Teach your children that quitting is okay – it is as important as perseverance
25th September 2017
Parents have been advised that they should show their children that achievement isn’t easily won; that way they won’t grow up to be quitters, they’ll learn perseverance and be motivated to overcome challenges. This is according to recent research which showed that toddlers whose parents made a task look difficult tended to try harder themselves.
The message is, don’t be tempted to put up those shelves or assemble that flat pack furniture when the children are having an afternoon nap – let them see you do it and don’t breeze through it. If you demonstrate to your children the effort you are making to achieve something, they are more likely to develop the “grit” needed to get on in life.
I was heartened to read this. It doesn’t always feel easy being a single mum of three boys while working in a pressurised NHS job – and it probably doesn’t always look easy. But, at least, just by getting on with my life, it seems I have been helping my children to overcome their own challenges.
But, if my experience is anything to go by, “sticking with it” isn’t always the best thing for children; we also need to let them know that it’s sometimes okay to throw in the towel.
That’s not to say that understanding the value of quitting came easy to me – I learnt it the hard way after attempting to conquer many an ill conceived project, having been brought up to believe that battling through a challenge was always a good thing. At the weekend, after a busy week running his own business, I would see my Dad doing stuff – major stuff – around the home, digging trenches for extensions, fixing roofs, taps, loos, cupboards etc. – everything that needed to be done in the house, he did. Although he didn’t complain, this didn’t look enjoyable, there being a great deal of sighing and grunting.
Watching my Dad tackle these jobs, taught me that hard work pays off and I adopted his “sticker” approach. So, when the kids were young and the pennies tight, I attempted many a fixing job around the house and, with the advent of the You Tube two minute ‘how to replace your cistern’ videos and the like, it was surely do-able?
However, while I wasn’t expecting it to be fun, I didn’t anticipate it to make me feel as miserable as it did. Reason being, that while I was attempting the fixing job that I was neither particularly good at nor enjoyed, there was a lot else going in the back of my mind – meals to be cooked, washing needing sorting, school and work admin to be dealt with. And I didn’t adopt my Dad’s restrained sighs, it was more a case of increasingly loud swearing, and a descent into exhaustion and frustration.
I was making it look hard, which is apparently what us parents are supposed to do, but I wasn’t doing myself or my kids any favours and I soon realised that giving up and feeling less stressed was good for us all. Concentrating on the job I loved and having the energy to support and enjoy the children was enough for me to be getting on with at that time.
Now more than ever, with the range of opportunities that our children dip their toes into (the estimated spend per year per child on extra-curricular activities is over £1200), we need to help them recognise when perseverance becomes a bad thing and it’s time to give up. Sometimes it is a real dilemma knowing what, when and how to quit and all my children have needed, at different times, the support to help them decide what and when to quit. This has involved long conversations and soul searching about what was most important to them and what they felt they could manage.
One of the hardest decisions was when my 12 year old gave up ballet, something that he had unexpectedly decided to take up three years previously having been a football/xbox addict. It turned out he was very good at it and enjoyed it. But, as so often happens with activities that start out as a bit of fun, the demands soon ramped up, with the teacher wanting him to travel across the city three times a week to train for regular performances. Added to this was the pressure of starting secondary school, wanting to fit in and the teasing when his new friends found out he was doing “ballerina”. After try to keep going for a while, he eventually quit. It was sad at the time but overall he felt happier and less stressed – and the years of ballet weren’t wasted, as a couple of years later he turned his passion to a street dance class down the road.
Being able to quit means having a happy and manageable life and frees us up to focus on the things we love. Helping our children save their “grit” for their passions, also means reminding them that a lot needs quitting along the way. That’s not being flaky; it’s about being realistic about your limits – and not getting bogged down with fixing the bog.