Quitting an extra curricular – how much say should your child have?

By now, your child has likely chosen and settled into extra curricular activities that many fill their after-school and weekend hours with.

My 12-year-old, Chloe’s choice, is a no-brainer.

She’d dance every night of the week if she could. Each year she adds another class to her repertoire and hasn’t tired of it over the past five years. I don’t care if she ever auditions for So You Think You Can Dance.

I’m just happy that she loves dancing in a non-competitive environment with many of her school friends and that she’s developed the confidence to perform in front of an audience at the end of the year recital.

I must admit that there have been years when I tried to encourage – even bribe – her to try something else.

Like the time I enrolled her in piano lessons because I have always wanted her to play the piano as beautifully and effortlessly as my husband does. Having heard stories from my mother-in-law about how my husband wanted to quit, how she wouldn’t allow him to, and now seeing the fruits of her labour, I thought we could go down the same path. However, each child is different and eventually, she negotiated her way out of piano lessons.

Deciding when to allow children to quit lessons or an activity you feel is best for him or her, is difficult. It comes down to how much consideration we should give to our child’s wishes and when, as a parent, we have to make a decision that we hope our child will ultimately thank us for.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a good friend recently. Years back, it was determined that her daughter was eligible for the gifted stream following her Grade 3 year. As a family, they determined she would be better served by being withdrawn one day a week as opposed to attending a full-time gifted program within the public school system.

Over the past three years, my friend has noticed her daughter’s increasing resentment at being withdrawn. Rather than feeling privileged at being given the opportunity to attend a program that stretched her thinking, she felt she was being punished for being bright.

Before the end of her Grade 6 year, she became increasingly vocal about wanting to remain in her home school every day of the week. Her parents, loving that their daughter had been given the unique opportunity of expanding her thinking, were reluctant to let her leave.

So, my friend turned to me for advice. After some careful reflection, I shared that since her daughter had given the one day a week program a full three years of her time, and since she was already a bright and logical thinker and did not rush into making decisions and was very responsible, that I felt that she should give more weight to what her daughter wanted at this point.

I recommended instead of throwing her hands up and saying “Fine, do what you want. Quit!” that she let her daughter know that because they trusted and respected her opinion, that they felt they could trust her to help make this important decision.

If they felt it necessary, they could even sit as a family to record the pros and cons of staying in the program before making a decision.

I also suggested there may be other after-school programs their daughter could enrol in. For example, being a whiz at math she could take part in an extra curricular math program for students with a strong aptitude for numbers.

I suggested they might even want to make this a condition for leaving the one day a week program but they could re-evaluate this program at the end of the school year or sooner.

Bottom line is it’s best to try to make these decisions as a family.

If a child feels he or she has either been forced into a program or is being forced to stay, then he or she may develop not only resentment towards the program itself but also resentment towards you for not hearing his or her point of view.

As parents it’s okay to choose programs and activities for our very young children without much say from them. Then, as they grow older and we want to encourage independent thought and individual expression, we may need to stand aside and make room for their inclusion in a decision making process.

Sara Dimerman is registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario.

She is the author of two parenting books Am I A Normal Parent? and Character Is the Key.