In A Culture of Pressure and Productivity, Kids Need To Learn When to Quit

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash


Now more than ever, we’re living in a time of pressure, of a push for productivity, that often leads to burnout.

And then there’s the unspoken rule in our culture that seems to lead us to believe that giving up on something means failing at it.

But that’s not the case – “quitting” does not need to be looked upon in a negative light – and it’s something we must reframe for our children’s sake.

Walk into any bookstore or go online or on social media, and you’ll be met with an avalanche of resources on self-help, self-improvement, career success, and meeting your potential.

We’ve somehow developed into a culture that frowns upon failure, that discourages quitting or shifting gears, that tells us to learn to (and just deal with) balancing it all – despite how tired, stressed-out, or overwhelmed we may be.

We’re often encouraged that following our dreams can be our hobby, after our “real” work is done…  Real work that we often dislike and that turns us into people we don’t recognize.

We all know our kids are watching our every move.  They see our stress, our frustration.  They see us push through every situation, because “quitting is not an option.”

Quitting is looked upon as a failure of sorts, as “giving up” or being lazy, instead of staying the course to become resilient and learn to deal with disappointment.

But this approach to life is teaching our kids a viewpoint that may lead to unhappiness, stress — and even worse, may lead them into bad situations in which they accept circumstances that are not best for them.

Yes, trying your best is an important lesson to teach our children, as is persistence and a good work ethic.

But so is allowing our children to grow up knowing they have control over their dreams, their goals, and their futures – by teaching them it’s ok to quit sometimes.

Psychology professor Carsten Wrosch has found that sticking with something unattainable or that makes us miserable can lead to mental health issues like depression – and physical ones like inflammation, compromised immunity, and other stress-related conditions.

Wrosch, along with researcher Gregory Miller, has studied the effects of what happens when we refuse to “quit” or change direction because we feel like quitting is a character flaw.

It is more important, they say, to help our children figure out what they truly want to do in life – and if their goals and ambitions change, that it’s ok to try something different.

Allowing our children to quit when they don’t enjoy something empowers them to explore different areas of focus and learn new things.

It teaches them that being successful in our pursuits – whether learning skills or hobbies or in our work and careers as adults – can only really be successful if we are content and fulfilled by what we do.

Adults who dislike their jobs may still do them well, but there will always be a negative effect on health, relationships, and self-worth if they don’t feel they are doing something meaningful to them.

Parents can help by giving kids options when making choices about clubs, sports, or other activities.

If they try something for a reasonable amount of time and dislike it, sit with your child and make a list of pros and cons about that activity, and let them be part of making the decision to “quit.”

Then offer options for different activities they can try.  For example, if they love music but did not enjoy piano lessons, give them the opportunity to choose another instrument.

And if they dislike all those lessons – or playing an instrument altogether – they could try a related activity, such as joining a theater group.

Obviously, our children aren’t going to be able to quit certain things they dislike – academic subjects in school, for example.  And there may be limitations and boundaries necessary to your family’s routine that prevent certain choices.

But when it comes to learning new skills through extracurricular lessons or participating in sports, there’s always room to acknowledge that something just didn’t work out – and move on to something that may really fulfill them.

Give them concrete examples of the benefits of switching gears.  Maybe you changed jobs at one point and found one that you really loved.

And there are many stories of famous figures online who found success – even greatness – by following a different path than they originally intended.

The bottom line is to encourage our children to recognize when something is not a good fit for them, and to help them to discover who they are by acknowledging when something is not working out.

This acceptance of “quitting” is also very beneficial as they grow and find themselves in bad situations we wouldn’t want them to stay in simply because our culture equates “quitting” with “failure.”

Shifting gears is essential to self-improvement – the real kind of improvement that teaches us to follow our hearts and minds, instead of accepting a situation that is not working.

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