How to Respond When Your Child Wants to Quit

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My son is 8 and we are having a really hard time with him and basketball. He said that he wanted to play basketball, but now he complains about going, he barely participates once he is there, and he displays a bad attitude towards his coach and teammates. Even in games, he plays half-heartedly. Getting him to go to basketball and then getting him to participate is sucking the life out of me. He says he wants to quit. What should I do? -Hailey, Dayton, Ohio


This is such a common issue, and it seems like most American parents go through this at one time or another. Parents often think their child should not quit an activity because parents say, “That would just teach them  that quitting is OK.”

Here’s the thing though: Sometimes quitting is OK. In fact, in life, quitting is often exactly what we should do. I think about my first job waiting tables and I think about the romantic relationship I was in at that time. If I never quit that job and that relationship, my life would have ended up being horrifyingly miserable. That job and that woman were so incredibly wrong for me. Without quitting jobs and people who made me miserable, I wouldn’t have the wonderful life I have now.

When most parents say that they don’t want their kid to learn that quitting is OK, what they really mean is that they want their kid to learn that there are often consequences for quitting. This is an important life lesson. As opposed to teaching your son to never quit anything, which I don’t think you want to do, here’s how I would teach your kid that there are consequences for quitting.

Kid Whisperer: I am so sorry that I have forced you to play basketball after you changed your mind about it. Sometimes, people decide not to do things, which is fine. You can make this decision for yourself, but if you decide to quit basketball, I will be asking you to pay me back the $150 that I paid for you to play basketball.

Kid: But I don’t want to play basketball and I don’t want to pay you $150!

Kid Whisperer: I hear you. It sounds like you have a tough decision to make. Just let me know before basketball practice tomorrow. If you decide to continue with basketball and keep your $150, you will be able to play basketball as long as you don’t whine about basketball, and as long as your behavior at practice or games doesn’t embarrass our family. If either of those things happen, I will take your $150 and quit basketball for you.

Kid: That’s not fair!

Kid Whisperer: I hear you. Good luck with your decision. I will love you no matter what you decide.

In your case with an 8-year-old basketball player, this logical consequence will teach him the lesson he needs to learn. If he continues to quit activities as he gets older, significant natural consequences will befall him, teaching him some important life lessons. If he, for example, is the lead in a play and quits the day before opening night, or if he is the star baseball player who quits before the sectional tournament, he will likely become the school pariah.

In cases like this, when a kid suddenly loses interest in an activity that they formerly loved, be wary of possible bullying by kids or even abuse by an adult. Investigate accordingly.

Outside of these possibilities, there is nothing wrong with coaching him through a case of the nerves, or letting him know of these likely consequences, but at the end of the day, he will have to live with these outcomes.  They will teach him the life lesson that all choices have consequences.