Washington - Bella was going out of her mind. Her 9-year-old daughter, Angie, would agree to sign up for an activity with great enthusiasm.
Swim team? Yes, please! Book club? You bet! Ballet? Sign me up! Then something would happen that made the activity, well, hard. Her team had to practice diving off racing blocks and she hated diving. She didn't like the book chosen for book club. Her ballet teacher was too strict. When it came time to go to the lesson or club, a power struggle ensued that made it hard to get her out the door.
I hear concerns like this all the time, and here is my advice:
Don't think of your child's character as "fixed."
All of our worry about our kids is about the future - we fear that they'll get stuck in a negative place and won't get better. Angie's parents were envisioning their 9-year-old as a lazy 20-year-old, coming to them to bail her out. They needed to tell themselves: "Who she is now is not who she will always be." We all know the negative impacts of peer pressure, but there are positives.
Explain the difference between "I don't want to" and "I don't feel like it."
Distinguishing long-term desires from immediate feelings will help kids understand the difference between an immediate task and ultimate goal. When Angie says, "I don't want to read my book club book," her parents might say that although she may not feel like reading it, she may want to read it if she hopes to continue being a part of the club. This is a lesson that doesn't register right away, but it's worth planting the seed and emphasizing over time.
Let them know you see the areas in which they do work hard or show motivation.
Say "I know you're someone who can stick with things when they're important to you."
Get to the root of her concern.
When Angie says, "I don't want to go," it's all too easy to respond with, "You're going!" But pause and ask a question instead. Help her think it through. Why doesn't she want to go? Point out that she seems to enjoy it after the fact - why? It could be that you will uncover a deeper issue. Maybe diving is painful because she belly-flops. Maybe she's embarrassed and feels she isn't as good as others. What might make that better?
It's chemical, not character.
Angie's parents shouldn't jump to the conclusion that their daughter is a quitter. Either these activities didn't energize her, or she was apprehensive. It could be that she had low baseline levels of dopamine (the "get-up-and-go" hormone) or high levels of cortisol (the "stress hormone").
Bella felt it was important for Angie to work hard at something. But how could she help Angie find something that would capture her interest enough so that she'd keep at it? It might take some time to find. But focusing intently on that activity would be one of the best things for Angie's brain, because it would induce what's come to be called "flow," when levels of certain neurochemicals in your brain - including dopamine - spike.