This was the question I received from a mother who told me that her son suddenly wanted to quit the sports team he was on, right in the middle of the season. She asked me if she should allow him to quit or force him to continue. I suggested that she have him finish out the season by attending the games to support his team, but not force him to play. After sitting on the bench for a few games, he suddenly wanted back on the team.
Understanding why your child’s sudden decision is important but is not always easy to figure out. Asking him why may only result in the response “I don’t Know.” A child’s or teen’s sudden desire to quit a team can be a result of a number of things; a peer relationship issue, bullying, a fear of failing, competition, a lack of confidence or sights set on another activity that he or she likes better. It can even be a result of a change in the family dynamics, such as the loss of a parent or other family member, or even divorce.
It’s not always best to force a child to participate, but instead, find out what he or she is willing to do within the activity for the remainder of the season. Take notice of when your child is in a great mood and ask open ended questions about the situation to get him or her to open up and talk about it. Give them some space and time to mull it over and avoid drilling them to find out why.
One day my tween-age son announced that he wanted to quit the school marching band (he had been playing since third grade and had held first chair for the past few years). He came in, tossed his trumpet in the case into the closet, and declared that he didn’t want to play in the band anymore and marched off. I was not happy about this since we had recently upgraded his trumpet to a much more expensive SILVER trumpet, at his request.
I did not respond to his declaration but later that day tried to engage him in conversation about why he had made that decision. His response with full disdain was that the trumpet was a stupid instrument. He then asked if he could get a set of drums. I told him that I was into the silver trumpet for quite a bit of money and because of what I paid out for it, I might be willing to consider buying a different instrument in about two years.
That response got him mad. So for the next few days he left for school without taking his trumpet to school. I said nothing about it, but on a few occasions I again tried to engage him in conversation about why he was no longer playing his trumpet. On each of those occasions he offered up a different excuse; the teacher was stupid, the trumpet was dumb, etc. Then, on the last day that he could not bring his trumpet to school without being removed from the band, he took the trumpet to school.
I was relieved that he was back playing the trumpet in the school band. What I later found out as the reason for this sudden dislike for an instrument he loved so much, was that he become careless and lost first chair. If I had forced him to bring the trumpet to school, he might have retaliated in other ways and may have never owned up to the real problem. If I had been one of those parents that did go out and buy him the drums, again, he may have been unable to learn what he needed to learn about himself and the consequences of not working hard. Giving children space and time to learn from experiences is key to their emotional development.