Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Kid Who's Not a Quitter?

Yesterday, there was a segment on the Today Show with "parenting expert" Michele Borba, based on her article entitled How To Raise a Kid Who's Not a Quitter. First of all, I am always suspicious of anyone who writes a "How-to-raise-a-kid-who's-not" article, because I don't think it's possible to use a formula on your child to make him a certain way or not a certain way. Secondly, I recently blogged about how I Am a Quitter, and I don't think it's a bad thing. Why do people think it is important to raise "non-quitters"? Have they thought about what that means?

What does it even mean to "not be a quitter"? Certainly it can't mean that you never stop doing something once you have started. Because no one would qualify. So it must mean something else, like you never quit something because it's hard. Or you never quit something "in the middle" or until you have achieved a certain amount of success.

I'm also assuming that quitting "bad" things like smoking or driving drunk are not seen as negative. So we are only talking about quitting things that not everyone thinks are bad. Like sports teams or performances or other activities.

What if you quit something for a little while, and then go back to it and kick ass at it? Does that count as being a quitter still?

While you are thinking about forming a definition of someone who is not a quitter, here are some things to consider about quitting:
  1. Quitting is not forever. Quit is such a harsh word, it sounds so final, like it's too late to start again because you already quit. Look at Michael Jordan. Why is it not all right to take a break from things? I quit college for a year, and then went back. If people had convinced me that I was a loser or a "drop-out" because I was a quitter, maybe I would have thought there was no chance I could go back and finish.
  2. Your team might be counting on you... to quit. One of the things people like to say about the consequences of letting your child quit a team, is that he would be letting down his teammates. Let's be honest about this. If your kid is one of the worst ones on the team, he would probably not be missed. And even if he is the best one on the team, maybe his quitting would allow the next best players to shine brighter. In general, any one kid quitting a team leaves more room for the kids who actually want to be there to play even more of the time.
  3. Quitting one activity opens up space for other activities. We can't do everything all the time. Maybe your child wants to quit his baseball team because be in the school play. Maybe he quits the school play (if the play can go on without him, which it probably can, see #2) because he gets an unexpected opportunity to travel to an exotic place. Why isn't it better for him to be able to change his mind and choose what he thinks will make him happiest?
  4. Quitting something because it's too hard is perfectly acceptable. If it's "too hard" for your child, that means he has decided it's not worth the effort. Why should anyone else be able to decide that for him?
  5. You don't "save" money by not letting your child quit. If the money is already spent, then let it go. You forcing your child to continue an activity does not get you the money back. It just tells your child that the money is more important than his happiness.
  6. Forcing children to finish what they started might make them afraid to start things. And if they don't think it is safe to try different things, they might miss out on something wonderful. Make it safe for your children to try things.
  7. People who try more things are going to quit more things. Practically speaking. Think about it. Every thing your child tries is another thing he will probably end up quitting. Let him try more things! Let him quit more things! This is the best way for him to find things he really loves.
Why do we think we need to "teach" our kids perseverance? If your kids are enjoying something, if they find it valuable, they won't stop doing it. And if they don't, why shouldn't they stop?

Have you thought about what makes someone qualify as "not a quitter"? Because I still have no idea.


  1. ah. excellent. thank you Vicki.
    i started to say which ones are my fav.. but they are all spot on.

  2. This is awesome. I totally did #3 last fall when I got a part in a show, but opted out to go visit Tom in South Africa! But, you are right on so many levels. Why aren't you on the 'Today' show?

  3. Thanks for the nice comments, all. I have even more to say on this topic... stay tuned!

    @Gregory, I specifically thought of you when I was writing #3. I was wondering if you would recognize yourself!

  4. Oh boy. I fear we are reaching extremes here. You're kids are allowed to quit everything but Michelle's kids can only quit when abused. Obviously every situation is different but I expect my kids to follow through on their commitments. Not to just float through life following their happiness. If they do that I fear they are those terrible friends who will only do what they like but never do anything you want to do. The ones you can never count on to make plans because they will always be waiting to see if something better pops up. As I said though every situation is different and trying to write one post or one comment to encapsulate it all is impossible.

  5. @Melissa - isn't being happy what life is about? Or is suffering through a painful season of little league more important than being happy.

    And what kind of "friends" do you have who only do what they want? Don't really sound much like friends to me.

  6. I quit grad school after 3 days because I knew it wasn't the right thing for me. I'd be 60gs in debt if I hadn't quit. I'm glad I quit. I win.

  7. I have a problem with number 4. Sometimes, it is getting through the hard part that makes one realize the value in doing something. Plus, there are plenty of times in life when things get hard and we aren't allowed to quit (raising children, for example). "Because it is too hard" isn't a good enough reason. I'd rather hear "I just don't like doing it" rather than it is too difficult.

  8. @Melissa, I think part of what I am trying to say has gotten lost. As an adult, I have things I do for my friends that maybe I would rather not do, but I do them because I value my friendship with them. I would expect that children whose needs are respected will understand what makes a good friend. The happiness in staying committed will come from wanting to be a good friend.

    From my end though, I would rather someone not do something with me or for me purely out of a general sense of obligation or commitment. I understand that things come up, plans get made and broken. I am a flexible person and I value that in my friends too. I hate to think that someone is with me or doing me a favor, all the while thinking they really have no choice but to do it, and that they would rather be somewhere else. I prefer my friends to be honest with me.

    I think my main point is, though, that commitment to doing something comes (or should come) from the continued sense of value (which can come in many forms) in a particular activity at a particular time, rather than a general characteristic of a person. If someone is consistently flaking on you, I would say that more likely reflects how little she values your friendship than how committal or noncommittal she is. Does that make sense?

