Is it Okay to Let Kids Quit?

Q: My son wants to quit basketball—he’s not very good at it and hates playing—but I worry that if I let him, it’ll send the message that quitting stuff is okay.

A: It’s common—and understandable—for kids to want to quit an activity when it gets hard, or when they see that others are better at it than they are, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. Part of doing extracurricular activities is learning important skills on how to be adaptable and deal with challenging situations, so it’s usually best to have him stick it out. The key is making him feel supported: Find out exactly what’s making him want to quit, then help him solve the problem. If your son doesn’t like basketball because he never scores any points, help him practice his jump shot after school, or work on improving non-scoring (but just as important!) defense positions. It’s another story, however, if his unhappiness is stemming from a harsh instructor or unwelcoming teammates, as these can make for negative environments that no child should have to deal with. Talk with the coach or other parents about your child’s concerns to try and come up with a solution. If that doesn’t help, or if he starts to show signs of anxiety, such as trouble sleeping and feeling sick, it’s likely time to quit. It’s important that he tries his best to finish what he started, but not at the expense of his emotional health. –Susan Bartell is a psychologist specializing in family-life balance, and author of The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask.