Why Does My Child Keep Quitting?

Angry boyIs your child quitting everything they start? Need a Commitment Overhaul?

Here is a letter from a parent to Dr. Robyn Silverman asking about why her child keeps quitting his activities. What’s interfering with her child’s commitment level?

Dear Dr. Robyn,

I hate to admit it, but my child is a quitter.  Knowing the Powerful Word of the Month at our school this month is commitment, it seemed that now was the perfect time to ask what’s going on here.  I don’t want to raise a quitter.  Have any ideas on why a child quits everything they start?

–Jan K, Baltimore, MD

The question of commitment and quitting comes up every time our Powerful Words schools present Powerful Words like commitment, determination, attitude, or goal-setting.  As Powerful Parents, we want our children to show commitment and determination.  So what’s making them quit?

Children quit for all different reasons.  Some children feel bored while others feel overwhelmed.  Some children have unrealistic expectations that they are going to be performing the kind of martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, or other sport that they see “in the movies” or in the Olympics on the first day that they attend.  Other children see “today’s activity”  simply as another activity that they do—easily interchanged with football, basketball or dance lessons– so why stick with one thing?  Still other children feel invisible to the instructor, picked on, misunderstood or scared when they take class.

The first major reason for quitting is the instance of a curriculum-based clash. Simply put, when children feel overwhelmed or under-challenged, they will want to quit.  After all, when something is too difficult or too easy, it isn’t fun anymore! The over-challenged child may feel as though he cannot keep up, catch up, or otherwise progress at the pace that the other children in class are progressing.  The under-challenged child may feel uninterested, disinterested, or just plain bored.  You can determine this if your child would rather play with friends than go to class or fights you on practicing when they used to find it exciting to do so. Whatever it is, there is clearly a clash between the child’s learning level and the curriculum they’re learning at this time.  These children will surely start looking for other ways, whether it is in football, hockey, dance or marching band, to fill their time and hold their interest– sometimes, they just keep moving from activity to activity looking for something to hold their interest.  It’s important that we delve into this issue with our child because it’s easy enough to move our children to a different class, get them extra help, or have them take some extra classes to address this issue.

The second major reason for quitting is the case of the value-based clash. If you, as a parent, don’t value what the child is learning at their current activity,  the child will often sense it and want to quit.  For example, if you regard their current activity, like martial arts or gymnastics,  as “just another stop on the way between football and piano,” the child will too.  After all, a child will want to quit something if it has little or no perceived value to the parent.  Children tend to take their cues from their parents—so when Mom and Dad don’t care, neither will they.  As parents, we need to make sure to check our own attitude when determining why our children might be quitting.  If we can adjust our own behavior and attitude, our children will too.

The third major reason for quitting is the often elusive personal-based clash. When children or parents feel uncomfortable at an activity, uncomfortable around a coach or teacher, uncomfortable around another child or another parent who is there at the same time, or undervalued by staff, they will likely want to quit.  Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding or a miscommunication.  Boundaries may have been breached or buttons may have been pushed in some way.  Perhaps the most common personal clash is when the child perceives that the teacher or coach doesn’t “like him” or “care about him”.  It’s vital to find out if something happened between your child and another person in the class so that the issue can be addressed and any misunderstandings can be cleared up.

The fourth major reason for quitting is the instance of the situational-based clash. While the above reasons have a negative undertone causing a “falling away” or a “falling out,” situational clashes are due to an actual lack of money, resources, or ability to continue.  When families do not have the money to pay for lessons, the car to get their children to your class, or the person to bring the child to your school, they will likely need to quit.  There may have been a divorce or a death, a new job opportunity, and illness or a lay-off that caused this situation to arise. Schools and sports facilities are often very sorry to see these students leave, given that they would stay if they could.

Finally, the fifth major reason children might quit is…because they can! We want to make sure that children aren’t creating a pattern of quitting that is being supported by their parents.  Sometimes, we are just too overprotective or too easily swayed by our children’s attempts to get out of fulfilling their promises. While it is easier to have children quit something that making them stick it out til the end, children learn their patterns early.  If they see that they can quit without consequence, they will learn this as a fact and quit whatever feels uncomfortable, challenging, frustrating or boring to them as they develop and become teens and adults.  It may not seem like a big deal when they are 8 years old but it certainly becomes so when they become 18 or 28 years old! Set positive patterns now so that they learn commitment and the benefits of seeing goals and promises through to the end.

Make sure to ask questions rather than lecture.  Why do they want to quit?  Did anything happen in class? Are they bored? Overwhelmed? How do they feel about their friends in class? Their teachers? Is the curriculum too hard? Too easy?  And also, remember, to watch what you say and you do.  If you are quitting your activities, or someone else of influence in your home or family is doing so, children will learn volumes about the loop holes in commitment.  Take your cues from your child’s Powerful Words instructors this month and expand on what they are talking about in class with your children. Discuss it at the dinner table and in the car.  Tell stories about your own triumphs and how you stuck with something even when it was difficult. Talk about the importance of seeing the end and setting goals. And of course, set the precedent that your family always finishes what they start– everyone should have that “no quit, go-for-it attitude!” that helps each member to lead with commitment– and your children will surely learn to follow suit.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

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Dr. Robyn Silverman introduces the Powerful Word of the Month: Commitment

Getting children to redefine what their best is…everyday

Dr. Robyn SIlverman as a young teenager

Do you see “vision” in the eyes of your child?

