When Should a Parent Let Their Kid Quit?

Parents regularly seek out my advice on how to handle a truly complex and sometimes serious issue; when should they let their student quit? The American culture of “dig in” and “stick with it” can leave parents fighting an intense battle with their child about work ethic and commitment. What happens when the child has said that they want to play an instrument, or participate in a sport, or do a particular activity and then they change their mind? Should parents just let them quit?

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I have heard numerous times that parents should allow their children to quit, but only during a natural ending period. This seems like solid advice until you realize that if a kid wants to quit in January and the next natural ending point isn’t until June, it is going to be a long six months. To complicate the issue even further, many activities don’t have natural ending points.

There’s never an easy answer to something this complex, but I recently stumbled onto an interview with an Olympic winning gymnast, Nastia Liukin, about how her mother had handled her desire to quit and it made me rethink my own approach. Liukin is a five-time Olympic medalist and she said that she had wanted to quit numerous times throughout her career, but her mother had a rule that made all the difference.

Liukin recounts how she would come home from the gym sometimes in tears telling her mother that it was “just too hard” or she was in “too much pain” and her mother would say that she would never force her to do anything she didn’t want to do, but she would have to wait to quit until she’d had a good day. Liukin said that sometimes her next good day would be the following day and sometimes the next good day was many days away, but her mother kept her promise and would extend an offer to allow her to quit. Liukin said she would easily decline because her goal to compete in the Olympics was stronger than her desire to quit on a good day.

I think this method for quitting is powerful advice for everyone–you don’t quit on a bad day. I think that advice should hold true for careers, relationships, and anything that is worth doing. We are all going to have bad days and days when we feel tired and defeated, but if we still want to quit after we’ve had a good day, then maybe it’s something we need to stop doing.