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The Tiger Mother Debate: Should Kids Be Allowed to Quit?

Should kids be allowed to quit, or is there something to be said for rules forcing them to stick with it, a la Amy Chua? Two experts weigh-in on the "Tiger Mother" debate below. Read what they have to say, then join the discussion!



Annie Fox, M.Ed.

Author, Educator, and Online Adviser (
Northern California

Yes, Childhood Is for Exploration.

There could be several reasons a new activity fires up a child’s imagination. Their best friend may be doing it. Some adult made it sound irresistibly cool. Love is love but sometimes infatuation turns to contempt. Should a child be permitted to quit an activity (s)he’s committed to? Yes!

My daughter, at age 8, dropped violin after 3 months. She was relieved and we were grateful! That said, quitting deserves thoughtful consideration and parents need to explore the reasons. So talk about it calmly and find out what’s going on before a final decision is made. Maybe the adult in charge isn’t supportive. Perhaps a kid in the group is giving your kid a hard time. Maybe your child’s expectations for proficiency don’t match the reality of the work required.

If whatever is causing the cooling off can be addressed then “I quit!” may turn into “OK, I’ll give it another try.” But if the core issue is “This just isn’t for me, Mom” then please, respect that! Do NOT make the child feel like a “quitter.” Applaud his/her honesty and remind them that childhood is for exploration. Some things are a perfect fit for you and some aren’t. That’s good to know.

No! Perseverance Is Important.


Dr. Susan Bartell

Psychologist and Author (
New York State

No! Perseverance Is Important.

Children often give up quickly when success isn’t easy or immediate. This is because learning to push through frustration to find success can be a tough fought battle. However, if you allow your child to give in to uncomfortable feelings that make him want to quit, you communicate that that hard work and perseverance aren’t important. In fact, by not pushing your child, you deny him the opportunity to learn to cope with frustration, and eventually he will stop trying at anything.

By allowing your child to give up, you also communicate that you don’t believe she is capable of succeeding. Therefore, if you allow your child to quit, she will never learn how to manage frustration and she will become a quitter.

There are exceptions (like a verbally abusive teacher), but in general, you should require your child to see an activity through to the end (finish the season; complete the school year). At a natural conclusion, you can decide whether it is in your child’s best interest to allow him to move to another activity, or whether pushing him to persevere (despite protest) is warranted.

What's Your Opinion?

Please respect this as a forum for the thoughtful exchange of ideas.

Should Kids Be Allowed to Quit?

Opinions (21)

  • No

    Danielle: This is not really a "yes" or "no" question. I agree with Annie Fox that childhood is a time for exploration, but I also think Dr. Susan Bartell brings up a great point: if you let your child quit every time the road gets tough, she will never excel at anything. I was lucky to have parents who encouraged exploration, but who also held me to my commitments. Each school year I could choose 2 after school activities, but once I did, I had to stick with them until the end of the year. If I didn't want to continue at the end of that year, that was fine, but I couldn't quit in the middle. I do think that kids have certain things that feel "right" from the get go, but very often what they fall in love with will surprise you. That said, it is not often love at first sight. To be truly great at something, you will likely spend quite some time being truly awful at it. But you will never reach greatness if you quit at the first sign of difficulty.

    Recommended by 9 users
    Voted: No, Jan 25, 2011
  • Yes

    rkaiulani: I'm a bit torn about this. As a child, I participated in many things: dance, sports, music, etc. I quit ballet after entering the second level because it was "hard." As an adult, I wish I had stuck with it. The same goes for learning a musical instrument. I think that parents should think before they point their child toward an activity: does this play to his/her strengths and interests? Or am I projecting my personal values/preferences onto my child and forcing them to do something that they ultimately will not enjoy? I think parents should encourage their children to stick with an activity until it's clear that it's not right for their child, but they should never force their child against his/her wishes.

    Recommended by 3 users
    Voted: Yes, Jan 25, 2011
  • aqblickley: Ask me this question as a kid, and I would say - YES! It's up to me; I'm the one who has to go to practice, perform in the recital, etc. However, as an adult with a little hindsight (and piano quitting regret) under my sleeve, I am definitely changing my tune. So, no, I don't think kids should be able to quit activities they've committed to. While I'm no advocate of kids being forced to endure experiences that are making them miserable, I do think that it's important to teach commitment, dedication, and perseverance from a young age. If a child has decided to take on an activity, she should be pushed to see it through and get the ultimate satisfaction of completing it.