Dr. Robyn Silverman for Powerful Words

Some might say that the difference between a successful child and an unsuccessful child is brains.  Others might say talent. Still others, might realize that it may just be the vision and belief that one can set goals, go after those goals, and succeed in achieving those goals.

When I was about 8-12 years old, I was convinced that I was stupid.  My brothers had been in all the advanced classes- I hadn’t. My brothers got high marks on all their tests—I didn’t.  My brothers were among those kids invited to their teacher’s home for a special celebration of “smartness” and I…played with the Barbie dream home.

It wasn’t like I was failing anything—I was pretty much just average. But boy—it was convenient to believe otherwise. “I’m not as smart as my brothers” and “I’m stupid” became my mantra.  It was my answer to all things challenging at school—all bad grades, the reason I was more of a follower than a leader among my friends, my fallback mantra anytime I got stuck in a pickle–  it provided my perfect excuse for mediocrity.

What’s funny about the repetition of a mantra is that not only do you begin to believe what you are saying—but so do others around you. My family just knew that they needed to help me out quite a bit since I could hardly do things myself.  My mother barely would say anything about the Cs on my report card because they were clearly the best I could do. My father admitted later on in life that he began to thank God that I was cute since I didn’t get blessed with the brains in the family. It’s not their fault.  I was VERY convincing.

So, when I entered 8th grade, I didn’t expect anything different than my typical average performance. Nobody did. But in meeting Mr. Hendrickson, who asked us all to call him “Hendi” since he was only 24 years old at the time, I had met my match.  Still young enough to know what a cop out looked like and old enough to know the difference between poor self esteem and actual stupidity, he called me into his office.

“What do you need in order to ace this next math test?”

“I can’t ace any test.  I’m a horrible test taker and I stink at math.”

“But what if you could?”

“Could what?”

“Ace the test. What would you need to do it?”

“Someone else’s brain?”

(The parent/teacher look.  You know the one.  You probably give it to your children when they make such remarks.)

“OK. I guess I would need a lot of extra help (but I couldn’t resist)…but a brain transplant couldn’t hurt.”

“Fine. My door is open to you everyday during free periods and after school. As for the brain transplant, you don’t need it.  But you need a thought transplant. You need a new definition of what your best is.”

“I try my best.”

“No, you try what you once believed was your best. You need a new definition. Your current definition is yesterday’s news. What do you want now? What can you do now? I don’t think you know what you are capable of.”

“Not much.”

“You’re doing it again. I’m not buying it. I want you to wipe clean the slate and see what’s possible now.  You’re going to ace this test.”

“If you say so.”

No , I want you to say so.”

“I’m not there yet.”

“Get there.”

“I’ll try.”

You see, I was basing my performance level, my attitude, and my belief in myself on who I believed I was—the stupid one—not on who I could be. Once this belief was exposed, I needed to either prove him wrong or prove him right.

So for the next 2 weeks I came in every day for extra help.  An opportunity had opened up—not that it wasn’t always there but I hadn’t been willing to take it.  After all, why bother when the results were bound to be the same?  Perhaps even with extra help, I wasn’t going to be able to do it.  But in the back of my head, a tiny voice asked meekly, but what if you could?

The day of the test came. I took it and didn’t feel half bad about it. Not that that would make a difference—since the results were bound to be the same.  But what if they weren’t?

It was later on in the day that I bumped into Hendi.  He stopped me in the hallway and said; “You did it.”

Not believing my ears I asked, “I did what?”

“You aced the test.”

Doubting these different results I questioned, “are you sure?”

To which he joked, “I’m not checking it again.  See… you can do it.  And now we all know.  We all have a new definition of what your best is. So, now you’re really in for it!”

It’s a day that changed more than just my definition of my best. It told me what was possible. It changed my vision of the future and redefined what I was capable of NOW rather than going by what I thought I was capable of then.  It infused me with confidence and the ability to push myself and to redefine what my best is every day.

Children must have the ability to dream if you want to see them rise to their potential . They must believe in what’s possible even if it hasn’t been done before.  They must be willing to challenge themselves and others. And yes, they must redefine what is “their best” everyday and refuse to live by yesterday’s definition of one’s best.

As parents and teachers,we must give children the permission to succeed—dropping who they might have been and building on who they can be. Sometimes we all get stuck in believing their performance sabotaging mantras. It’s time to stop allowing it to happen.

So, how are you inspiring your children to redefine their definition of their best?  Looking forward to hearing from you.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs