Angie, age 9, would agree to sign up for an activity with great enthusiasm.
Swim team? Yes, please! Book club? You bet! Ballet? Sign me up!
Then something would happen. Her team had to practice diving off racing blocks and she hated diving. She didn’t like the book chosen for book club. Her ballet teacher was too strict.
Her parents worried that their daughter was becoming a quitter.
As a hardworking couple who knew the importance of perseverance, what could they do aside from forcing their daughter to stick with it?
Plenty. Here’s a start:
• Explain the difference between “I don’t want to” and “I don’t feel like it.”
Talk about long-term goals vs. short-term feelings. If your child says she doesn’t want to read a specific book, you can explain that while she may not want to read now, she’ll need to read if she wants to continue belonging to the book club. The message may not register right away, but you can plant the seed now and emphasize it over time.
• Encourage perseverance when you see it.
Let your child know you see the areas in which they work hard or show motivation. Say, “I know you’re someone who can stick with things when they’re important to you.”
• Try to get to the root of the problem.
Instead of forcing your child to attend an activity, pause and ask a few questions. That will help him think through the issue. Ask why he doesn’t want to go. It could be that you’ll uncover a deeper issue. Maybe he’s embarrassed because he thinks he isn’t as good as others.
If you can pinpoint a problem, you can engage your child in coming up with a solution. If he’s resisting an activity because he’s worried about his performance, talk about the process of getting good at something, then ask what might make the situation better. Would extra practice with Mom and Dad make him feel more comfortable?
• Give your child control.
Help your child understand that she’s made a commitment — in money, in time, to the others on the team or in the club. Explain that backing out of commitments can be difficult on her relationships, and that it’s not good for a person to get used to doing that. If she does want to leave the group, ask her to explain why in a simple letter to the other members of the group, saying goodbye. This will allow her to take ownership of her decision.
• Explore different activities.
Help your child find an activity that will capture her interest enough to keep at it. Be forewarned that it might take some time. And don’t try to make your child like what you like or what her friends are doing. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with a child being a dilettante before she zeros in on one activity.
• Don’t force it.
Your can’t make a kid develop grit. That’s not part of your job description as a parent. What you can do is expose your children to things they may like, support them in sticking with things as they get harder, and express confidence that they can handle the stress or the boredom necessary to get to the next level.