    Recommended by 3 users
    Jan 26, 2011
  • Patrick08: There's a balance between encouraging a kid to stick with something and push through frustration when learning is not easy, and forcing a kid to practice piano until their fingers bleed so they can meet a parent's expectations of what they believe their kid should be.

    Valuable lessons can be learned from putting in the hard work to learn a new skill, resentment can be built by ramming what you want down a kid's throat.

    Recommended by 3 users
    Jan 27, 2011
  • pigtoria: I think that the real question should be “WHEN Should Kids Be Allowed to Quit?”  I mean if after months of doing something and the child clearly still shows no interest and made no progression, the parents will eventually come to realize that they are not only wasting their money but their time and their child’s time.  The parents will call it quit at some point but WHEN?  Is a session or season enough? What about 6 months or a year?  I think the biggest problem is that the learning curve for all activities is different – something may take a few weeks to learn while others may take months.  For example, after six months of playing the violin, a child can barely play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” whereas a 6 month piano lesson, a child can play a simple version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.  So, would it be okay to quit violin after 6 months because the child is just plucking “Mary Has a Little Lamb” but a child who is getting ready to give a solo recital on the piano should continue playing?  The child with the piano is not making much progress than the child with violin – the learning curve for these two instruments is just completely different.

    I remember when I was pregnant with my 7-year-old son, there was a news about a man who won a very prestigious award.  When this man got on to the stage, the first words he uttered were “I hate my mother” – and he meant it too.  After hearing about the news, I’ve thought a lot about what kind of a mother I want to be.  If I were given two extreme choices of having a successful son who hates me or a high school dropout who still lives at home, I would choose the former and be a “Tiger Mom”.

    Recommended by 3 users
    Jan 27, 2011
  • lkauffman: Like most issues in parenting, I believe that there is a need for middle ground. Children, particularly young children up to age nine, are struggling with self-control. They have a tough time managing big feelings, and many children are still learning about the consequences of good and bad behavior. This is important to consider because I believe that many children at this time are acting on strong impulses, moved by the big feeling of the moment. Big advances are made between the ages of 10-12, and by age 13, children have control over most of their actions.

    Thus, I think that a developmental perspective is probably very useful for this debate. The answer to this question may often depend on the child's age, as well as their level of maturity. Younger children are often swayed by their frustration of the moment, and can be easily prone to yell, "I quit! This stinks" without thinking about the long-term consequences of their choice. In instances like this, parents can help guide and support their child through these big feelings and help them to establish the coping skills and can-do attitude that will help them get through difficult experiences in life.

    On the other hand, if a 14-year-old who has pushed through gymnastics for years finally decides to throw in the towel, I think that their wishes and concerns should be listened to with an open mind. Talk with your child and write down the pros and cons of quitting on a piece of paper. Help them to imagine the future; what will it be like without gymnastics? Do they like the way that future looks? What would it mean to quit something they have worked at for so long? These exercises and conversations will provide them with the thinking and decision-making skills they need now and later in life.

    No matter what the final decision is about quitting something, keep in mind that you are teaching your child an important lesson about how to handle challenge and disliked activities. Hopefully, this guiding principle will help you and your child in this big decision.

    Recommended by 1 user
    Jan 27, 2011
  • JeanneBrockmyer: There are two things to seriously consider here.  One, as already noted, is the child's age/developmental level.  Younger children may be more impulsive in wanting to quit an activity that is challenging.  They may need a parent's help to tolerate the inevitable frustration that comes with new activities and with more difficult levels of familiar activities.  The other issue is whether or not the child is truly over-committed and therefore really unable to contribute to or benefit from the activity.  The point at which a child becomes over-committed may differ for children within the same family, depending on the child's patterns of strengths and weaknesses.  One child may be able to handle three major extracurricular commitments, while another may struggle with only one.  Allowing (or not allowing) a child to stop an activity is a decision that should be made after careful consideration of these contextual issues.  

    Jeanne H. Brockmyer, Ph. D. expert in clinical child psychology    

    Recommended by 1 user
    Jan 27, 2011
  • Yes

    Wayne Yankus: These are the Christopher Columbus years--meaning trying out new things. They don't always work and the child is often not a good fit in the activity. For example, a fourth grader who wants to play football where the team mates are bigger, older and more skilled might have a better chance of success and good feelings about the activity if he/she waited a year. Stopping an activity isn't quitting; it may be putting it on hold.  Too often parents will do the opposite, and encourage dropping an activity for lack of success or perceived competition.  Fitting in versus possibly failing is different and a hard call for some parents.

