Advice--My kid is "giving up" and I don't know how to get his determination back

[deleted account] ( 14 moms have responded )

This is less a debate than a plea for advice, but I felt this was a good board to post on, as it's the one I frequent most often and I know the ladies here will give me objective advice.

We'll start with academics. J's school uses an individual reading program that lets kids read at their own pace and levels. At the beginning of the year, J was reading at a 6th grade level, but recently, J started reading books he'd already read over and over again, so he stopped earning points. I took the books he was repeating and let him pick out new books. He complained they were too hard, so we got books on lower levels. He has dropped down to a 3rd grade level and is still complaining they are "too hard," but he reads aloud fluently, and answers comprehension questions correctly. I think he just doesn't want to read the books, and I have no idea how to deal with that.
Each student is given an individual point goal. Last quarter, he did not meet his goal. I was very disappointed, but his teacher was not concerned as she said she set high goals last quarter. His goal for this quarter is lower, but it is almost over, and he has met less than 1/3 of that goal.

Math is an issue as well. He did meet his goal for the year, but there are goals beyond that, and I don't understand why he doesn't want to move onto those. It's like he got to a certain arbitrary point and just stopped.

He is losing motivation in sports and music as well. We agreed to cut back on Taekwondo once he earned his Black Belt, so we now go only once a week. He bombed his competition in April, earning nothing better than 2nd place. He still enjoys attending class (but doesn't want to go more often), but it is a huge struggle to get him to practice everyday (which is why he did so poorly). Same with guitar--he won't practice. He LOVES gymnastics, in fact, he made me promise to pay for a make up class when he was forced to miss a class due to schedule conflict with Baseball, but this week, when he really needed to go to work on a flip for a taekwondo performance, he didn't want to go. He went, but I had to make him go.

Baseball is the only thing he seems even remotely interested in, and not to bash him or anything, but it's not one of his strengths. His team has only won 1 game this entire season. ONE GAME. He plays baseball video games and constantly watches baseball or baseball movies. I've never had to limit his screen time before, but now it seems like he is playing a video game or watching TV almost EVERY DAY. Sometimes 3 or 4 days a week for nearly an hour or more at a time.

Today, I told him no TV and no Video games until he meets his Reading Goal, and moves to the next level in Math. He wasn't happy, but he's been reading for the past 90 minutes or so. I hate using this negative reinforcement--I want him to love reading, not think of it as a chore--but I can't think of anything else. I am hoping that he will rediscover how fun reading is once he really gets into a new book.

Formerly, a competition was sufficient to garner determination in TKD, but it seems like he doesn't even care if he loses, now. And I have no way to motivate him for music--we don't compete or anything, and there really are no concrete goals in guitar.

How can I motivate him? I know that my standards are a little high, but I do not feel they are unreasonable. I feel like he needs to know what it is to really have to work for something or when he becomes an adult, he won't know what that is. I know so many adults who have never had to give anything more than minimal effort, and now they cannot find jobs, cannot cook anything more than frozen dinners, etc. If something takes more than 10 or 12 tries, or more than a minimal amount of their time and effort, they cannot do it. I don't want J to be like that.

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Amy - posted on 05/15/2013

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Kelly,

I'm going to tell you a story about when I was a kid. At school they did this really awesome band demo one day to get elementary students to sign up for instruments. I fell in love with the trombone, I convinced my parents that I wanted to play. Well after lugging an instrument around that weighed as much as me and realizing I had to practice I decided that the clarinet would be a better fit. So my parents traded the trombone in and got me a clarinet. After awhile I decided that I really didn't want to play an instrument at all, I wanted to ride and own a horse. My parents refused! They had spent money on instruments that I decided I didn't want to do, there was no way they were going to buy me a horse.

They let me start taking lessons but I still wanted a horse. After a few months I convinced them that if I was still riding in a year they would buy me my horse. I rode all through school and even did a year on the equestrian team in college. I had to sell my horse after graduating college since I couldn't afford rent and board. So what I'm trying to get at is sometimes the idea of something sounds great but in reality if the passion isn't there you can't force it. I do think you are right to make him finish his committments. If you pay for something monthly then he should have to finish the month, if demo team is till next March then he has to stick it out till then. If he really likes baseball and he's not "great" at it but really loves it then let him follow his passion.

