parent opinion

'When I took my daughter to try ballet, there were lots of tears and holding onto my leg.'

My youngest daughter Milla tried ballet classes a total of five times. The first two went OK, the third she refused to go in, and then the last two resulted in tears and holding onto my leg like she was about to be forced into a pit of fire.

She was three-years-old at the time and after spending thirty minutes of the lesson trying to coerce her into the room, I thought to myself, what am I doing? I am making her miserable, that’s what. So, we quit.

At first, I felt like a walk over, a parenting failure. The phrases, “don’t be a quitter”, “you’ve got to stick with it” and “no pain, no gain” flooded my mind, along with an image of a buff, angry P.E teacher yelling at kids in an American gym class. But then I thought, is this tough, aggressive attitude beneficial in any way? And is it beneficial for children?

When I was young, I think I tried every sport known to man – gymnastics, swimming, hockey, tennis, badminton, volleyball and table tennis. I also tried my hand at a few musical instruments – keyboard, the clarinet, even the French horn. Once I decided that one of these things wasn’t for me I would try something else, until eventually I found one I liked, or none that I liked (as was the case with music).

should I let kids quit
"The whole point of extracurricular activities is to let your kids find something the love doing. For Milla, that definitely wasn't ballet." Image: Supplied.

Tennis and swimming I participated in for years, not because I was super great at them but because I found that I liked them. I had genuine fun, so I kept at it. I was also lucky that I had a mum that supported me and listened to my experiences when I tried these different activities. She didn’t make me ‘stick with’ something that I hated and encouraged me to find the activities that I loved.

Participating in these sports ultimately taught me skills and lessons that I have been able to incorporate into everyday life. Things like team work, tenacity and giving it my all. But mostly, I just enjoyed myself and as a kid, this is what is the most important.

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Now I know there is a view out there that we shouldn’t give up on something because it is hard or because we don’t like it. “Life is hard”, “we always have to do things we don’t like” and yes that is true, to a degree; I’ve even said this to my own kids on occasion.

But there comes a time when witnessing a distressed child week in and week out because they don’t want to go to ballet (or whatever activity it might be), is a sign that forcing them not to quit is not making them ‘resilient’ and ‘hard working'. It is just making them plain miserable.

should I let kids quit
"When you’re a child, not sticking with something doesn’t make you a failure, it is a way of finding out what you like and what you don’t, what you are good at and what you aren’t." Image: Supplied.

My husband told me that when he was a kid he was forced to play soccer for years. He said he absolutely hated it, he would do anything to get out of it. It made him anxious and it was far from fun. Even when he speaks about it now, you can still hear the resentment in his voice.

When I compared his experience to mine and how it shaped his experience of extra-curricular activities, sports in particular, I decided that mine was a much healthier approach to use when it came to these activities with our kids. They could quit if they wanted to.

When you’re a child, not sticking with something doesn’t make you a failure, it is a way of finding out what you like and what you don’t, what you are good at and what you aren’t. For my youngest daughter, this wasn’t ballet like her older sister, it was Kelly Sports.

Milla took off her tutu and put on a t-shirt and sneakers. She played soccer, football, tennis and cricket at her Kelly Sports class. And she loved it, in fact nearly two years later, she still does. Do I regret letting Milla quit ballet? Absolutely not. She found something that makes her happy while still teaching her all those important skills that come with playing organised sport.

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If you're a parent then you've probably heard people without kids say one of these phrases.

Video by MMC

The key is to find a balance. Obviously sending a message that giving up is perfectly fine whenever you’ve had a bad lesson, or a bad day is not the intention. I don’t have money for a full term of fees for five different activities because it wasn’t everything they imagined it to be. Who does? The balance is understanding when it is more than a bad lesson because the reality is, if after giving things a good go and they are still not enjoying it, the activity just isn’t beneficial, and it is fine to move on.

Professor in Child, Family and Community Resilience, Michael Ungar, says, “Making a child continue an activity they outright hate, isn’t going to teach them any lessons.”

Ungar argues to build resilience you need to give children some autonomy and allow them to “express some decision-making power.” So if they try something and really don’t like it, there is really to point in forcing them to keep going for the sake of ‘not quitting’.

Writer, Gillian Burles, further argues quitting is an essential skill to teach kids, when she says, “Sometimes in our adult lives, you look at a situation and go ‘I can keep banging my head against a brick wall or I can quit’." And sometimes that is the harsh reality of life, having to just move on because nothing we do is going to change the outcome.

In fact, Burles says if you don’t allow a child to quit something they are really not enjoying, it may even prevent them from trying other things in the future *cue thoughts of my husband and any sport*.

In my eyes, children can learn the skills of hard work and resilience through a vast amount of other activities and tasks in life, like household chores and at school. Pushing them to ‘stick with’ an activity that is making them miserable wont teach them productive skills and is just no fun for anyone.

Have you ever let your child quit an extracurricular activity? How did it go? Tell us in a comment below.