Dr. Sarah (00:02):

Ever wonder what psychologists moms talk about when we get together, whether we’re consulting one another about a challenging case or one of our own kids, or just leaning on each other when parenting feels hard Because trust me, even when we do this for a living, it’s still hard. Joining me each week in these special Thursday shows are two of my closest friends, both moms, both psychologists, they’re the people I call when I need a sounding board. These are our unfiltered answers to your parenting questions. We’re letting you in on the conversations the three of us usually have behind closed doors. This is Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions.


Hi everybody. This is another wonderful talk that we get to have with Dr. Rebecca Hershberg and Dr. Emily Upshur. We got a question from someone who is a listener asking, is it okay to let your child quit? My husband and I have a debate going on and I’d love to get your take on this. Okay, so I definitely have some thoughts on this, but before we get into it, I would just like to remind you all, if you haven’t yet, please go ahead and leave a podcast review. Wherever you’re streaming securely attached your ratings and your reviews make a serious impact in helping get the podcast heard by other parents just like you. So I really appreciate you taking the time to write them. And the ones you have written are like, make my day every time. So let’s get in. Rebecca, why don’t you kick this off? What do you think about quitting? Has this come up with your kids at all?

Dr. Rebecca (01:41):

Yes, it’s come up with my own kids, come up with my clients, comes up all the time. I mean, the one word answer to that question of is it okay to let your child quit in one word is sure. I don’t think any hard and fast rules about not being allowed to do something as a parent or a kid ever serve us well. But as usual, and certainly listeners to this podcast will be familiar with the fact that there’s a lot of context, a lot of nuance. Of course, if this was an easy question, parents wouldn’t have it all the time. I think it really depends on so many things of what is driving the quitting, what’s underneath it. Quitting is often the iceberg part that’s showing is your child anxious? Is your child irritated with something going on in the particular class or activity?


Does your child feel pressure? Does your child no longer like the thing they’ve done soccer for a few years and they’re kind of over it, but they really are into something else that’s going to provide the same benefit. Has it been two weeks or has it been two years? There’s just so many ifs, ifs, ifs and context cues that I think are really important for that decision. And much like many things with parenting, I would say there’s no formula other than not to have a knee jerk reaction of like, yes, you can quit, or No, you can’t quit. I think it’s really important, regardless of the situation to say, as soon as that comes up, can I quit this? Or I don’t want to go today, or I don’t not have it be kind of a power struggle or an immediate decision, but to say, wow, that’s something I haven’t heard you say before and it’s a really important conversation, let’s find some time to talk about it. And where this is coming, obviously that’s a conversation you’d have with an older kid and not necessarily a three-year-old. And I think in order to have more specific guidance, I would need frankly more details because I think it really, really matters. Why is a child doing an activity? Whose idea was it to do the activity? What’s the goal?


Is this the parent driven thing or a child driven thing? I mean, there’s so many questions when I get that from my clients that I have and that I want to go into. I mean, I can certainly tell stories about my own kids if that’s helpful, but I’d love to hear what you guys think.

Dr. Emily (04:08):

I love all that. I think that’s so helpful. And the thing that kept coming to my mind is, I don’t know if this viewer was thinking this, but I think it’s also important to not automatically think that letting your kid quit is super easy for them. So for example, that if we give into that too quickly, they actually might have more ambivalent feelings than we’re giving them credit for. On the surface, they might say, I want to quit because to Rebecca’s point, maybe they’re anxious or maybe they’re legitimately tired of it, but they might have more ambivalent feelings. And I think that that’s also an important thing to keep in mind when we are deciding exactly to Rebecca’s point, have this be more of a conversation and see what’s happening underneath the surface a little. Because maybe the knee jerk reaction is, I want to quit. And you’re thinking, okay, that’ll be the right choice for them or that’ll help them and maybe they’ll regret that or maybe they have more mixed feelings than they’re letting on in that regard.

Dr. Sarah (05:07):

Yeah, I think the theme that I keep hearing in both of your points is, well, two things. One is slow down. You’ve got time. There doesn’t need to be an answer to this presented problem immediately. And I think that’s reassuring for parents. If your child says, I want to quit, you don’t have to have a solution to that problem immediately. You can sort of take your time peek under the hood. And that’s the other theme that I keep hearing come up is not taking something, whatever it is, anything our kids throw at us at solely at face value at saying this is the beginning of a peek under their hood, but I actually have to lift up the hood and look underneath and say, okay, what’s behind this request to Rebecca? You both listed off a lot of good things it could be. And I think it’s helpful for parents to have some tools in discerning how do you ask the right questions to discern what the real reason is, for example, because in my mind where I’m going to is the two risks I let my child quit, and maybe that’s not the right move because it doesn’t teach them to persist.


