Throughout the almost two decades in which I’ve taught children, I’ve heard many parents say, “You have a great deal of success with kids sticking to your martial arts program. How can I get my child to stick with soccer, baseball, piano, etc.?” And it’s true: I have seen some common threads among the kids who stick with things. Interestingly, it’s not the kids as much as it is the parents and their actions that make the biggest difference. After all, if given a choice, most kids would quit school, stop eating their vegetables, quit doing their homework, and probably avoid brushing their teeth, too.
Children have not yet developed the reasoning skills to understand that there are peaks and valleys in motivation and excitement. Their understanding of the value of perseverance is a little cloudy, too. Children also aren’t capable of fully comprehending commitment. In fact, it is not until age 25 that certain areas of the brain are completely developed! As such, we cannot fault youngsters for wanting to quit things. What we can do is try our best to help children develop successful habits and a strong character through participation in activities and programs we know to be in their best interest.
The following tips are not for determining “if” or “when” it’s okay for a child to quit an activity; there are many other factors that go into that decision. Instead, let’s focus on keeping children involved in activities in which their parents see value.
Six ways to keep your kids involved:
- Don’t make quitting an option. Avoid saying things to your child such as, “I hope you stick with this,” or “You’d better not quit.” Kids know their parents would never allow them to quit going to school, eating their vegetables, or brushing their teeth. Create a similar situation by removing the option to drop out of other important activities.
- Be aware that children are “present focused.” A child may be swimming and not want to get out of the pool to go to her dance class. That doesn’t mean she’s lost interest in dance, it is simply a present focus that has her more interested in swimming at that moment. If she was in a consistent and structured swimming program, there would also be times she didn’t want to get in the car and go swimming.
- Don’t allow your child to bargain or make the rules. Never make deals like, “You can skip your music lesson this Thursday, but you’re going twice next week.” If you allow your youngster to dictate if and when she’s attending music lessons, it’s only a matter of time before she decides not to go at all. Children are also routine oriented, so stay consistent.
- Don’t give up. Team up! The first time your child says, “I don’t want to go to gymnastics, art, piano, karate, etc.,” you need to let her instructor know. Don’t be afraid of offending the coach, teacher, or instructor. It is critical to work together toward a solution to address any issues.
- Don’t “take a break.” This one is really important in non-seasonal activities such as dance, gymnastics, piano, and martial arts. Many parents allow their children to “take a break” for the summer or use program absences as punishment. Statistically, about 97 percent of children who take a break will not return to the activity. Once you and your child are out of the routine, it’s extremely difficult to get back on track.
- Never talk about money or inconvenience. It’s never a good idea to say, “You’d better be sure you want to play hockey again this season. I’m not about to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment and my Saturday mornings at the rink if you’re not 100 percent into this sport!” Believe it or not, your children want nothing more than to please you and receive positive feedback. If you give them the feeling that playing hockey is selfish and creates a financial burden, they will tell you they want to quit because they know it pleases you.
In the end, these six quick tips will not only help your youngster stick with worthwhile activities, but also eliminate much of the stress involved in teaching commitment to young people.