The $120 Swim Lessons: Should We Let Children Quit an Activity After Committing?

By Judy Arnall, director of Attachment Parenting Canada,

This was the summer my son was going to learn how to swim! He was seven years old and old enough to agree to the lessons when I asked him in March. I signed him up and paid the $120.00 Come July, he was feeling more anxious about it and resisted going the first day. Once again, I was faced with the age-old parenting question: “Should I make him go, or let him stay home?”

As a parent, we want to provide our children with a taste of the many wonderful experiences that life can offer. We flip through pages of booklets of the many offerings of classes, day camps, and preschools, and envision our child loving the sports, art, music, science lessons, camps, and activities. We take time to sign him up, write checks, arrange transportation, and prepare him for the first day. The first day arrives and he doesn’t want to go. What to do now? Should we drag him to the activity kicking and screaming, or give in and let him miss?

It depends on your child and your goals for the activity. Does your child usually complain until he gets there and then loves it? Or does your child complain loudly the whole time he is there and all the way home? Did you sign up your child to acquire skills, socialize a bit more, or for a little down time for you?

I would suggest the “nudge, but don’t force” approach. Encourage him to go the first day and try it out. One day, that’s it. This is giving the child informed consent. He needs to experience what he is going to make a decision about, and if he goes the first day and hates it, then let him drop the activity. Most venues will give you the majority of your fees back if you drop it immediately after the first day. If he loves it, then he will be glad you nudged him. Like getting kids to try new foods, one bite is enough to know if it will work for them or not at that time. If you can’t get a refund, don’t worry about wasting the money. It’s better to build trust with your child in that he will try new things if you don’t force him to attend the whole way through in the name of “committing to the agenda.”

Many adults get second chances and can drop out of things they don’t like. As children get older, you can teach the importance of commitment with chores, friends, and homework, rather than activities. If you force them to attend the activity the whole course, you risk teaching them to hate the very activity you were hoping they would love. If it’s skills, socialization, or time to yourself that is the goal, is there another way to achieve it? Is it the right time to work on that now?

If you have a quiet, shy, or anxious child, promise to stay with him and leave in baby steps as per his comfort level. Again, building trust is important. Ignore complaints from staff that will recite their “no parents allowed” policy. You know your child best and need to act in his best interests. Child program professionals should understand the importance of your child’s comfort level. If the venue or staff will not let you stay, consider a more parent-friendly program or venue and also consider if your child is really ready. Sometimes, a few months or weeks of further emotional or social development is all your child needs to push his independence further.

In the end, my son didn’t go back after the first day of swimming lessons. However, he trusts that if he tries something new, he has the power to trust his instincts about whether the choice is right for him or not and have those instincts respected by his parents. That is worth more than $120.

5 thoughts on “The $120 Swim Lessons: Should We Let Children Quit an Activity After Committing?”

  1. Dear Michaela,

    I am in the South West of England, so similar school options.
    I send my son and daughter to school half-days only at age
    4. They came home for lunch and stayed home for the afternoon.
    At age 5, the school would not allow this flexibility BUT I had no
    problem bringing them home for lunch and a story and then
    taking him/her back for the afternoon session.

    This was a compromise that suited me, my child, and the school.

    Whatever you decide, keep watching your child and your own
    stress levels and trust that you will find something that suits
    your family.

    All the best,
    Anna Sherman

  2. Michaela,

    I have homeschooled my kids so I am big advocate of not forcing a child to go to school. I let them choose. My daughter has been back an forth between homeschool and public school. My son has been homeschooled since he was 7 (he’s 14 now.) I have also taught school and have seen the effects of a child being started before they are ready.

    A couple thoughts I have …

    If you don’t think she is ready don’t send her. I personally don’t think full day is appropriate for that age. At one point I taught first grade. Some of the kids in my class had attended 1/2 day kindergarten and some had attended full day. In the beginning of the year I could tell which kids had attended which. By the end of the year I couldn’t tell. Kids will learn quickly when they are ready to learn. And as I said before, I have seen kids that were started before they are ready and they lag behind and struggle through out their school career. When your daughter is ready she will learn quickly.

    Socialization comes in many forms. The socialization that kids get in school is only one kind of socialization. How often in our lives do we need to get along with 28 people all within a year of our own age? Only in school is this type of socialization applicable. In real life, we need to learn to get along with people who may be much older or much younger than us. Your daughter at 4 probably enjoys playing with others about her own age and I’m not sure what to recommend if most people you know have their kids in preschool all day. You might try searching for homeschool families in your area.

    Most of all I would like to encourage you to trust your instinct. If you don’t think she is ready then don’t send her. You know your daughter better than anyone. Be strong. Going against the norm can be tough but your daughter’s happiness is more important than what others think.

  3. absolutely not! that is the problem with this generation today. You start teaching your kids to be quitters even before they know what it is. My children know that there are certain things that you must do whether you like it or not.
    Trying new foods, doing some new activities, fine, they can try it once or twice. School- you go and also swimming lessons. How would you feel about letting your child “opt out’ and then having him drown because he never learned how to swim?
    Kids need to learn that there will be things in life that are optional but there are also things that are not. Get a grip people-who is the parent here?

  4. Yeah, I don’t think so. If the class is paid for, and it’s something like swimming, I’ll throw them in the pool myself. 1) $120 bucks around here doesn’t just show up out of thin air. 2) It’s a little something called HONORING COMMITMENTS.

    IMO (and this is speaking as an attached parent) you’re just teaching your kid that if he whines enough he doesn’t have to do ANYTHING he doesn’t want to. And that isn’t the way life works, especially when money and other people are involved.

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