I think you are putting to much emphasis on the idea of quitting. If it's something he really wants to do he's not going to quit it, now or in the future. Personally looking back now I wish I had applied myself more in college but that has to do more with deciding at 18 what you want to do with the rest of your life vs. looking back at 30 and thinking you made a mistake because you now know the reality of the "real world". I hope that makes sense.

Amy - posted on 05/16/2013

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Sorry Kelly I didn't read your entire post until later so I'll answer the rest of your questions. I believe everyone has different talents and interests, some people are artistic or musical I am neither if those lol. I listen to music on the radio, I change the station when a song comes on that I don't like, I don't feel like I'm missing out because I didn't play an instrument or learn to read music. If it interests someone I think that's wonderful but it doesn't interest me. Just as some people are really artistic and creative, me if I can't find someone to copy with step by step instructions my creations aren't very creative and end disastrous, lol.


I would of continued riding even if my parents hadn't purchased me a horse. I actually think riding kept me out of a lot of trouble in high school and college because my free time was very much occupied with my interests which wasn't boys :). As an adult now if I had an interest in something I have the ability to learn it whether through classes or the Internet. Just like if you feel like you missed out because you didn't learn an instrument you can learn one now, there is nothing to stop you. Hopefully that helps a little but more, but if you really enjoy doing something regardless of being 7 or 30 you will do it to the best of your ability. If you don't enjoy it you can not expect that you will be getting 100% from someone.

Amy - posted on 05/15/2013

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Maybe if you took the pressure off he could start enjoying the activities again. At some point you're going to have to step back and let him face the consequences for his actions, if you don't practice you don't get first (although you act like second is the worst thing that could happen).

Your comparing your son to an adult, he's not an adult and he's more likely to rebel as he gets older if you keep pushing for these high standards now. We can't all give 110% all the time to everyone and everything, sometimes we give less in order to refocus and reenergize. The passion needs to come from him not you.

Amy - posted on 05/16/2013

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Sorry I guess what I was getting at was I quit playing an instrument because I realized it wasn't what I originally thought it would be. I wasn't passionate about it, so I finished my obligations and found something I was really passionate about, horseback riding. My parents were hesitant to give it a try because I had shown the enthusiasm about starting something before and they found it quickly faded away. When someone finds something they truly enjoy whether be a sport, a job, a hobby it will never be a chore to do it.

Annette - posted on 05/15/2013

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Kelly, seems like he's doing an awful lot - maybe reading is not something that appeals to him, he may just have grown tired of it and needs to rekindle his love of books in his own time. Better just to give him slack to decide what he wants to do, he just sounds dispirited with everything. Just give him space and he will rally round.

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Amy - posted on 05/17/2013

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That's great Kelly! I think you'll have a lot of fun learning the guitar with him.

[deleted account]

Thanks ladies. J & I went on a long bike ride together yesterday after school and talked everything out. I don't think we've had a conversation like that in over a year, where he was open and not afraid to disagree with me. I thought a lot about what you both have written during that conversation and I think J & I have come to a compromise that will be good for him without burning the little guy out.

We're dropping guitar. J said he would love playing if I were playing with him--that's why he liked class so much, but not practice, because he gets to play with the other two students who are struggling just as much as he is. We decided to buy a guitar for me and learn together with a "Teach yourself" curriculum a friend of mine used a few years ago. He learned himself and taught his son at the same time, so if he can do it, I certainly can as well. Plus, as I said, I feel like I am missing out by not being well rounded and having these skills, so now's my chance :)

He seems to have found his reading motivation again. He may not reach his goal this quarter, but I will still be happy because I can tell that he is now putting forth his best effort and that we have him back on track. The rest of his subjects are on par with what I expect from him, he hasn't dropped back at all with those, but they do not require a lot of at home work like the reading does.