    Wayne A. Yankus, MD, FAAP

    Recommended by 1 user
    Voted: Yes, Jan 28, 2011
  • Yes

    pvj2005: I am a dance instructor and all too often I hear the dreaded...."we are quitting dance because I don't want to make her do it". I felt one way about this statement until I had children of my own and then it changed. Today, I feel that children should be allowed to quit an extra curricular activity...Every child is different and must find their own niche. Most kids want to try something and then after a few lessons find that it wasn't what they thought  it was or want to try something else. However, I feel that children should be made to finish out the season or the school year....They should follow through with their commitment and complete what they started. This is one of the most valuable life lessons that we can teach our children...And to quit an acitivity before the season is over put fellow team members, classmates and teachers in a bind to fill in the hole that the child leaves behind.

    Recommended by 1 user
    Voted: Yes, Jan 29, 2011
  • Yes

    peggysh: obviously quitting shouldn't become a habit and that is the parent's responsibility to help the child choose activities that the child wants, without over scheduling them.  Rigidity is not a good idea in parenting as it can lead to serious acting out later on.... If you listen to your child and have on going dialogues you can have a better sense when a child is quitting for the wrong or right reason and support them through decision making.

    Voted: Yes, Jan 26, 2011
  • kat_eden: Like others who have commented here, I fall somewhere between "Yes" and "No".  I think kids should have a say in the activities they choose.  Once they've committed to trying, I think they should be required to stick with it for an entire season/session.  Not only will that help them get over the "hump" when the new activity is difficult (and therefore not fun) but it also helps them develop integrity around keeping their word.  There are also important lessons to be learned around not letting your team down (for sports) and being respectful of the family's budget (since there are usually expenses involved in registering for activities and buying equipment or supplies).  However, once an entire season has passed, if the child really feels like it's not the right activity for them, I think it's fine for them to move on and try something else.  Free time - especially in childhood - is too precious to spend it drudging through something you don't enjoy.  As an adult, I wouldn't dream of committing years to an activity I hate.  And I wouldn't ask my kids to do so either.  I'm definitely no "Tiger Mom".

    Jan 26, 2011
  • No

    shadows: since kids cannot make decisions when they. are young , expecially about their educ , I do belive  parents have to make the choices for then'I am not a western mom but I have a western child , my hobby does not agree with my methods but I pass on what  was given to me , my mom was strong but loving  she set the bar very high  and I thank her now I am Indian and my husband is American Irish mostly I instill my roots in our child , we have a happy home our 8 yearold and is a A+ student ,plays the piano , compete in dance an( say excuse  me) when she leaves the dinner table , my daughter teacher is very impress with our little princess .
    From Rebecca  

    Voted: No, Jan 26, 2011
  • Opinions from the Facebook fan page:

    Angel: I make him finish what ever it is and afterwards he can decide or not to retake the activity over again. If he decides to stop at that time, It's for good I'm not allowing him to go back. I just believe it teaches endurance which is a life long lesson and can be used in all area's of life.

    Cindy: I think each parent has to use their judgement based on the personality and needs of their child(ren). Parents need to be able to assess "greater harm"...Sometimes "quitting" is the right answer.

    Nancy: I believe that children should finish what they start. I tell my children you can quit this activity when it is over, and then try something else for next year.

    Carol: sign them up for one season if they show an interest in that particular activity...then make it clear that they are to got to the classes/sessions that have been paid for.Don't put them in activities that you always wanted to do as a kid..start early to let them lead their own lives ... let them make their own decisions about little things so they will be equipped to make the tough decisions when they are older.

    Shanda: Depends on what is going on, the age of the child and so forth. Laziness/not getting the ball enough in sports, etc-no way! But if there is bullying, too much conflict with school work and the like-of course.

    Jan 28, 2011
  • Houli: Tom:  I agree with Danielle that the answer can vary for a variety of reasons.  Overall, how can we expect children to 'learn' from quitting an activity if he/she is not really interested once they get started.  So many parents push their kids to be involved in so many activities that sometimes it's just too much.

    Often I suspect parents are the ones who want their child involved in certain activities, so perhaps parents should examine their own motives on this subject.

    As an educator I have seen first-hand the negative results of children being pushed too hard by parents.

