by Phyllis Fagell