Committing to Commitment

Is your child quitting an activity or sticking to it?

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When Eric was 10, he decided he wanted to play football. He was so good the coach made him quarterback. After one game, he decided he didn't want to be quarterback because, in his words, "Everyone's trying to get the quarterback!" The coach was adamant about Eric's assigned position, so Eric resigned -- with his parents' blessings.

Later he tried soccer. After three games, he decided he didn't like his coach, who yelled at his players for not "hustling." His father agreed that the coach was acting inappropriately, so again Eric quit. Nevertheless, Eric did not become a quitter. Nor did he become a joiner. Perhaps he learned his lesson: organized after-school sports weren't his cup of tea. Through high school and college, he did his own thing -- no sports, no clubs, no fraternities, no political movements, no causes. Despite his lack of organized interests, Eric graduated from college and is now a commercial pilot. He is married and has a child. A quitter he is not.

Children should be free to approach such things as soccer and music lessons with a spirit of playfulness. No child should be required to have a better reason for quitting than, "I want to." A child who is not free to quit becomes increasingly reluctant to join for fear of becoming locked into an activity that seemed attractive at first, but turned out to be something completely different.

This being the rule, here are some exceptions:

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  • At some point, participation in an activity becomes mandatory. If, for example, an 11-year-old is the star pitcher on her softball team, and the team is headed for the league title, then she should be expected to finish out the season even if she disagrees with how her coach wants her to throw the ball.
  • Children should know that certain reasons for wanting to quit something just aren't good enough. "I've decided I don't like football, especially if I'm the quarterback" is good enough. "If I can't be the first-string quarterback, I don't want to play at all" isn't. The first child has learned his lesson; the second needs to learn one.
  • When a child has no interests to speak of, it may be appropriate for parents to require participation in something -- anything.
  • There is occasional value to be had from making a contract with a child to stick with an activity for a specified period of time, especially if the activity involves significant investments of money. For example, before purchasing a musical instrument, parents might require the child to agree to two years of lessons. In that case, the child learns not only how to play the instrument, but something of much greater value about obligation and responsibility.
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