What to Do When Your Child Wants to Quit


It was a particularly hectic time in my life with newborn twins, but I didn’t want to drop the ball on my other children, especially my number 3 who not only got a bomb dropped on her with TWO new sisters, but was no longer THE baby. When she said she wanted to do ballet, I initially thought I might get out of it, but she REALLY wanted to do it. After weeks of asking me, I finally packed everyone in the car, took her to sign ups and then needed the shoes from one store, an outfit from another… it was exhausting at this particular grueling point in motherhood. But it’s what THE de-throwned baby wanted, in fact INSISTED, so I killed myself to make it happen. And then THE day came and my husband took her to class. When they got home, barely speaking, I foolishly asked how it went when he responded, “Horribly”…UM – WHAT?! This was not the response I was looking for! It MUST be him (hormone, breast feeding twins, no sleep crazy mind thought!). To solve this, I declared I will be the one to take her… Sure enough, when it was my see-for-myself turn she HATED it. In fact, even the teacher said to me, “This really isn’t for her,” as if I was a crazed dance mom who had visions of future Nutcracker stardom. Which brings me to the point (listen, no one has ever claimed I’m not long winded), when is it okay for your child to quit? Should they learn to commit to their choices or should we give them a break? Breezy Mama turned to Harvard sociologist and parenting expert Dr. Hilary Levey Friedman, author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture for her advice.

Kids may hate a sport (or other activity) immediately, but soon make friends and learn to love it. BUT, if they don’t, how long should they “give it a go” before parents allow them to quit?

Often families commit to a “session,” or some pre-determined number of weeks of instruction. If at the end of that period your child hates it, it’s ok to move on to something else! Quitting in the middle of a session/semester is more difficult and not advisable.

As Alex (Breezy Mama Co-founder), phrased it, “I always make the child finish out the season (or camp, session, etc) even if they don’t like it. Is that right?”

This is a great instinct! If you make a financial commitment, a time commitment, and perhaps a commitment to peers, you should follow through to the natural/logical conclusion.

Note than an exception would be if a child is physically injured from participation (perhaps a sports injury) or has physical manifestations of nerves related to participation. This could be an upset tummy, for example.

If they are too, um, afraid to say they hate the activity mom has already provided her credit card for, what signs should we look for if they really are miserable, and we should let them quit?

See above upset tummy! Could also be a headache, or some other physical symptom.

Once a parent has let a kid quit, my fear is that they will want to quit everything they try that they aren’t immediately good at. If you let them quit once, how can you teach them that quitting consistently is not okay?

The whole family (parents/guardians and kids) should talk about why quitting might be an option here, and then discuss it after and talk about how to avoid such a problem in the future.

Anything else you’d like to share about kids and quitting?

When I studied families with elementary school-age kids who “quit” a competitive activity I actually found that they weren’t quitting all activities, or even similar activities. Rather, they were substituting other activities. For example, many soccer kids left travel soccer for lacrosse. One dance girl stopped the competition dance team to pursue classical Indian dance. Not one family I met had a child who quit to watch TV/play video games. Everyone was still doing something, but the primary focus shifted a bit. In some cases this was because of the child’s interest/talents, but in most cases it was because of time commitments– which says a lot about American childhood today!

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About Hilary Levey Friedman
Hilary Levey Friedman is a Harvard sociologist who studies after school activities, beauty, competition, and popular culture. Her book, Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture, examines the rise of competitive after school activities (especially chess, dance, and soccer) in American childhood and how this impacts he educational system, the family, and kids today. Follow her on Twitter @hleveyfriedman!

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  1. Lalita Malone says

    Our 6 year old daughter is currently a first degree yellow belt in Karate. I’ve had this discussion with my husband not too long ago, what would he say if she said she didn’t want to do it anymore? He is the one to start her in it and she will have a long road ahead of her to be a black belt.

    Our 17 year old daughter quit the golf club after 6 months in her freshman year of high school and then just gave up golf completely after that. She was influenced by her grandfather to golf as a child but never had a passion for it. She’s more of a writer/artist and excels in it. She is the editor of the school yearbook and currently writing her essays for college. It happens and I agree they will pick something that is more suited for their personality.

    Thanks for the article!


  1. […] other press I have done recently, like this Podcast or this piece on letting a child quit an activity, the images accompanying them have portrayed girls– like […]

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