I tried out several different activities as a kid. Over the space of a few years I had lessons in gymnastics, trampolining, horse riding, swimming and art. I was a member of the Brownies and I also have a vague recollection of a wildlife club.
There was a definite pattern. I'd become interested in an activity, probably because a friend had started doing it, and then beg my parents to let me do it too. I'd start the classes full of enthusiasm and participate with gusto. Then over time my initial fervour would wane.
At this point, the activity started to feel like a chore rather than the fun thing I had begged my parents to let me do. I would moan about going and drag my feet getting ready. I imagine it must have been very annoying.
My parents never forced the issue – when I'd had enough they simply withdrew me from the activity. Our weekend would be a little quieter – until the next thing came along.
Sometimes I wonder if my life would have worked out any differently if I had stuck with any of my fleeting hobbies. Ok, so I was probably never going to be an Olympian gymnast or swimmer – but perhaps if I hadn't walked away when the going got tough, I would have learned some valuable lessons in commitment and discipline.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately because my seven-year-old daughter has decided she's had enough of ballet and tells me that she wants to quit. I'm torn, apart from the fact that I have already paid the fees, I think it would be a shame to walk away just as she is getting the hang of it.
On the other hand – shouldn't she have the right to choose what she does with her time? I asked Giuliett Moran, psychologist at empowering parents for some advice. She tells me that there are lots of factors to consider before making the decision. "Think about the reason they want to quit and the legitimacy of the reason - i.e. have they persevered, is it that they feel they're 'not good enough', have they had a falling out with a teammate?" she says.
In addition, Moran says parents should think about what the purpose of starting the activity was in the first place and discuss those reasons with their child to determine what has changed. If the activity in question is a team sport then there is the added complication of letting down teammates to talk through too.
Although parents might have strong feelings about an activity, there are lots of benefits to allowing a child to make the decision for themselves. "It is also an opportunity to support and coach your child to make good decisions," says Moran.
Moran also notes that giving children opportunities to practice their decision making ability will allow them to become more independent in making good choices. Of course, parents have a big role in this too. "It is important for parents to role model perseverance when they experience challenges themselves and to share with your children times when you have experienced similar situations and how you wished you had of dealt with the situation differently," says Moran.
So I told my daughter about all the activities that I gave up during my own childhood. I told her that at the time I'd just had enough of it and that it was getting too hard or too boring. I also told her that when I look back, I wish that I had persevered with at least one of my many activities.
She took it all on board and made her decision: "I'll keep going for now and see how I feel at the end of the year." If only I'd been so sensible when I was her age.
Giuliett Moran has the following tips for helping children make decisions:
In order to support a child to make a good decision, talk them through the following questions:
- Why do I want to do this?
- What are my options?
- What are the consequences and who do they effect
- Is this a good decision?