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

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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