It doesn’t teach them to tolerate struggle. It doesn’t teach them to finish out a commitment. The other risk is I don’t let them quit and they’re really struggling with it and it’s really upsetting for them to be there, or there’s something there that’s just really not healthy for them and they recognize that and they don’t want it and they’re reacting to that. But also quitting. Quitting or not quitting is so binary. There’s nuance. How do we solve all of those potential problems may or may not be leaving the activity.

Dr. Emily (07:04):

Or leaving right now. I think the other thing I like to think about a lot when you said slow down is like, well, if my child wants to quit a sport they signed up for and it’s a month in, I might say, okay, at the end of the season we can decide not to do it again. That’s still sort of quitting, but it’s not like, all right, starting tomorrow, you don’t have to go anymore or starting next week. You don’t have to.

Dr. Rebecca (07:29):

It’s also discerning, to your point, Sarah, about needing tools. This is because it may be that someone who wants to quit tomorrow or today is because it’s super cold outside and they don’t feel like going to practice. And it has nothing to do with quitting. It has to do with how they feel in the moment. And particularly kids are notorious humans also. When they’re having strong feelings about something that’s all that they can see, they can’t see the bigger picture perspective. And as far as a concrete tool, this is a hundred percent a case with my own kids and with clients where I’ve used or recommend using that multiple choice approach. So saying, wow, again. And a lot of times it’s about timing. Thanks for bringing this up, but you know what? You still have to put on your karate GI and go to karate today and then we’ll talk about this later.


So again, a lot of it’s timing. And then once it comes up later in a calmer moment, it’s saying some kids say they want to quit because they’re just not in the mood to go on a particular day. Other times kids quit because they think it’s too much and they just want to break. Other times kids say they want to quit because nervous about something. Other times kids say they want to quit, they got in an argument with their friend. You can kind of list all the different things it might be because oftentimes kids don’t necessarily know how to put into words why they want to quit. They just know that it now feels bad. It used to feel good, it now feels bad, and so forget it. And when you prompt with that kind of language and those kinds of options and you say, do any of those sound like you?


And you can give really, some kids say they want to quit and then they realize they didn’t want to quit. They just really had to pee. You going to give them all kinds of outs. They have all the ambivalence, or some kids say they want to quit, but what they mean is they want to talk about it because something feels weird and they don’t know why it feels weird. And I often find that if I just spew a lot of that at my own kids or have clients do it, that a kid will be like, yeah, that kind of like that, but also a little like that. And it just gets the conversation going.

Dr. Sarah (09:29):

Yeah, it’s also a super not it’s modeling for your kid in that moment that there’s lots of possible reasons why we might feel some way. And that the goal and how we’re going to respond to this is to explore it rather than fix it. If you say to me, if my kid comes to me and says, I want to quit, and I say, no, you can’t. Or what’s missing there is the exploration. And so when we model for our kids, when we have some sort of conflict, I have to do this thing and I don’t want to do it, that’s a conflict. Let’s try to figure out what is causing that conflict because different things have different triggers. And then my other thought is, okay, distress tolerance, anxiety tolerance, that’s really important. And we really do want to help a child tolerate struggling with something a little bit before we immediately take away that problem.


I’ve talked about this before, but this makes me think of my daughter in dance. And sometimes our kids don’t tell us they want to quit, but they do behaviors that we may interpret as, oh, you can’t do this and we need to quit. But in fact, if we slow down and just wait and see and stay with our kid in the moment and tolerate their process, we might find that what our initial interpretation may not be accurate. So when I took my child to dance, she’s almost four, but we started when she was three and a quarter. It was literally like 25, 30. It’s a 45 minute class and it’d be like 25, 30 minutes of her not going in the door and I can’t go in the room. I sit in an outside space and she has to go into the dance classroom through a door that closes, and she didn’t want to go.


