“I don’t want to go, please Mommy!” My four-year-old daughter melts into a puddle of tears in the doorway of the studio, begging to quit dance class. Her gangly legs splay apart and she hides her head in her hands, gently cupping her sticky fingers around her messy bun. I take a deep breath, crouch down, and look her in the eyes. With a big hug, I whisper in her ear, “You don’t have to participate if you are too tired. But you need to sit in the room and watch the class, baby.”
Her ballet teacher calmly glides up to us with an outstretched hand, and Ellie reaches for her without looking. She glances at me with tear-streaked checks, and I close the studio door. Minutes later, I see her on the TV screen in the lobby dancing and laughing.
This is not a new scene. All three of my daughters dance several days per week, and my older two also play sports and are active in Girl Scouts. Every once in a while, one of them will proclaim that they want to quit something, and my answer is always the same – “No.”
I don’t let my kids quit because of one bad day.
My daughters know that they’re expected to finish whatever they commit to. My hope is that this instills in them a sense of responsibility to complete what they start. I also want them to build the first-hand knowledge that all situations will eventually end. As teens and young adults, this could be a life-saving belief system.
My 11-year-old is given the autonomy to decide whether she can participate in her competition classes. If she’s too tired to dance, she knows that she can sit in the back and observe. When she is sick, she can nap or read at home, but she will not be watching TV. If she is consistently tired at school or dance, we look at her sleep schedule, nutrition, relationships, etc. and suss out any contributing factors.
My kids are busy during the week, so we try to keep weekends unstructured and family-oriented to balance their time. And while I don’t let them quit mid-season, we always discuss their schedules over the summer. School is the top priority, so we make adjustments in Fall registrations to ensure that they have time for homework and down-time.
Why I don’t let them quit
My fundamental belief system is that developing grit is essential to being successful in life. I believe that fully exploring the reasons behind wanting to quit is more productive in the long-term. My eight-year-old daughter may want to quit theater camp the first (or fourth) week, complaining that it’s boring and she’d be more helpful at home with her younger siblings. However, I reframe the conversation to focus on what we can do to make the experience better for her. We can bring more snacks or a book, schedule a playdate with a new friend from camp, create an art project about the play, or watch the movie they will be performing. By doing this, I hope to help her to develop the skills to change her attitude about difficult situations, rather than just quit.
There are always exceptions, although they’re few and far between.
A few years ago, we walked my oldest daughter in to her first day of basketball practice. It was obvious that the only thing co-ed about the two teams practicing was her. She immediately balked. She had never played before, and this was not the way she was going to start. We walked over to the athletic director’s office and explained the problem. He suggested a girl’s volleyball league, and she discovered that she loves it!
Not caving in to my children’s pleas is an unpopular stance in parenting these days. However, it becomes easier with each child because we are consistent in our approach. And the older they get, the easier it is to have the discussions with them. Grit, critical thinking, long-term planning, and emotional expression are all skills my kids are learning by sticking with commitments. And by me refusing to let them quit.