My child was very enthusiastic about participating in an activity I also did as a child. I feel that I learned a lot from doing this, and so would she. However, six weeks into the activity, she says she hates doing it and wants to quit. Both her mother and I are worried that we would be teaching her that it’s okay to be irresponsible and quit whenever you want to. Does letting a child quit teach them a lack of commitment in future obligations?
Responsibility First Father
This question is the kind of question that if you asked three different counselors, you might get three different answers. Should we constantly allow our children to shirk their duties? No. Should we force our kids to continue an activity that causes them great sadness or constant anxiety? Again, no. So how do we teach our kids responsibility and work ethic?
Parents need to help pick activities that have a high probability of successful completion and enjoyment. Unfortunately, many parents choose activities that were good for them when they were young. One frequent example I deal with in semi-rural Texas is parents who feel that raising animals for “youth fair” (4H) competition is a healthy endeavor. It appears that they are correct. Raising goats, lambs, pigs, rabbits, etc. is a lot of work, and can result in personal pride, and even some serious cash prizes. However, the hours involved are long and at times arduous. You think it’s a pain to get your kid to feed the dog, or change the kitty litter? Wait until it’s literally twenty times that amount of work. When twelve year old Caitlin is done with her homework, she must now walk/exercise her one sheep, feed and water her, and finally groom her EVERY NIGHT. Many parents are correct in helping their child learn responsibility in this manner. However, some parents, because they have soft, fuzzy memories of their own involvement in years past, over-estimate their child’s desire or ability to do the same, and the activity is full of anger, frustration and was generally a lousy idea. How about the child that discovers they loath playing soccer? How about a softball experience that the coach turns out to be the spawn of Satan? Is allowing our child to change their mind in mid-stream OK?
The parent needs to realize (after a good discussion) that if they allow their child to drop an activity, it is an exception to the rule, not the new rule. Do we wish to make our kids unduly suffer in the name of “you must learn responsibility”? Will they now grow up to be a lazy, good for nothing sloth if we let them retire early? It’s pretty unlikely. It’s a lesson for both the child and parent. In the future, activities need to be thoroughly thought out, obstacles anticipated, and proper assistance given by the parent to insure successful completion of the obligation.
Children learn responsibility, work ethic, self esteem and eventually their own future parenting skills from their parents far more than through their activities. Participating in activities is important for the children, but the real character building comes from the role modeling of the loving parents.
So, allow me to summarize:
1) choose your child’s activity intelligently
2) help to make it a success
3) if it was a mistake, don’t be scared to make a “rare” exception, and dump the activity.
4) and don’t forget where the true character building comes from.