But eventually we just kept going and I was like, all right. For right now, I’m just looking at dance as an exercise and separation, not in dance class for her right now, but we kept going with not really this big pressure on my end that she had to participate in the way I imagined her participating when I signed her up for dance. And now she goes, every day that we go to class, she just walks right in and does her thing. It took her a long time to do that. If I had sort of read that behavior as, you can’t do this, so we’re not going to do it and we quit, then we would never have gotten to the place we’re at right now where she’s confidently kind of doing it on her own. That’s slightly different, I think, than what this question is, is how do we respond to when our kid tells us they want to quit? But I also think with the younger kids, they’re not specifically saying, I want to quit, but their behaviors might make us think they want to quit or need to quit, and then perhaps they don’t. But that takes a lot of patience. I was definitely stretching my patients’ muscles every Saturday for a long time.

Dr. Emily (12:46):

And I think that’s a great point because your example Sarah makes me think of different types of things like musical instruments where you really do have to push through some of the ick of practicing and to get to a place of competency that may be more engaging in fun. So I do think there, there’s so much nuance this here, and I like the idea of particularly with all children, but particularly with a little bit older children, sort of having that conversation and posing your own ambivalence can help as well. My son, I had a similar issue with my son and I was really not sure what the answer was. It was really unclear, and I sort of expressed that to him, what part of me thinks that you should persist with this? And part of me thinks like, oh, it’s okay. You’re doing so much. There’s other things that you’re interested in. And that really allowed him to reflect on his own ambivalence saying, part of me really wants to do this and part of me just wants to do it. I like my friends and they’re there, but do I really want to do the thing? So I think it really, again, I think being able to keep that process in mind is a big piece of that.

Dr. Rebecca (13:59):

And I think that’s such a great point, Emily, because it models that there isn’t a right answer. I mean, that’s why my gut response to the way that the listener phrased the question of is a kid allowed to quit and not quit? You know what I mean? And so phrasing sitting down with your kid when they’re old enough to engage in that, which obviously requires a certain level of developmental maturity and saying, here’s some reasons I think it’d be cool not to quit. Here’s some reasons it’d be cool to quit. And frankly, we’re not going to talk and talk about this until we land on the right answer. We’re going to talk about it until we decide on the path that we want to take right now at this moment in time. And so often I’ve seen parents in two parent families argue, is it right? It sounds like this listener mentioned they were in a debate with their partner, is it okay to let our kid quit? Is it not okay? And one partner says yes, and one partner says no as if they’re going to convince the other one that there is this right way and this wrong way. And it’s just so rarely that linear.


And I think this is also just another really important area where, and I know you talk about this a lot on the podcast, Sarah, but another really important area where it’s really important to examine our own stuff as parents. So does my child want to be a trumpet player or do I really want my child to be a trumpet player? Is my child really not enjoying karate or am I really not enjoying the drive to karate? Just like these things often get enmeshed.

Dr. Sarah (15:37):

Another big one I’ll throw into that list, is my child really interested in X, Y, Z or do I have a fear that if they don’t participate in this, they will not have the path to college that I think they need to have? I think there’s so much pressure on parents to be getting their children involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, let alone even one or two, but even just one or two, there’s so much pressure that’s like if you don’t have this thing, then you won’t be able to compete. And while I recognize that to some degree there’s a system out there that may be promoting and maintaining that fear, I challenge parents all the time to not make these decisions off of fear that some bad outcome will happen in a longer,

Dr. Rebecca (16:31):

I just have to interrupt to say that research actually, because Melinda Moyer just did a whole piece on this. Research shows that’s actually not true to the extent that there’s science on this, that it’s not true. That if you look at kids and families from the same general socioeconomic world, that who engages in a particular extracurricular and who doesn’t, doesn’t actually influence college admissions or whatever else, which I just think again, is not the point that we want people to walk away with and really internalized per se, but it just happens to be that it’s just not even true.

Dr. Emily (17:05):

And I think I’d love to add to that the same thing think I said earlier, which is right now let’s say my kid wants to not do this activity right now. That doesn’t mean in a few years they might not want to try it again. And I just think that keeping that open as a possibility in your mind and as a parent thinking, maybe this isn’t the right thing right now, but I’ll keep it open for the future or I’ll keep it open for a different iteration. I think that that’s a really important piece of this because it feels so definitive. If they don’t do swimming right now, they’ll never be able to swim for high school. Well, that’s not true. So I think keeping flexible about some of those things is really an important piece of this. And keeping your own self-regulation as a parent, we’ll have many opportunities to address these things and keeping that as an open pathway is really important.

