To quit, or not to quit. That is the question.

Your 7-year-old daughter begs to join a Brownie troop, then hides and refuses to go on the second day. Your 10-year-old son makes the soccer team, but a couple of games into the season (after some $100 has been spent on gear and registration) complains he doesn’t want to play anymore.

kids challenging themselves

What’s a responsible parent to do? While it’s difficult to see our kids face anxiety, we worry letting them bow out of their commitments will turn them into weak, impulsive people unable to handle future setbacks or rational decision making.

The No. 1 reason kids wish to quit sports is that they’re no longer fun, research supports, a principle which presumably extends to other kids’ activities. But experts disagree on whether simple lack of fun should justify quitting an activity mid-season.

“Those who stick around find that being on a team means a greater commitment of time and effort,” advises Julianna W. Miner in the Washington Post. “(It) brings with it the potential for experiencing disappointment or being the cause of it … (which) can teach incredibly important lessons about hard work, resiliency and character.”

She says quitting could perpetuate your child’s perception that “I have to be the best or I’ve failed,” whereas staying on could help him develop healthy coping behaviours.

Others argue parental flexibility is important as children experiment with activities to figure out where their passions lie. If your kids’ time is monopolised by one sport too early, for example, they may never discover their love for robotics, music, Scouting, art, Future Problem Solving, 4H, creative writing, etc. “That puts negative connotations on the sporting experience,” writes sports psychology professor Martin Camiré. “You can end up with kids in activities they don’t enjoy, but who are afraid to say that to their parents.”

Consider the following when deciding how to handle your child’s request to quit.

  • Think about compromising by asking your child to complete a certain number of sessions before finalising his decision. That gives him some power over the situation while ensuring one bad day or experience isn’t skewing the total picture.
  • If the issue is that the child is exhausted from being overbooked, the scale might tip toward quitting. “All this converges at a time when they’re going through major physical, emotional and social change, as well as facing pressure to pare down their interests and focus on school,” Miner notes.
  • Age should be heavily factored. Sports psychology professor Martin Camiré argues children 4 to 6 should be allowed to sample many activities, since they’re too young to understand the abstract idea of perseverance.
  • Parents might counter negative experiences by letting kids try day-long sessions or just observe practices before enrolling for entire seasons.

Ultimately, a final decision should be made only after open and honest discussion with your child. “(That) teaches children how to talk to their parents about their feelings, while parents actively listen without defence,” writes Dr. Gail Gross.

“Ultimately, parents and children speak together solving their problem, by investing each participant in the solution. During this process, you can learn more about why your child wants to quit.”