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When to Quit: Good Parenting with Dr. Debbie

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My six-year-old is registered for several one-week day camps this summer. This past week, when I picked him up on Thursday he said he didn’t want to go back. I couldn’t get a reason out of him. By morning, things seemed a bit brighter and he obligingly accepted that it was the last day and somehow he’d make it through. At the end of the day he seemed more pleased that he didn’t have to go back than that he’d made it through the week.

What if this happens with his next camp? I’m sure I can’t get a refund, even if he wants to quit after just one day. And what about the future? If I let him quit, would I be setting him up to think it’s okay to abandon a sports team, or to leave an employer hanging?   

Is It Okay 2 Quit?

Dear IIO2Q,

That depends. His reasons for not wanting to go back to camp may be unknown, even to him, but he wouldn’t be asking to quit for no reason at all. He may feel he isn’t capable of expectations – the counselors, other campers, or his own. Alternatively, there may be a child at the camp, or a counselor, who is a bully. Or the activities at camp just aren’t  appealing.

Each situation needs careful consideration before a decision can be made. Sometimes quitting – or shifting gears – is the best tactic for the road ahead.

Honor Thy Commitments

While a six-year-old can change his mind about something from one day to the next, an adult must fulfill certain obligations, whether to themselves or to others. Along the meandering path to adulthood, a child should be guided toward honoring his commitments. A lot depends on his age and ability however. Also, family values determine which commitments are artfully broken and which are kept fast.

Following are some examples.

To the Budget

Andrew seemed to have a natural gift for gymnastics. Almost as soon as he could walk he performed his first somersault. By four he hung from his knees with the greatest of ease. At six he attended several “gymnastics” birthday parties, where his agility and coordination stood him apart from his peers. Considering the cost of the class as compared to Mom’s usual frugality for recreation, a decision to enroll him in a six-week class was not made lightly. Andrew was delighted. He adored the class so much, that re-enrollment for another six-week session was deemed a necessary expense, with adjustments made to allow for it in the family budget.  

The first class into the second session, Andrew executed a sloppy handspring and experienced his first rug burn. The pain was shocking to a child who had known only perfection and delight in this sport. Even after a week of mother-son talks about it, there was no going back. He was resolute. He was done.

Children are not responsible for the family budget, grownups are. Hard as it was to swallow, the decision to spend the money on the class had already been made. There were other talents in Andrew that, in the years to come, had their opportunities to shine.  Budget decisions for each were always kept within the family’s reach.

To a Friend

Claudia made plans on Friday with her friend, Bethany, to play together on Saturday. What conflicts might tempt her to break this date? A Saturday morning call from another friend? Daddy bringing home a new puppy? Foul weather?

The grownups steered Claudia in the right direction whether to make an alternate play date with the second friend, to kiss the puppy and go tell Bethany all about it, or to dress for the weather and head on over to Bethany’s. By their actions, Claudia’s parents impressed their child with the family’s value of keeping a promise to a friend.

To the Group

Dylan’s parents registered him for soccer as soon as he was eligible for the Peanut League. Whole families turned out to cheer on the children, bringing along snacks and cell phone cameras. The twice-weekly practices soon became a chore for Dylan and he wanted to quit. In thoughtful discussion of why they signed him up in the first place – for fun, for friendship, for physical exercise, and for family time – Dylan’s parents concluded that these goals were easily met with other activities.

They might try team sports again when Dylan is older.

To Family Values

Ten-year-old Bryan wanted to go to Tap Dance class. One option had a recital at the end of the 10-week class and all students were required to purchase costumes. Other dance classes were not connected to performances. Bryan decided it was top hat and tails for him and his parents signed him up for the Performance class. Near the end of the ten weeks, he got a case of stage fright.

Bryan’s family’s values included: “The show must go on.” The director and the other dancers were counting on Bryan’s presence to make the choreography work. The costume maker was already filling orders for each dancer’s specific measurements. So Bryan was talked through his stage fright (Elvis Presley gave stellar performances despite his), and got extra practice to feel more confident of his dance steps. He’ll know better after this experience whether dancing on stage should be in his future.  

To a Job

Fourteen-year-old Becky was a budding entrepreneur. Announcements about her dog-walking business were shared on the neighborhood’s social media. Her reputation as a dependable and competent service provider grew Becky a steady customer base. While her business was improving, her schoolwork, however, was sliding.

Grown-up intervention was called for. This family respected Becky’s interest in business management, and supported her honoring commitments to her customers. Becky was guided to adjust her study schedule to avoid a mountain of homework on days she had five dogs to walk. Additionally, it was suggested that she find subcontractors to fill the dog walking demands. Her twelve-year-old cousin was recruited and eventually took over the business.

Through thoughtful decision making and support, parents can help their children master the fine art of making and breaking commitments.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  

The museum is open with online reservations or call: 410-990-1993.

Dr. Wood is presenting a parenting series on guiding the behavior of young children on Monday evenings, July 11-25, 7-9 pm, on Zoom. Childcare professionals can earn MSDE-approved certificates for participating.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.

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