When do you allow your child to quit an activity? Also, entering into contractual agreements with your child is insane.

In the Washington Post, Katherine Reynolds Lewis writes about when it’s acceptable to let your child quit an activity and how do you handle the anger that children express when forced to continue with something that they don’t like.

She and her his husband have used a  strategy that I will call contractual commitment:

We agree with our girls on the length of the commitment they want to undertake. Whether that’s an eight-week soccer season or 10-week dance class, they agree that they’re going to continue the experience to the end, even if they decide it’s not for them. We put this agreement in writing and everyone signs it. We hope this teaches the importance of follow through as well as the reality that activities cost money, which we’re not interested in wasting.

Once this system was in place, the first time our daughter claimed, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” we pulled out the agreement. Argument over.

May I suggest that rather than signing contracts with your children over the length of time that they will pursue an activity, perhaps your children should just listen to whatever you are saying and obey because you are the parent?


This may sound like a novel approach, but if your eight year-old wants to quit the swim team or piano lessons or the Boy Scouts, maybe it should the parent who decides. Perhaps the adult, with years of wisdom and perspective and the well being of their child in mind, should choose how long an activity should be pursued.

Maybe a parent should just act like a parent.

Signing a contract with your child is insane. It’s a perfect way to undermine your authority and your child’s respect for it. It’s a weak-kneed, lily-livered, short-sighted, helicopter-parenting solution to avoiding difficult decisions, temper tantrums, and the measures sometimes necessary for enforcing  rules. 

It will also never work.   

Once this system was in place, the first time our daughter claimed, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” we pulled out the agreement. Argument over.

Seriously? An angry, outraged eight year-old child shouts, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” The parent extracts the signed contract and hands it to the child. He or she reviews the document, takes a deep breath, and says, “Right. I forgot this binding agreement that we drafted n the back on my spelling homework. Apologies. I will cease my argument immediately.

No. I don’t believe it.

Adults break contracts all the time, and these are legally binding documents. Breaking them results in lawsuits and financial damages, and still, adults break them all the time. Am I really expected to believe that a piece of paper will bring an end to a child’s anger or disillusionment or a temper tantrum?

How about instead of a contract, you say something like this:

“Mary-Sue, we think that swim class is important for both your future safety around water and your overall physical fitness. I understand that you don’t want to go, but we all have to do things that we don’t want to do. There are many days when I don’t want to go to work, but I must because we have to pay for our house and car and food. You’ve made your argument. We listened. We disagree. Stop arguing and get in the car or I will begin taking away toys from your bedroom, and I will not stop until you are doing what you have been told.”

Instead of acting like a lawyer, may I suggest that acting like a parent is the wiser course of action?