It’s Not About You

From an early age, we teach our children to dream big. As parents, we want to help our children develop the mindset that they can accomplish anything, and be anything they want to be. Who are we to say they won’t be the next Alex Morgan, Serena Williams or Peyton Manning? So, chances are as the years go by, you’ve seen your share of dance recitals, or spent your share of time on the soccer field. When your child commits to an activity, you become invested too, and not just because of the time spent, but also because of the financial and emotional commitment involved. At some point, you will likely face the moment when your child decides she wants to end her activity. How do you handle it when your child wants to give up on her dream? 
“Quitting is typically a dirty word in families and often has a bad rep; however, in light of recent insight into the negative effects of over-scheduling, over-entertaining, and over-committing our children, I think it’s time for us to change our perspective and utilize these moments as opportunities to teach our children about establishing healthy boundaries and have character-building discussions,” Helen Wilson, PLPC with Brightside Counseling Services, states. As parents, we need to help our children navigate the decision-making process of when it is okay to quit an activity they’ve been committed to, but ultimately, it’s their decision. As you wade into the waters of change, consider the following questions. 

Whose Dream Is It?
Sometimes the lines become blurred between the dreams that we have for our children and what they really want for themselves. Perhaps your own dream of playing in Carnegie Hall was not realized due to lack of resources, so you project your dreams onto your child sometimes without even realizing it. As hard as it can be, Wilson says, “We must separate our children’s dreams from our own. Putting effort into forcing your children to fulfill your dreams can really obstruct their personal development and identity formation.”

It may also be that the lines between your identity and your child’s have become blurred. Be sure you are developing healthy boundaries between your child’s identity and your own. LCSW Brittany Relle suggests, “Ask yourself if any part of you is disappointed because of how your child’s ‘quitting’ will impact you. Are you concerned that you will lose your own socialization group or identity? Additionally, maybe you are concerned that your identity will change–that you will no longer be ‘the great dancer’s mom.’” 

Are You Really Listening?
If your child comes to you and says she wants to quit, have you really listened to her argument, or are you already coming up with a rebuttal in your mind about why she shouldn’t quit? Wilson says, “The most profound gift we can give children is to listen to them deeply.” This includes giving your child your undivided attention, asking open-ended questions like “What do you think about that?” or “How long has this been on your mind?” Acknowledge that you understand her thoughts on the subject. Really listen to what your child has to say, and her level of thought on the subject might surprise you.

Are you keeping it fun? 
As parents, we want our children to succeed and be the best they can possibly be, and it’s important to nurture areas where you might see your child excelling, but it’s a fine line between pushing to succeed and pushing your child away. Collegiate competitive golfer Julia Johnson attributes her strong work ethic to her early years of training with her father, which began at age three. But in eighth grade, Julia made the decision to quit the sport that she once loved because of pressures from an overbearing parent. She says, “I don’t think I’d be the golfer I am today without the base my father gave me at a young age, but he was very involved, and not in a good way. He pushed me over that cliff, leading me to leave a sport that I once loved. It was a real wake up call for my family.” Julia took a nine month break from her sport, and when she returned, it was on her terms. At that point, she felt mature enough to make her own decisions at a higher level of competition.

Is It Still Positive?
When you’re listening to your child’s reasoning for why they want to quit, analyze whether the activity is still having a positive impact on your child’s life. Relle recalls a client who was so involved in club soccer that she was missing out on family time and social activities like dances and high school football games.
Additionally, she was too exhausted in the evening to complete all of her homework and study effectively for tests. This caused her grades to drop significantly. Together, the family discovered that soccer had served its purpose in elementary school, junior high, and early high school, but this was no longer the case. This activity, which she initially joined in an effort to positively impact her life, was now actually adding a significant amount of stress to this child’s life.  Remember, you are helping her weigh the pros and cons, and if the activity is no longer having a positive impact on her life, it might be time to let it let go.

Is It a Phase?
Sometimes your child’s wanting to quit is just a temporary phase. Wilson says, “Give it time. All kids have bad days and want to quit. Decisions about quitting should never be made on impulse.” Before your child makes a hasty decision, help her evaluate some of the components that might make her feel like she wants to quit before it is time. Does your child just need a change of environment within the activity? Is a coach or teacher putting unnecessary pressure on your child? Is your child “burned out” by an unrealistic schedule? Sometimes minor changes can help to bring the “fun” back to the activity, and this is one way you can help your child by assessing these areas.

Is It About You?
If the decision to quit is causing you more stress than your child, you should take a long look in the mirror. “It’s common for parents to question about all of the ‘waste of time, energy, and finances’ spent on the activity. You might even struggle with the feeling that their choice to quit is a reflection of you, or that you’ve failed as a parent. Instead, try to focus your attention on your child and shaping your child’s heart,” Wilson says. Try to remember it’s not about you. Focus on helping your child find new ways to embrace her passions.

Is It a Positive Transition?
Keep in mind, that ‘quitting’ may actually be transitioning into the next phase of your child’s life. Just as adults make the decision to change careers, this might just be a transition in your child’s life to something better suited for them. Focus on the positives.

All is not lost because your child no longer plays a particular sport or participates in a certain fine art. Remind yourself that she is growing and developing, shedding the things in her life that no longer fit. And remind her that the lessons she learned along the way become a part of the fabric of who she is. Being a dancer for example, is just one part of who she is, and no one activity ultimately defines a child, just as your career does not ultimately define you. Reassure your child that she isn’t necessarily giving up on her dreams, but perhaps in the process of finding new ones for herself. ■

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