    We need to lighten up- so what if a Tiger mom creates a ruckus over how to raise children.  We need to use common sense!

    Jan 31, 2011
  • Knowluvlikelife: Both Annie&Dr.Susan have points I think are important enough to consider, You have to be more supportive&dont perssure them to do what they no longer have have interest in but also If you allow a child to quit at an early age their gonna find it difficult to finish anything. From personal experince,in my opinion I feel they should keep trying into their older enough to really make a choice on what they want to be,&what direction they want to go in life.

    Feb 1, 2011
  • Yes

    ep617: My son recently quit his guitar lessons.  Although he really liked the teacher, and felt no pressure with his teaching, my son just wanted to try learning on his own, for a while.  At least he got the basics down, for now.  Perhaps later he will change his mind and return to formal lessons.  For now I don't want him to resent the guitar or me for forcing him into it.  Music should be a pleasant experience, so should learning!

    Voted: Yes, Feb 6, 2011
  • No

    roseyposey: As parents we prefer to teach our children to persevere.  Yes, exploration for our kids is important, they have to try new things to see if they like it. But once it becomes more of challenge we gently push forward and inquire what the underlying reasons are for wanting to quit.  Sometimes it just not the thing for them and we try a new thing.  We prefer to work through challenges rather than take the road less traveled. Quitting is just like not wanting to learn anything else just because it is difficult.  Resiliency is key to success!  

    Voted: No, Feb 6, 2011
  • Yes

    BlackRiverBRAT: I agree with the majority in that this is a question of "WHEN should a child be allowed to quit?"  In our instance, our daughter decided to "try" wrestling when she was 8 years old, because the other sports offered in our community during the winter were just not fun any longer.  She's now 12, is headed to Eastern Nationals in a month, and really REALLY loves wrestling.  There have not been any times when she felt like quitting...but some of her team-mates have an on-again/off-again attitude that, frankly, hurts the team.  If you're ramping up to get your head in the game for a rugged tournament that's coming up, and your half-hearted teammate is not putting forth any serious effort during practice, you are going to suffer for that when the tournament comes and your opponent has been chewing nails all season.  That half-hearted wrestler needs to be sat down and a serious conversation needs to happen between him and his parents...why does he want to quit?  What are the consequences to his teammates if he quits, vs. the consequences if he does a lame job at practice?  What does he like about wrestling that he doesn't get elsewhere?  What would he choose to do instead?

    Pushing your kid to finish what he/she starts is important, but the consequences to the rest of the team or class is important, too.  If the kid is not allowed to quit, he or she might end up hurting the team or class by a lackadaisical (sp?) attitude or a lackluster performance.

    Voted: Yes, Feb 16, 2011
  • Yes

    BlackRiverBRAT: Incidentally, I often counter the "But it's HAAAARRRDDDDDD...." whine with "If it was easy, everyone would do it!"

    Voted: Yes, Feb 16, 2011
  • No

    amanda323: I believe you shouldn't let your child quit just because they don't want to do it anymore.  I believe in teaching my children to finish what they started.  For example, my daughter wanted to play viola for school.  We rented the instrument and got her all the needed material.  About half-way through the school year, she decided she didn't want to play anymore.  I discussed with her her reasons for not wanting to play anymore.  Half of the reason was the teacher, the other half was she just didn't care for the instrument.  I told her that if she didn't want to play next year that that would be fine, but she needed to finish out the school year and not quit.  I respected her decision to not continue to play but made her stick-it-out untill the school year was finished.  

    Voted: No, Mar 4, 2011
  • Yellowpencil: Our 12 year old very musically talented son has been playing violin since the age of 3.5(He started with Suzuki) and now we are in a different town and there aren't many social/performing opportunities with his music. He has always HATED practicing, though when he was younger it wasn't as long. He is at a very advanced level of playing now that requires a few hours a day of practice. Now he doesn't want to make the commitment because he says there are not enough rewards from practicing hard......he has a difficult time seeing the future and what the practice might lead to and he wants to explore other interests like computer programming. He is taxed for time and we see that he is at an age that he is undergoing change and growing. He wants to quit, but feels guilty for all the time and $ that were put into it. Do we let him quit? We are torn. He is torn. We know that some kids go through a stage where they want to do other things and want to quit something they have been doing for a long time. He may regret it greatly later. However, we also see that that is mostly what he has done his whole life and respect that there are many things in the world to explore.

    Sep 30, 2012
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