Education Cheat Sheet: When is it OK to Quit?

We want our kids to have tenacity, so how do you know when it is time to call it quits?

Photo: Courtesy of Holy Nativity School

Editor’s Note: One of my key phrases for my 8-year-old is “Try harder”. Perseverance is something we often are trying to instill in our children. So allowing them to stop something can feel counter productive. But Jyo Bridgewater of Holy Nativity School says it’s not about quitting, but how you do it that makes a difference. 

In short, we’ll learn:

  • Why kids should sometimes give something up.
  • Five things to keep in mind when looking for the right activities for your keiki.



“I don’t want to go to _____________ anymore!” (Fill in the blank: soccer, baseball, piano, art lessons, theater class, ballet, hula or judo.)


Is this OK? Are we breeding a generation of quitters? Full disclosure—my own children quit most of the above activities. There was also the tragic case of the guinea pigs, begged for and artfully negotiated for and equally artfully negotiated BACK to the pet store after a nightmarish two weeks of their cage dirtying, water throwing, and midnight serenades, culminating in the one we called George giving birth late one night.


As always, parent observation and coaching, along with thoughtful reflection about your child’s developmental level, can turn “quitting” experiences into learning opportunities.


When kids are young, their work is exploration and trying new things. One study showed that adults who have a passion for their work often discovered it as children: scientists, writers, doctors, even shoe designers. Manolo Blahnik mentioned in an interview that, as a child, he created small shoes for lizards out of candy wrappers. Making room for discovery and practice naturally means winnowing out other activities. (The buzzword today is “curating”. Using it might quell your well-meaning aunties and uncles who say quitting tae kwon do will hurt your child’s character and limit his or her chances to get into Yale.)


SEE ALSO: 🌏 Education Cheat Sheet: Is it OK to Miss School to Travel?


Depending on your child’s temperament, talents, and history, it may be reasonable to set some expectations before embarking on a new venture. This may be requiring a certain number of lessons, say, or a trial time period before your keiki decides to stop.


For older elementary-school-aged children and preteens, finding the right fit has benefits far beyond the activity itself. Paddling, for example, allows valuable practice in team work and stamina. Kids can also start to understand responsibilities to team and colleagues.


Having choices is a privilege many of us are lucky enough to enjoy. Learning to quit with intention and integrity is essential, and something that needs to be developed through experience.


And, on the flip side, don’t we all know people who were forced to take lessons and who now would never, under any circumstances, touch a piano or draw a picture?


SEE ALSO: 🧩 Education Cheat Sheet: How to Raise a Problem-Solver in Hawai‘i


Parent’s Homework

  • Take some time to explore your child’s interests with him or her. An hour or two watching a sidewalk cement pour can be fascinating for an avid preschooler. Bring an apple and follow up with an old-school Richard Scarry book. Let your young expert teach you about a historic period or particular animal. Kids can be amazing guides and sometimes draw a small crowd of appreciative strangers.
  • Ask open-ended questions about your child’s experiences. Note and file away patterns and affinities. Does your child enjoy the social aspects of activities? Does he or she do best when allowed to watch first to get an idea of the gestalt of the thing? Are there natural talents to be nurtured, interests to be stoked? These insights can help you help your child in a wide variety of situations.
  • Research the activity so you will be prepared for the expected investment of time or materials. This will also help you set expectations with your child.
  • If your child seems to be having a particular challenge—with peers or risk-taking, for example—focus your listening and observation. What seems to hold your child back? What are goals and motivators? If you discover something, use a light touch; ask your child if he or she likes agrees. If not, respect the child’s wishes but keep the door open for future conversation.
  • Check out a variety of articles for tips. Parenting Magazine has a good piece about identifying learning styles and Good Housekeeping examines how to nurture a child’s interests. Even general audience periodicals can bring insights.


Jyo Bridgewater teaches sixth grade at Holy Nativity School, where she also serves as principal. An Episcopal school, HNS personalizes learning within an inclusive environment. Follow HNS on Facebook and Instagram @holynativityschool and on Twitter @holynativity.