When Should You Let Your Child Quit?

Posted December 1, 2014 by

My 9-year-old son William was clear from the start—he did not want to join a soccer league.

My husband was just as clear—he wanted our children to learn the important life lessons you get from playing a team sport.

Despite the nagging voice in my head that kept repeating, “You know this isn’t going to work,” we pushed William to give it a try. And yes, he showed some resistance. But, by the end of the first practice, he looked like he was having fun on the field. Maybe not made-for-TV-movie fun, but I’m pretty sure I saw him actually crack a smile.

Just before the second practice, William “couldn’t find” his uniform. Then, he locked himself in his room. He hated soccer, he cried. His voice escalated, then my husband’s voice escalated. Something else was now becoming clear: This fight was about something bigger than soccer.

So my husband and I had a heart-to-heart. My vote was to let William quit. My husband’s view was to push him to continue. “No one actually loves a sport or a hobby until you’re good at it,” he said. But you never get good at it unless you practice. And what about the bigger life lesson? Our son can’t just quit anything he doesn’t like.

Therein lies the dilemma so many parents struggle with: how hard should you push your child? A nudge, a gentle push, or an all-out shove? What’s the “right” answer? And is the “right” answer right for every child?

We brokered a deal. We told our son that being healthy and active was important to our family—but which sport to be active with was up to him. William chose tennis and now he plays two or three times a week, voluntarily.

Did we do the “right” thing? Maybe it wasn’t the team sport my husband was looking for, and no, I don’t want to raise a bunch of quitters. But my son’s only 9. For now, I don’t want him to think that every time he has the guts to try something new, he’s locked in for life.

Sometimes I think you have to put “life lessons” aside and do what’s right for your child.

Have you ever faced this dilemma? How hard did you push? How quickly did you back off?


Jennifer is freelance writer for The Wall Street Journal and several national magazines. Earlier in her career, she was a journalist for “60 Minutes.” She lives in New York with her husband and their three children, ages 9, 7 and 4. You can read her other work at www.JenniferBWallace.com.

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