Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is your child a quitter?

I know. I personally don't believe it is a good idea to label our children because once we do, we act from that place and our expectations become locked into that label.

I have wondered in the last couple of years, when we have gone from trying Tae-Kwon-Do, ballet, cheer leading, pottery, swimming and piano lessons, if my 8 year-old simply is not able to stick with one activity.

Our last "struggle" came after a week of not practicing the piano because of Christmas. My husband decided our daughter needed to resume her daily practice of 20 minutes to honor her agreement to keep up her skills. I tell you, it would have been easier to extract a tooth from an alligator than it was to convince her of the value of keeping up the practice. She sat in front of the piano, in complete defeat, crying that she didn't know how to "do it". The first thing that went through my mind (and I am glad it stayed there!) was how much I wanted to scream that she was being an ungrateful, little stinker. My husband, with his infinite patience took over immediately once I gave him "the look". He knows that look means "I am done with YOUR child: you need to take over". She continued to whine and protest and eventually did start playing and did an excellent job.

For the next two days we had the same situation: power struggles every single day. After a call to my good friend Susan, I realized that even though this was a great opportunity for our daughter, it was important for me to "let go" of my need for her to appreciate it and to enjoy it. The fact remained, I couldn't make her do it and I wasn't willing to fight about it every single day.

On the way to her piano lessons, I calmly told her she only needed to finish her lessons until the end of January and after that she was free to quit. I told her that as an 8 year old she gets to make some choices and this was one of them: if she didn't want to do piano anymore, I wasn't going to force her.
No sooner had I finish saying that last sentence, when I hear from the back of the car: I AM NOT QUITING! You can't make me quit. I will continue to do my piano lessons because I like them. I don't want to quit. And that's final!

Parenting is an adventure: Most of the time I can appreciate that no matter how many books I've read, how many degrees I have and how many classes I teach/take, there's no substitute for the "hands-on" experience my 8 year-old offers me everyday! You never know how anything you do is truly going to turn out. She's establishing her independence while I am establishing a nice set of gray hair.
How have you taken the "struggle" out of your power struggles? Do you have any stories to share? I'd love to hear them!


  1. I don't think so much that my daughter 10 is a quitter but I think she's a coaster. She is very smart so smart that when she has take the Taks test (texas assesment) every year since 2nd grade she has made 97 or above on all sections. However, she has the nerve to walk in to my house with report cards and tests that have 60's 70's and the occasional 80 or above. I finally sat her down and said "How can you justify this?" her response was " Mom I already know this stuff and its boring and really I'm just lazy" Really your lazy it makes me crazy being intelligent and talented is a privilage and your going to tell me your just lazy!!! I've finally convinced her if she brings me anything lower than a B she will be grounded for life and forced to live with me and work at McDonalds. I just don't get it though. Since we have moved she is doing much better mostly because they offer extra curriculars for 5th graders and she knows that if her grades aren't good then she can't participate. But the choice is hers, I have stopped complaining and fussing and just told her it's her choice if she wants to coast and throw away her opportunities thats up to her but if she does that, once she's 18 and graduated she is on her own and when she has a dead end job she hates I full reserve the right to say "I told you so". lol

  2. Thank you so much for your input and your sharing. I find myself in the same boat, with a very smart child who is bored out of her mind! Even when she doesn't try at school (or piano!) she gets above average.
    How do we find that "intrinsic", internal motivation? That's the tough question!
    I think you approach to stop complaining and allowing her to experience the consequences of her actions, even if on the long term, is very, very wise. Not easy, but wise!
    I think that it's great that you are empowering her to recognize that the choice is hers if she wants to participate in extra-curricular activities, the requirement is steady, good grades!
    Keep up the good work girl!!!

  3. Here is my power struggle of the week:

    On Monday, the first day back to school after the holiday break, I woke my 8 year daughter up about an hour before we had to leave for school. Much crying ensued. "I'm staying home today. I'm too tired to go to school," she cried.

    Expecting this, I was ready and armed to be patient.

    "Okay," I said. "What's your plan for the day?"

    "I'm going back to bed," she cried.

    "That's fine. But I have to take your brother to school. I'll park in the lot today and after we drop him off, YOU can walk over to the office and let the secretary know that you won't be at school today," I calmly replied. Oh I was crossing my fingers, hoping this would push her into going. It was the first day back and I was ready for my break! "And," I continued, "when we get home, you can email your teacher and let her know to set aside all of the work you are missing today and that you'll make it up as homework."

    "But no! You CALL the school to let them know I won't be there!" she cried.

    "Nope. That's for when you're sick. You're healthy, so YOU can go into the office to let them know."

    "Oh fine!" she screamed.

    About 30 minutes passed with her in her room. I was starting to get nervous.

    And then with about 10 minutes to go, she came out of her room, fully dressed with a more pleasant look on her face and announced that she had decided to go to school. There was still much yelling for the next 10 minutes, but aside from a gentle reminder that she better eat something otherwise she was going to be tired AND hungry, I ignored it.

    After school, when she was much happier, I told her I thought she had made a good choice that morning. She agreed. It was a good reminder to me to not engage in the power struggle and that by laying out natural consequences that suited her personality, she would most likely make the right choice.