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From the desk of Dr. Charles Murphy: May 17, 2012

I don’t want to go dance anymore…I want to quit lacrosse… I hate music lessons…. Often enough parents hear their children make similar statements. From time to time, our children decide that they want to quit their in-school or after-school activity. There are times when our children are just tired or caught up with another activity and they don’t want to attend at that particular moment. There are also times when our children really don’t want to continue with their extracurricular activities. They’re done.

Is quitting the right decision or do you tell your child to stick it out? Naturally, as parents we want to encourage our children to continue in their activity. We don’t want them to quit each time they are disheartened, upset, or have something better to do. After all, the $300 non-refundable check for these lessons was already cashed. Johnny better continue with his karate lessons because in about a minute he’s going to wish he had these self-defense skills!

Clearly, we want to teach children to persevere, complete their commitments, and to learn what it means to be part of a team. We understand the activities and experiences enrich their lives and only come around once in a lifetime. However, when is it not worth it? We don’t want to raise a quitter, but we don’t need to torture our children with activities they really don’t want to attend any longer. Most parents can tell when their child is really not happy and has reached their limit.

Recently, I heard of one of the best ways a parent handled one of these “I want to quit” situations. In this case, the parent had done everything to encourage her daughter to stick with dance—discussed the benefits, praised, rewarded, and negotiated—with her child to no avail. In the end, the parent realized the cost-benefit for trying to continue with ballet was now skewed to emotional harm. Although the parent did not want the child to quit, she felt there was still an important “responsibility” lesson to teach her child. She told her daughter if this is your decision then you need to take responsibility for your decision. She had her daughter collect all of her ballet shoes, tutus, and leotards, so she could return the items to the dance studio. Once at the studio, the child had to tell her dance instructor, face-to-face, that she would be no longer taking dance.

What was the right decision? Let them quit or have them press on? Parents need to make this decision on their own and weigh the pros and cons over the long-term. However, if you do allow your child to opt out, there is still the opportunity to teach an important responsibility and decision-making lesson.