That uncomfortable sound of quitting
… Your 9-year-old daughter decides she doesn’t want to take ballet after 5 months of lessons and the spring recital is around the corner.
… Your 12-year-old son wants to quit the piano but begs to take up the drums.
We all know how good the arts are for our children and if you’ve ever signed your child up for any activity, I’m guessing you’ve asked yourself the big question: when is it right to push your child to continue or just let them quit?
When it comes down to quitting or pressing on, there are several factors to consider and the decision will depend on the child, their level of talent, the length of time they’ve been involved in the activity and their reasons for wanting to quit. But WAIT! How many times have you heard (or even said!) “I wish my parents had not let me quit ____?”
We all know that mastering any activity — ballet, martial arts, music, individual or team sports — will take commitment and effort, two traits also essential to success in life! So, what are you supposed to do now?
What can you do now?
The experts at GreatSchools.org offer a few helpful suggestions to help us as parents:
1. Check out the school’s or coach’s philosophy. Carmela Peter, artistic director of the Professional Ballet School and Young Artists Ballet Theatre in Belmont, Calif. suggests to find out about the philosophy of the program before signing your child up for lessons. Although her school does train students who are interested in advancing to a professional level, they also train everyone, and treat students with respect by giving them correction and attention.
They realize that not all students will become professional dancers but they think all students should be happy, learn, enjoy themselves and make progress. And as parents, isn’t that what we want too?
2. When your child begins an activity, create a supportive environment at home. This may help to keep his interest from lagging. If art, have a table with art supplies, if music, a quiet area to practice, yet still within earshot for praise from you.
3. Prepare in advance for the end of the “honeymoon period”. Especially with music lessons, for many students there’s a honeymoon period when they are excited and anxious to play at every opportunity.
“From the beginning, parents need to prepare for the time when their child is no longer in love with the instrument. They should not take the child’s interest for granted. They should set realistic goals, which should not be time-goals like ‘practice for a half-hour each day’ but rather music goals like ‘play four measures of this piece. If you wait to put goals in place as your child starts to lose interest, it may be too late.”
This advice is also applicable to anything else you have to practice – sports, martial arts, etc.
4. To avoid nagging, set a regular practice time. If your child knows at 4 p.m. every day she is supposed to practice her instrument or soccer skills, there will be less need to nag. “It’s also OK to acknowledge that practice is not always a lot of fun. It’s hard work and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Learning to persevere through the hard work to get to mastery of anything is a great lesson in itself!
5. It’s OK to switch instruments or sports. “Letting a child switch instruments is really smart so long as they don’t switch every few months. It’s good for a child to start on piano or drums, but it’s OK to explore different ones and some schools allow for that, too.”
There are no right or wrong answers about giving up a sport. Talk with your child before signing them up for a sport or activity. Do they want to participate? Do they understand the time commitment and cost? If your child still wants to quit, try to find out all their reasons.
This is a great teaching opportunity for finishing what you start…the season with your team, the year in dance or music. Play in that championship game, shine at that recital, if nothing else, follow through for your team. Sticking out a tough season is a good character-builder and helps reinforce good work ethics.
6. Conflicting activities. Sometimes a child loses interest in an activity because there are too many conflicting demands on his time: soccer, tennis, cello, schoolwork — it can get overwhelming trying to fit it all in. Several experts agreed that when it comes down to eliminating one or more activities, it should be the child’s choice what to eliminate, unless it involves a team sport.
In the case of a team sport, it’s advisable to encourage your child to finish out the season and honor his commitment to his coach and teammates. You can also speak with your teacher or coach and find out if there’s a way to ease back without quitting altogether.
7. Communication is key. Give your child extra encouragement if you notice her interest waning. “Tell her ‘the more you do, the better you’ll get and the more fun you’ll have. But at some point, you really can’t force them … but you should encourage them to finish out the year and make it through the end-of-year recital before quitting.” You may also have a chat with the teacher or coach to find out if there’s anything that they would suggest to spur on enthusiasm.
Irene Kolbisen, co-owner of the La Petite Baleen Swim School in Half Moon Bay, Calif., suggests being aware of your child’s tendencies when she starts to complain: Does she have a valid concern or does she have a tendency to crumble when something becomes more difficult? Be sure to keep your own bias out of the picture and try not to invest too much of your belief in your child’s talents. “Don’t get hooked by your ego and say things like, ‘when I was your age…’ Think about who comes first — your child or your athlete,” adds Kolbisen. “In the end, you hope the activity is a way for kids to have fun and find some joy.”
Read my tips on how you can encourage your child’s success. And please leave us a comment with your questions or thoughts!
Cecilia Rowe is the director of Courtnay and Rowe and The Music Studio at Vinings, and has over 25 years in music education as an instructor and a local business owner.