THE HEART OF PARENTING • BY EMORY LUCE BALDWIN
I am perplexed about something that has come up for both my kids: quitting an activity that they said they wanted to do and for which I made a financial commitment. With one son, it is tae kwon do, and I have tried everything including getting the dojo master to talk to him, to no avail. Now that my youngest has seen his big brother quit, he also wants to quit his swimming class that he loved last year. Other than not signing them up for things that have this sort of commitment, do you have any ideas about how to get them to go back? — “Stuck” on Spruce
At some point, this is an issue that comes up for most families. Childhood is a time when for exploring many new experiences and developing all types of new skills—and we are fortunate in our area to have many amazing opportunities for kids. A few children will want to stay focused on one favorite activity and continue to learn and practice their skills. Most children however will want to skip around and sample a wider variety of interests—first trying out dancing, then wanting to explore karate, and later wanting pottery classes.
This kind of exploration can make a parent dizzy as they try to keep up. “When did you decide you don’t like horseback riding anymore? And why didn’t you tell me before I paid for the next session?!”
As soon as this becomes a problem, it is time to negotiate a family agreement between parents and children about commitments to continue with classes. In the short term, there is the class that has already been paid for. I have found that the best way to deal with this situation is to invite the child to continue to the end of the classes that have been paid for or refund a reasonable amount of the difference to the family accounts (with money and /or work).
This isn’t a question of being mean or stingy, but a reflection of real world reality. The money that the family spends on children’s activities comes out of the family budget. You might talk with your children about how you are careful not to spend the family’s money on food and then throw it away, or buy tickets to a show and then not go. Are they willing to be equally responsible for using the family’s funds wisely and carefully?
Then, before signing up for any new classes, revisit the conversation. What is the understanding about each person’s responsibility? If Dad is willing to pay for Johnny’s gymnastics class, is Johnny willing to put honest effort into going to the class and learning something when he is there? If the family is willing to pay for Sophia’s piano lessons, is Sophia willing to stick with the class for the whole session and practice regularly?
Put new classes on hold for the time being, while you work together to come up with a fair and reasonable agreement for both parents and children. The goal is to craft an understanding that acknowledges that the money for children’s activities comes out of the family budget and therefore everyone shares part of the responsibility for using family funds wisely.
In addition, come up with a Plan B. It is reasonable to expect that because no one is perfect, everybody makes mistakes and buys things sometimes and then changes their minds. (This is a good time to share the story about the winter coat you impulsively bought, and realized later what an ugly shade of green it was!) What would everyone agree is a fair and reasonable way to deal with a buyer’s remorse situation? Will there be a refund? How much? Who will pay for it and how will they pay for it? This kind of proactive “what should we do if….” conversation ahead of time is the most useful way of dealing with this problem.
Knowing that testing agreements is also part of learning, you can put a mutually agreed to plan in place beforehand. Then, when the day comes for your child to say, “Mom, I don’t want to go to my class anymore,” both you and your child will know what happens next.