4 Ways Your Kid is Sabotaging Herself and How You Can Help
Watching the pressure on the tiny dancers on Dance Moms, I vow to never be that stage mom--that parent who teaches a child that honesty, health, friendship, and everything else takes a backseat to winning. Leslie deflects talk that Peyton may be bullying (wonder where she learned that) and tells Peyton to just take her splint off and deal with the pain of a broken finger. What part of this is Peyton's dream and how much of it is Leslie living vicariously through Peyton?
On the other end of the Dance Moms spectrum is Kelly, who lets Brooke quit dance to try cheerleading or miss a big competition to go to her eighth grade dance. Each time she faces a tough decision. Brooke is clearly a talented dancer but at 13 lacks the maturity and perspective to understand all the implications of her decisions--should Kelly push her to keep going with dance or step back and let Brooke make her own decisions?
I can relate. I had started playing piano at 5 and flute at 7. By high school, I was one of the best flute players in the state. My audition tape was probably part of what earned me admission into Yale. Even more, I loved playing music. And then, I just quit. When I sit at the piano now and muddle my way through pieces I could play at 8, I regret sacrificing that part of me out of fear or longing to fit in or whatever went through my teenaged brain.
Watching my own 5 year old play on the piano, I wonder, is this just the way things are? If she tells me she wants to quit, will I be more like Leslie or Kelly?
What do you do if your teen wants to quit an activity she has always enjoyed? What if you think she has what it takes to win a big scholarship or even go pro? Is a teen mature enough to make that call? Or is a little push from mom and dad sometimes appropriate?
This is where you thank your lucky stars that you have always had a good relationship with your kid. If you can decipher the reasons behind the desire to quit, you can better know how to address the issue. Here are some of the common reasons teens quit activities and how you might convince them to stick it out:
- He's rebelling: When children are young, they desperately want to please their parents. By the time they reach their teens, children seek to define themselves separately. In other words, they push your buttons and test your limits and generally drive you crazy. When a previously adored activity is closely associated with the parent's approval and participation, a teen may choose that place to push. First, reassure your child that your love is not conditional upon their participation or success in any activity. Then, take yourself (and your own ego) out of the equation. Bill Corbett, author and television host, also advises parents to take some of the pressure off. "A parent should never push a child to continue, but only encourage them to seek out their dreams...By asking open ended questions, creating safe moments to talk, to listen more than talk to them, to help them to dream as big as they can." If your teen believes that the dream is his, and his ambition comes from within, he will be more likely to continue to work hard.
- She's hit a wall: In almost every arena, there is a frustrating point when progress slows or even grinds to a standstill. Children develop at different rates and those who excel early may find their peers suddenly catching up. A quick sprint to excellence may mean a wait for the muscle mass, lung capacity, or maturity necessary for the next achievement. Stephanie Sarkis, psychotherapist and author, explains that this can be a turning point for a lot of young people, "When a child shows interest in an activity and that interest starts to fade, it may be because they are realizing that being good at something takes practice. Kids are surprised to find that they can't play piano like Mozart or hit a baseball like Hank Aaron the first time they try. It's important for parents to emphasize that people who are really good at what they do still have to work at it. Set up a structured practice schedule, and reward kids for practicing." Sometimes backing away from the competitive aspects of the activity and emphasizing the effort and fun may also get your teen through this tough spot to the next level.