  9. @Jamie, We certainly are allowed to quit being parents. Parents leave their children all the time. I'm not saying go do that, but I think it's healthier to think that you are with your kids because you choose to be, because you love them and think you are the best person to care for them. It's never healthy to be in something because you feel trapped. If you are married, you make the choice to be married, every day. No one has a gun to your head! It's easy enough to get out of it. Avoid the trap of being trapped!

    And I know about difficult experiences. Some of my most valuable experiences have been difficult. But I stand by the fact that *I* decided that the difficulty and struggle would be worth it in the end. Which is very different than *someone else* deciding that for me. I'm not saying "don't do difficult things". I'm saying that each person (including children) should be able to decide if the struggle and pain seems worth it or not, in any given situation.

    There are people who enjoy being pushed to the limits. I have a trainer who kicks my ass two times a week. And I don't mind because I think the hard work is worth the strength I will gain from the training. I listen to what he says. But if something he tells me to do is hurting me in a bad way, I stop. And I wouldn't appreciate him telling me that the pain is actually good and I should do it anyway. If someone were to force me to go through the pain of training for a running race, I would tell them No Way.

  10. What great points and perspective. I recently experienced number 1 and 3 when I quit skiing and snowboarding so I would have more time for writing and presenting. I felt guilty and my friends are hoping I’ll come back. Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t, but for me, for now, I’m happy with my decision. I love #2 about teams. How smart that is. People quit teams for reasons that quite possibly work out well in the end for all. I experienced #4 when I quit taking piano lessons. I wish I had sooner. I tried and tried and experienced failure every time. I wish I had spent that time doing something I enjoyed more, but am glad I wasn’t forced to stick with it. Finally, I love #7. I always encourage friends to try new things and now that I think about it I always have to give them permission up front to quit. Knowing I don’t mind if they do is what makes whatever it is I’m suggesting safe and appealing. Thanks for another insightful perspective.

  11. @anonymous-I am not sure if life is all about being happy. I also don't feel like I have to search for happiness either. I just have fun doing what I am doing and I think that would be a more important lesson. If it isn't fun then I find a way to make it fun. Cleaning the house isn't fun nor does it make me happy but blasting the music and dancing around while I do it certainly makes it better.

    @vickie-I did a walk with the neighbor the other day. Although walk is probably a loose term since we spent most of the time going back to their garage so her son could change his mode of transportation. He wanted to ride his trike. 2 minutes later, he quit. Now he wants to ride his bike. 2 minutes later, he quit. Now he wants to ride his scooter. 2 minutes later, he quit. Now he is tired and wants to ride in stroller. His sister gets jealous, now she wants the stroller. It starts to rain and I am tired of not walking and the siblings are still fighting so we give up. So what should have been done? I know I would have spoken to Braden and told him that a walk was happening and he had one chance to pick out what he wanted to choose. She however respects her sons wishes to follow his happiness and ride whatever he would like even if it ruins the activity for everyone else.

    Dealing with flakes is annoying. I am not forcing anyone to do something they want to do but if your son or daughter can't handle an entire season of little league then sign-up for the multi sport class instead and give them a chance to try them all out.

    I am not in the camp that says quitting is wrong or should never be done. Quitting is a valid choice and should always be considered. However there needs to be a balance between commitment and this search for happiness.

    There are friends who flake because they don't care that much about you and their are friends who are just flaky in general. I know both kinds. I can deal with my flaky friends because thankfully most of them are not. With two kids planning ahead is helpful though since some activities require babysitters or early naps or late lunches, etc, etc. It would be nice to be very picky about my friends but when you move every 3 years thats not always a luxury.

  12. Hello! I've only discovered your blog recently (and loving it :)so I didn't see this when your first wrote it. I hope that you read my comment anyway. I agree with what you said and I am also "quitter" and sometimes proud of it. However, I have realised that when I was a child, when I wanted quit it was really an expression for something else. I wanted my parents to encourage me and tell me that I could do whatever i found difficult, but they didn't, they let me quit. The only time my mother didn't let me quit was with learning to swim when I was 6. My mum has often told me the story of how proud I was when I learned to swim. Unfortunately, that didn't make her see that that was what I needed, encouragement and knowing that she believed in me. I wanted help to go through with things, not to get out of them. I don't know how many things I have not done because I wasn't brave enough on my own. I have only recently realised this and am working on not believe in every impulse to quit, but instead stop and examine what is really going on.

  13. @Brave New Life, I am so glad this comment has finally reappeared. I really wanted to respond to it. There is nothing wrong with quitting things, and I don't like the negative connotation the word carries. But I think you have brought up a really important side to the quitting story that I did not think of. I want my children to know that I do believe in them, but there is such a fine line between encouragement and pressure. I definitely agree that I would like to encourage and support, but I also feel that, in the end, it should be a child's own decision of whether or not to continue to do something. And I don't want my kids to feel they are disappointing me if they decide to stop doing the activity in question.

    You should write a post about this! I want to hear more of your thoughts!

  14. I like what you've said here. I think its a very valid argument to say that at times, maybe most of the time (lol) "quitting" isn't a bad thing. Let's face it, cutting your losses when you realize something is just not working out is a skill many of us adults would be much better off knowing how to do. I absolutely agree that discontinuing an activity or job that you no longer derive satisfaction out of to make room for other activities or jobs that will enhance our lives and bring us new joys and growths is important.

    My only problem with letting my kid "quit" is when he doesn't give something a fair chance. There are difficulties we face in nearly everything we do, especially in the beginning and overcoming those odds are an important part of character building, insomuch that it ultimately can build our self-esteem and give us a sense of accomplishment, *especially* in the face of adversity.

    I wrote a longer response here: