What To Do When Your Child Wants To Quit

Did your child beg to join the soccer team only to plead to quit a few weeks later? Here’s what to do when your child wants to give up…

What to do when your child wants to quit

When my eldest daughter was three, she came to me with the cutest puppy dog eyes one day. “Mommy, can I do ballet? Pleeeeeaaaase?” she begged. I asked her why she wanted to take lessons and she proudly exclaimed, “To be a ballerina!” 


I had my doubts about her capacity to focus on the teacher’s instructions and execute them. She was a notorious daydreamer and she was only three! But who was I to deny her childhood dreams? Off we went to the store for a leotard, tutu and ballet slippers. She was over the moon.


The first lesson went well. She listened to her teacher and did her best to execute the steps. But by the second lesson, it all started to fall apart. As I sat outside the classroom, I could hear her teacher repeatedly calling her name and asking her to pay attention.


By the middle of the season, she would cry in the car on the way to every lesson: “I don’t want to go to balllleeeeeettttt!” After a few weeks of that, I’d had enough and I told her she was done. Believe it or not, she cried about that too. A lot. I drowned in mom guilt for weeks wondering if I’d handled it all wrong.


She’s six now and I recently enrolled her in swimming lessons again after taking a couple of seasons off. She loved it at first, but soon the familiar cries of “I don’t want to go!” started up. I asked her why she felt that way and encouraged her to stick it out until the end of the season, but nothing seemed to help. One day, she started sobbing in the car on the way to the pool.


I was faced with a huge dilemma: force my distressed child to partake in an activity she didn’t want to do (which my dad did to me as a child and I found to be slightly traumatic) or let her quit and risk giving her the wrong message about perseverance? 


So, I turned to my savvy mom friends and some psychological resources. Here’s the advice I found:


  1. Put an anti-quitting plan in place


While it was too late for me to apply this tip, I put it in my mental bank for the future. There are certain steps you can take to reduce the likelihood that your child will want to quit. Start by letting them choose the activity or sport they want to enroll in. Forcing your child to pursue your childhood passions is a recipe for disaster!


Once they’ve made their choice, have a discussion with them about the time commitment it will require and your expectations. For example, you might tell your child that you expect them to complete the season unless the activity is causing them emotional or physical distress.


  1. Ask questions


If you didn’t put a plan in place (or it didn’t work) and your child is asking to quit, try to get to the bottom of their reasons for wanting to give up. Find a quiet moment to sit down with your child and ask them questions in an open and non-judgmental way. They might include:


  • You were very enthusiastic when you signed up. What’s changed?
  • Are you getting along with your teammates/the other kids in your class? Are you having any issues with anyone?
  • Is it too hard or too easy for you? Are you finding it too competitive or are you disappointed with your team’s performance?
  • Is there anything I could do or your teacher/coach could do to make it more enjoyable for you?
  • Are you willing to stick it out until the end of the season or are you feeling really distressed about it?


I asked my daughter questions about her swimming lessons and she admitted that she found them too hard and that she was worried about lagging behind her classmates. I finally had something to work with!


  1. Try to help correct the problem


Intervening in a constructive way can be tricky – you want to help your child without embarrassing them or creating tension with their coach or teacher. Try to approach their coach/teacher at an appropriate time and explain the problem concisely. Ask them whether they’ve noticed your child having any issues socially or in terms of skills and performance. Then, ask for their suggestions to help fix the problem and share any ideas that you or your child came up with.


I called my daughter’s swimming school and explained the problem to the director. She immediately suggested giving my daughter a couple of private lessons at no extra cost to evaluate her skill level and let her ease back into swimming. Well, my big girl came back from her first private lesson and declared, “I love swimming!” She has a few more private sessions and then we’ll decide (along with her teacher) whether she’s ready to go back to group lessons. Success!


  1. If all else fails, let them quit


If your child is still feeling distraught despite all your best efforts, it might be best to let them quit and take a break from extracurricular activities for the rest of the season or even longer if you feel that they need it. There’s nothing wrong with letting kids be kids for a while.


  1. Help your child pick a more appropriate activity


When your child is ready to try a new activity, start talking to them about it a couple of weeks before it’s time to sign up. Discuss what they didn’t like about their last activity and what they’d prefer to do instead. Was soccer too competitive? Perhaps they’d like to try an individual sport like gymnastics. Did they dislike drama? Maybe an art class is more up their alley. Try to narrow down their interests and goals as much as you can. Just because your child is good at something doesn’t mean they’re passionate about it, so let them follow their heart. 


Once your child has chosen an activity, go back to point one and put that anti-quitting plan in place. Discuss time commitments and your expectations. Then, sign up your child and hope for the best!