Is it okay to let your child quit an extracurricular activity?

By Sara Curtis on June 27, 2012
It’s Thursday morning and as you’re packing your son’s lunch for the day, you gear yourself up for the inevitable weekly tug-of-war. “Don’t forget, you’ve got soccer practice after school today,” you say, cringing even before you hear his reaction. “Aww, mom! I told you, I don’t like soccer. Do I have to go?”

It’s the same thing every week: he complains, you persuade (even resort to the occasional bribe) and he grudgingly goes. You’re starting to get worn down. But should you let him quit? What kind of message would that send – that it’s okay to quit?

That depends, says Carl Honoré, author of Under Pressure: Putting the Child back in Childhood. “There are times when, as a parent, you have to be unpopular and cajole your kid to get them to do something – especially if you took the lead and signed them up for it,” he says. “But if you’re six months in and you’re still having to ‘crack the whip’ every single time, it’s a sign that maybe it’s time to cut your losses.”

Parents need to remember that sports and other extra-curricular activities should be for the child, not for them, says Carl. Why is it so important that your child play hockey, take violin lessons or study ballet? Is it more about you trying to mould them into the child you want them to be than about allowing them to explore and enjoy things in which they are truly interested?

“We are in a world that is now so competitive that we feel we have to prepare our kids to be perfect; that if we spend enough money or time on something, we can make them into who we think they should be,” says Carl. If your child never talks enthusiastically about the activity, parents should take that as a sign. “When kids are into something, they talk about it.”

Consider allowing your child to take a break from the activity for a couple of months, rather than stopping completely. “If there is a spark there, the child will come back to it.” Maybe kicking a soccer ball around the park, instead of going to a soccer clinic, will ignite your child’s passion for the game. Carl, who is a proponent of the “slow parenting” movement (he coined the term), believes parents need to have quiet time with their kids in order to be attuned to their needs and interests. “We denigrate those quiet times together that are unstructured because sometimes it seems like wasted time. But that’s when you can really listen and hear the silences between the notes. Parents need to say, ‘Take my hand, and I will help you find out who you are.’ That is the essence of parenting – helping the child become who they were meant to become.”

The essence of "slow parenting" according to Carl Honoré

  • “The slow parenting movement is an extension of the slow philosophy, which means doing everything at the right speed: cooking, exercise, work and parenting.” 
  • “As a generation of parents, we have lost our confidence; whenever we have questions, we look to the parenting gurus, or the media, or the alpha parent in the playground for answers.”There is now a ‘gold standard’ for parenting, which all parents strive toward.
  • The slow parenting philosophy encourages parents to take a deep breath, shut out the sound and fury and look inside their own families to find the best balance for their children. And that percolates into everything you do: how many extra-curricular activities they’re in, how you discipline them, how many chores or responsibilities they have.
  • “We know that all children are different – even those born into the same family have different genetic makeups. And you know your child better than anyone else. In this culture of panic and competition, that bit of wisdom is often lost. It boils down to one simple phrase: relax – it will be okay.”

Originally published in ParentsCanada, July 2012

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