What Should You Do When Your Child Wants To Give Up A Sport, Hobby Or Instrument?

25/05/2012 09:54 | Updated 22 May 2015
What should you do when your child wants to give up a sport, hobby or instrument?Getty

Your child begs and pleads to be allowed to learn how to play the piano or to take up a new sport, and you happily indulge their enthusiasm, shelling out a small fortune for all the necessary kit, only for your budding Olympian or concert pianist to fall spectacularly out of love with it, begging and pleading to be allowed to give it up.

It's a heart-sink moment - aside from the money wasted, no parent likes to think that their child might lack commitment, and many of us have tales to tell of the short-lived interests we abandoned as children, but which, as adults, we wish someone had encouraged us to persevere with. But forcing a child to stick with something they don't enjoy veers too closely to the dreaded path of pushy parenting, to most mums and dads.

So what's the right way to respond? Should you accept that hastily-abandoning a costly hobby is an unavoidable part of allowing children to discover where there interests lie, or is there a case to be made for discouraging kids from giving up too easily and becoming little quitters?

My children have always thrown themselves headlong into a wide range of after-school activities, from horse riding and gymnastics to swimming and street dance. But, at five and seven, they've recently begun to protest about having to practice between training sessions, and are starting to ask if they have to keep going to some of their activities.

I've always known this day would come, and I encouraged them to take up a wide range of hobbies on the understanding that their interests would narrow eventually, and that doing lots of different activities would help them determine where their own talents lie. But what concerns me now is that the things they want to give up are the very activities at which they most excel. So what to do?

Kids' life coach Naomi Richards doesn't think it's ever right to 'bully' your child in persisting with a hobby once they've lost interest. Instead, Naomi recommends talking to your child about which aspect of the hobby they don't like, and exploring whether there's anything you or the child could do to make it more enjoyable.

Mother of two, Catherine, learned the hard way that skipping this part and jumping to conclusions about your child's disinterest can prove counter-productive. Catherine's son used to enjoy rollerskating on Saturday mornings but when he suddenly lost interest, Catherine assumed it was because his skates were too small, and promptly purchased another pair to the tune of £60. But he still didn't want to skate.

"I persisted in taking him because I'd bought the skates but after a while I realised all I was doing was winding myself up every Saturday, so I let him stop going," Catherine explains. "I am a bit annoyed about the money spent on the skates but it was partly my fault for ignoring him when he said he wanted to give it up. I just thought he was being lazy."

Catherine doesn't regret letting her son ditch skating but my concern is that my kids might give up things out of a short-sighted laziness, only to regret it later.

Naomi agrees that that should be avoided. "Some children do give up too easily and I think we should encourage them to stick with their interests for a while – it may get better. Explain that everything takes time and that they may grow to enjoy it more – relate it to other things that they have tried and not liked at first but then later enjoyed."

Child psychologist Kitty Hagenbach agrees, and advises parents to remember that few children really understand that starting a hobby means continuing it on a regular schedule.

"Children are impulsive and live in the moment. I suggest that parents don't rush in to buying expensive equipment and a term's worth of lessons as soon as the child shows an interest. Take some time to see if the interest shown by the child persists, then explain if they take up the hobby they will need to stick with it for whatever period of time, say for one term. Allow the child to stop at the end of the agreed time if they want to. This gives children opportunities to become responsible, to develop commitment and to work their way through some challenges."

Above all, Kitty cautions against criticising a child for losing interest. "It is natural for children to be spontaneous and to change their mind," she says.

As for my boys - I set them an ultimatum. If they gave up a hobby, they'd have to part company with all the expensive accessories that accompany it, and which they were so desperate to get when they first showed interest. I pointed out the kids who turn up faithfully to training every week but who, unlike my lads, don't have the latest kit or the flashiest boots. That helped reveal which hobbies they really care about, and seemed to put an end to all talk of quitting.

Which is just as well, because I'm still banking on the idea that what I spend on kids' hobbies now will be an investment in my old age - when I'll be looked after by at least one world-famous jockey, golf-pro or Olympic athlete...

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