Dr. Sarah (18:01):

That’s so important. I also think you’re spot on. The word quit feels so permanent, and even just internally replacing the word quit with pause or using that word with our kids modeling, that sort of open-endedness, Hey, we could take a pause and revisit if that’s what feels right right now.

Dr. Rebecca (18:22):

Although when my son who’s seven, I kept saying that about karate because again, I really thought karate would be great for him, and I really wanted him to do karate to this day. I will stand by that. He really didn’t want to. And so I kept saying, well, pause on karate. And finally he looked at me and he’s like, you keep saying pause. I want to do it again. I want to quit. So it was like, okay, okay, okay.

Dr. Sarah (18:48):

Yeah. Which is great because that’s exactly what you’re saying of ah, this is that mirror that our kids often act as. That reflects me back to me, and maybe I am projecting my needs onto that. I agree about the karate thing and my kids are doing juujitsu right now, and I’m so happy they both do it because I think from a mental wellness standpoint, the martial arts has, we could do a whole episode on why I think that’s a great thing in general for Yeah, but I want it because I know it’s got components embedded in it that are linked to resilience and mental wellness. And so I want that for my kids, but if they don’t like it, I’m going to be in conflict with that. I have an agenda bit, which is totally normal, by the way, to have an agenda for your kids’ extracurriculars.

Dr. Rebecca (19:37):

It’s so important to recognize that I wasn’t really being as kind of subtle as I thought. I was like, I’m just going to use the word pause. What’s interesting about that, to your point earlier about what kids can and can’t do is he, karate started getting harder with multi-step directions. You have to do a combination as opposed to a step, and probably that sounds like it could be dance too. And he really couldn’t do it. It was the auditory processing and that piece, and he really couldn’t do it. And so he started acting out in karate. And so then every time I picked him up from karate, it was another chance to hear from a phenomenal karate teacher who was the most great, but still the ways in which my son wasn’t measuring up in terms of expected behavior. And so again, it’s like, okay, I need to step back and think not just about karate in general and what do I think about mental health in terms of karate, but just what is this like for my child and at this particular moment in time, to Emily’s point, is this actually helping do the things that my hope is that it would do build his confidence and his ability to control himself and whatever else.


No. And so again, that reality versus fantasy, that kind of general versus my child comes in.

Dr. Emily (20:52):

And you know what? I think, I wonder if the listener is also asking, I hear this a lot in my practice, which is like, and I say this a lot in my household, which is like, you don’t necessarily have to do that thing, but I do need you to do some things. I think there are parents that are like, my kid quits everything, or My kid doesn’t like anything and I want them to have something. And I do think that as a family value, that’s okay, but I think it’s our job to keep that thing sort of open.

Dr. Rebecca (21:25):

And it can even have categories. You have to do some thing that exercises your body. You have to do some thing that might be a little creative. You have to do two things each week. Whatever it is, it’s okay to even get a little bit more specific with that because some of these things really are important, and some kids would want to come home and watch TV all day, and they’re allowed to have days like that. But it’s okay to say in your family, no, we’re not going to do that every day. Yeah, no, I think it’s all really important. And again, so it’s all really nuanced, but the question comes up all the time, so I’m really glad that we’re talking about it.

Dr. Sarah (22:03):

Well, thank you guys for your awesome insights into this. I think that this, we’re going to frustrate a whole lot of listeners because we’re never going to answer anybody’s question. We’re always going to say, it depends. It depends, and there’s nuance. But it’s so true. And I think this way of instead of answering the question with a yes or a no, modeling how we come at it from lots of different angles may hopefully give parents some ideas for how they can come at it from the various angles that are coming up for their family. So thanks ladies.


Thank you so much for listening. As you can hear, parenting is not one size fits all. It’s nuanced and it’s complicated. So I really hope that this series where we’re answering your questions really helps you to cut through some of the noise and find out what works best for you and your unique child. If you have a burning parenting question, something you’re struggling to navigate or a topic you really want us to shed light on or share research about, we want to know, go to drsarahbren.com/question to send in anything that you want, Rebecca, Emily, and me to answer in this new series Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions. That’s drsarahbren.com/question. And check back for a brand new securely attached next Tuesday. And until then, don’t be a stranger.

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125. BTS: Is it okay to let my child quit an activity?