When Is It Okay to Let Your Kids Quit (And When It’s Not)

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when is it okay to let your kids quit and when its not

We humans innovate, recreate and revolutionise the world we are living in, performing unbelievable feats every day… and then on some days, even getting out of bed can seem like an uphill task. What should you do when your child is on the brink of giving up? Do you push harder, or should you let them quit?

Anyone looking for inspiration to carry on when the tunnel just seems to be getting longer, and the light at the end farther from your reach, can find it in the stories of great people: people who started with small acts of bravery every single day, and ended up changing themselves, their world, and in some cases our world too. From Frida Kahlo to Elon Musk, to the recently departed Stephen Hawking – people have shown time and again that while quitting is easy, it is staying committed that brings results. But is this always true?

What would you do if your child decided to quit?

What is Your Parenting Style?

Instilling strong and positive values is one of parenthood’s biggest challenges and responsibilities. However, different people have different ways of doing this.

According to Baumrind and Maccoby-Martin, there are 4 major parenting styles that define your approach to raising your child:

  1. Authoritative parenting believes in establishing authority with reasoning. Such parents establish rules on the basis of logic and are open to changing the norms if there is a valid reason.
  2. Authoritarian parenting establishes supreme authority that cannot be questioned or challenged. These parents often end up pushing their children against their wishes and (sometimes) abilities.
  3. Permissive/Indulgent parenting involves always giving children the choice – follow/do something or don’t. While this kind of parenting is suitable for older children, after you have instilled good values, habits, and a strong moral character, children need guidance and some form of structure in their formative years.
  4. Neglectful parenting is the kind where the parent is completely detached from and uninvolved in the child. Children of such parents often report of feeling unloved, like their parent doesn’t want them or like them.

NOTE: It is important to realise that no parent belongs to just a single parenting style. While there are examples of such parents too, most parents adopt different parenting styles with different aspects of their child’s upbringing – some are lenient in studies, but expect impeccable etiquette, others are more focused on intellectual development but not necessarily the best of social skills. Either way, it is important to find your dominant style and make changes accordingly.

Authoritarian Parents Can Be Too Strict

If you cannot stand the idea of your child ever not doing what you ask or advise them to do, if you think that a parent should have the last word about anything that concerns the child, you are an authoritarian parent. As might be obvious from the description, it is authoritarian parents that are credited to being the toughest kind of parents.

The biggest problem here is – authoritarian parenting stunts children’s socioemotional and intellectual growth.

One common pattern observed in this parenting style is: pushing kids to the limit. In other words – never letting them quit. However, is this always good?

When is it Okay to Let Kids Quit

Children by virtue of their age and lack of experience, are unable to deal with a lot of things. An adult may exhibit sportsmanship and ‘go down with a smile’, but a child may not be able to do so. A well-adjusted adult will be able to bounce back after one failed attempt at diving and give it another shot, but a child may run at the sight of a swimming pool if his first diving experience wasn’t a good one.

Maturity, courage, resilience, tenacity are all important values to teach a child, however, they come with age and experience.

Children are born with different degrees of inborn skills, and some may be able to better cope with failure, pressure, and other such negative emotions. Their first encounter with a particular ‘challenge’ is going to make them want to pack their bags and run. At such times you must be firm and make them face the situation, without making them feel alone, helpless or scared.

However, there are instances when letting the reigns loose might be the wiser thing to do.

When Your Child Has Done Everything He Can

A lot of times children want to quit a certain activity when it becomes difficult for them (just like we want to quit the gym when the trainer increases the number of plates on that benchpress). However, a child who has given an activity his 100% or more and still seems to not be able to do it (let alone do it well), deserves to be cut some slack and given a break.

When Your Child is Failing Repeatedly

Repeated failure in a task could indicate one of several things: it could be that your child does not have the aptitude for something, or that your child has no natural inclination towards the activity, or even that your child simply doesn’t want to engage in that activity as a choice. Either reason is enough to make children fail repeatedly at an activity, and parents should take this as a sign to let it go.

When Your Child is Unable to Cope with Pressure

At times a child may have moderate aptitude for an activity, but not necessarily the drive to pursue it more seriously. Being the first one in class to be able to solve a math problem, and being able to score in the top 20 students of a national math olympiad require different levels of aptitude – and the ability to deal with pressure. High-intensity tasks may not be every child’s cup of tea.

When Your Child is Unable to Cope with Pressure

When Your Child Exhibits a Lack of Interest/Apathy

Children don’t always come up with stuff like ‘But I don’t want to’ or ‘But I don’t like that’ to get out of tasks. Sometimes they genuinely are not interested in the activity that they are being expected to engage in. Why force them to do something they don’t like? Becuase they need to learn that everything can’t always go their way? There are other ways to teach them that than to force them to take up pursuits they don’t want to pursue.

When the Chosen Activity is Contrary to His Natural Inclination

Some children are meant to be musicians, some are… not. Realising your child’s true aptitude and potential – both the degree and which sphere it lies in is important in order to not try and fit a square peg into a round hole.

Another point to remember is to acknowledge the round hole, and try and find a peg for it! Research has shown that gifted children can become resentful if their gifts are not nurtured. So it is important to recognise their gifts, talents, and aptitudes and hone them accordingly.

When Your Child is Not Yet the Right Age

Some talents develop with age. Not every child is a prodigy – some become great through consistent efforts. Could it be that it is too soon to send your child to that chess club? Hold on a bit.

How to Build Self Confidence in Kids After They Quit

You may have allowed or encouraged your child to quit an activity because it was in their best interest. However, they could still be dealing with it emotionally – the feeling of having lost or failed. What you do at this point to prevent this feeling from sinking in and taking a stronghold in your child’s mind is crucial in ensuring healthy socioemotional development.

Here are a few tips to build your child’s self-confidence after they quit.

  • Tell them you still love them! Children seek parental affirmations and reassurances all the time. Letting them know that you love them in spite of them not having completed a task successfully can be a good starting point in rebuilding their confidence.
  • Encourage them to try other things. While they may be bad at something, they might be great and something else. Find activities that are bound to make them feel happy and good about themselves.
  • Praise, but don’t overdo it. While praising is good, constantly telling your child that they are amazing might, in fact, be detrimental. For starters, it makes them a ‘settler’ and discourages them from trying harder or doing better. Second, disproportionate or false praise (for something that doesn’t deserve to be praised) does more harm to their self-confidence than boost it.
  • Build competence. Tell your child that it is not necessary that just because they failed at something, they will fail at everything else. In fact, when the time is right, you may even encourage your child to give the task a second try. Although taking a break and quitting may be important sometimes, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Competence is built through consistent efforts.

Parents often try to impose their own unfulfilled dreams on their children. As parents you need to realise that children are more than just children – they are people, individual personalities, that are rapidly growing… and growing out of something is also growing. Your son liked football but likes cooking more now. Your daughter used to sing, but all she wants to do now is wear herself out on the basketball court. In such scenarios, realise that they are not quitting, they are choosing, and give them the necessary freedom to do it.

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