Sports and after school activities are paramount in teaching our children countless lessons. Not only do they keep our kids physically fit, but they also highlight important life skills such as teamwork, patience, goal setting, and overcoming challenges. But what happens when a child starts out loving a sport, then all of a sudden stops liking it and asks to quit? What is a parent supposed to do? Should we allow our kids to quit, or make them tough it out until the end of the season, year, etc.?
Gymnastics has always been my sport. My obsession began when I was 3 years old and my Grammy taught me how to do a cartwheel. I began taking classes, enjoyed it, and was fairly skilled at the sport, especially the balance beam (ironically). That is, until it got ‘too hard’ and I cried before every class begging my mom to quit. She didn’t want to scar me for life by forcing me to continue, so she did what she thought was best at the time. To this day, I still regret quitting gymnastics, and my mom questions her decision as well (even all these years later).
After that I dabbled in a few other sports. I tried swimming, ice skating, cheerleading, and various types of dance, including ballet, tap, and hip hop. I never stuck with any of them for very long, always crying to quit because I either didn’t like it or it became too difficult.
Fast forward a few decades and now I have two daughters of my own. My oldest began gymnastics at age two; not because I wanted to live vicariously through her, but because she truly enjoyed it and specifically asked to take classes. She’s now almost 8 years old, has moved up to the intermediate/advanced level, and has been awarded several trophies and medals. She loves the sport so much that we have a beam and a bar in our playroom. Our living room is used as a gym floor for her routines, and our couch acts as a vault quite often.
However, I can’t tell you how many times she’s begged to quit or cried on the way to the gym. I know it’s not because she doesn’t want to continue the sport. It’s because she is tired (aren’t we all, kid?!), or the sport challenged her extra that week, her friend isn’t going to be there, or she’s jealous that her little sister gets to stay home with her dad while she doesn’t. In my opinion, none of those reasons warrant quitting.
So, What Do I Do When She Wants to Quit?
I discuss options with my little gymnast when she has days like this, it’s not just an emphatic, ‘No, you’re not quitting’. We talk about why she wants to quit, how other athletes may feel this way sometimes too (which is normal), and that our family rule is that she is required to do something to stay active. Therefore, if she wants to quit gymnastics, she has to take up something else in its place. My daughter has never been able to come up with anything to replace her favorite sport, because in the end she loves it.
I am OK with her not wishing to continue gymnastics, as long as she is physically engaged and healthy. Until she finds something to trade it for, we are sticking with what we’ve spent countless time doing, what we’ve paid for (because honoring commitments is also important), and what she wholeheartedly loves.
How do We Find the Balance?
Finding that balance of being firm but understanding is not an easy one for me, or my husband (whose first reaction is to give in- she is totally a daddy’s girl!). I’m sure it’s tricky for many parents out there as well. How do we know when to let our kids quit, especially when part of the skill set they are supposed to be learning from whatever sport they choose, is to persevere during challenging times? How are we supposed to know how much to push them, if they are saying they no longer like a sport, or any activity they are participating in.
Obviously, there is more than one right answer or response. It completely depends on each individual child, parent, family; and we are all wonderfully and uniquely different. So, what I choose to say and do when my daughter wants to quit, may be light years away from how you may handle your child asking to stop their sport or after school activity. We all do the best with what we have and focus on keeping our children’s best interest at heart. This balance beam of parenting is a beast (much like the 4-inch-wide gymnastics apparatus), and certainly not for the faint of heart. Don’t quit though, because in the end it’s more than worth it!