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Give your kids the chance to quit, and it’ll mean more when they succeed

Before my kids entered the age of “activities,” my husband and I sat down to have a little conversation about what kind of parents we would be in the sporting world.

Would we be the sissy kind of parents who would let a kid drop out simply because they lost interest? Oh heck no, we vowed — our kids would learn the value of sticking to their commitments. And then reality hit.

My reality check started as my preschooler, then only 3 years old, begged me to sign her up for ballet lessons. Obsessed with all things ballerina, she watched episode after episode of Angelina Ballerina and although she lacked any kind of graceful coordination whatsoever (oh, hey mom’s genetics), I got swept up in my own personal dance mom fantasy. I pictured the twirling tulle skirt, the adorable ballet recital where I would wipe a graceful tear from my eye in the audience and all of the rest of the girly excitement that I had never experienced as a child.

And because I have two daughters, of course I had to enroll them both and off we set dragging the baby with us to wait in the crammed lobby eager for my daughters to run out of class practicing their arabesques.

Except instead of happy ballerinas, I was greeted with sobbing sisters who hated — I repeat, hated — ballet class. It’s just a fluke, I assured myself, especially considering I had already forked over a shockingly high sum for the privilege of sweating to death with millions of other moms while my girls pretended to be graceful.

So we kept at it. And week after week, they continued to dread going and then race out of the door after class pretty miserable. My husband shook his head at me when I brought up letting them quit. “They’re just little,” I reasoned. “They’ll never remember. And who made up these silly rules anyway? You really think they’ll end up in our basement at 35 just because they quit ballet class as a preschooler?”

And finally, the day after I had paid the final installment on the grand recital outfits (of course), I threw in the towel. They were done. I was done. And my daughters had officially quit the first activity they had ever tried.

But did I make the wrong move? Had I ruined them forever? Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D. and a psychologist and family-child behavior specialist says no. “Sports are supposed to fun, not a trial by fire,” she explains. “When your child wants to quit a sport, it is important to let him do so. Allowing your child to test himself against his environment, experiment with different forms of expression and find his gift is an important part of parenting.”

Although I grew up with the lesson that sports are meant to be seen through to the very bitter end, I have to say that I agree with Dr. Gross on this one. And when it really comes right down to it, it doesn’t matter the sport or even the age of the kid — if the sport or activity is making him or her miserable, talk it out, go with your gut and for heaven’s sake, remember that sometimes, it really is OK to quit.

But also? Take it from me and try to find out if your kid wants to quit before you part ways with your nonrefundable deposit.

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