We're sticking with baseball simply because he loves it so much, tennis & golf will wait until he's older--that way I don't have to buy several sets of clubs as he grows, and tennis will be easier once he is bigger.

We're sticking with TKD only once a week for Demo Team and will decide in the Fall if he wants to continue working toward his 2nd Degree Black Belt, or just finish out the year with Demo Team and take a break. The thing is, he's been in TKD for 4 years, and I'm afraid that if he stops he'll forget all of what he's learned. I would hate for those 4 years to be wasted, so I really want him to stick with it at least once a week. Plus, his goal was to win a National Championship and he hasn't done that yet--he won State and Regional, but lost both Nationals. He got 2nd once, and I'm proud of him for that, but 2nd wasn't his goal so I think he should give it another try. He says he does still want to win a National, but he's not sure he wants to put in the work it requires to get there....so we'll see.

[deleted account]

He is 8 years old, he's in 2nd grade.

Amy, I kind of get what you are saying--it's okay if he wants to switch instruments, I don't mind buying him a new one, and I've made sure he knows that but he is not interested in anything besides the guitar (I actually wanted him to learn piano because that translates well to other instruments, but he wouldn't go for it...we don't have space for a piano either, so I guess that's good).
I don't understand not playing an instrument at all and wanting a horse instead though. I don't see how horse riding is related to music, it seems to me you should have done both...
That said, I like the idea of using a related reward to set a goal--you stuck with it for a year and earned a horse. Was it the prospect of achieving the goal of owning the horse that kept you going? If your parents had refused the deal, would you have continued taking the lessons anyway and worked toward owning your own horse on your own even if it meant you might be an adult before you got the horse?
Why did you choose not to pursue any musical education? What was lacking in that area that made you lose your passion? Did you ever pick up music again? If not, do you feel you are lacking something without music education as an adult, or do you still feel "full" because you know music is just not your thing?

I'm sorry, I hope that is not too many personal questions, it's just that you seem to have a very good insight to what my kid is going through. You know I had a crazy childhood--not bad, just....odd, I guess, so I don't have experiences like that to compare too--I know what I would do NOW, but like you said, I'm 30 and know the reality of the real world. I can't see it as a child because I don't have those memories.

[deleted account]

Thank you, Ladies. Dove, actually, I think that advice is what I needed to hear.

I've never put him in any activity he didn't ask for--he chose all of it. I think I fell short by letting him do too many at once. I didn't do extracurriculars as a kid, and I'm not well rounded now because of that, so I tend to let J do everything he asks to. Most sports are seasonal, but of course he chose two (gymnastics & TKD) that are year round. Perhaps I need to create our own seasons for those so that he gets a break? Would that help?

I don't allow quitting, I fear that if I let J quit, he will think it's okay to quit when something gets difficult or boring. If one decides to do something, we must finish. Of course, I'm an awful example since I didn't finish college--It's the only time in my life I've ever quit at something and I hate part of myself for it. If I let him quit the small stuff now, he might quit the big, important stuff later on. Then he'll hate part of himself too, and that would just be crushing.

I do believe we need to give everything we do our absolute all. I didn't mean to imply that 2nd was the worst that could happen--he got 3rd in one event, and didn't even place in another. If 2nd was the best he could do, I'd be immensely proud of him for earning 2nd, but I know he could have done better--I'm not disappointed in the placing, I'm disappointed at the lack of effort he put into his work--especially given that HE chose the activity.

I asked him yesterday if he wants to continue guitar or take a break until Fall, he said "yes," but when it was time to practice, he refused, so I told him that if he doesn't practice, he is not going to keep going to guitar.....of course he started practicing, but I am not going to fight with him anymore. If he is not going to practice and do his best, he's not going to classes.
That said, I do feel that music education is VERY important, so I am going to take him to the symphony's summer concert series. Perhaps learning ABOUT music will make him more interested in learning to play music? Is this too close to letting him quit? Do you think it's okay to let him quit music as long as we pick it up again later--he didn't really set any goals for it, so I can't really say "You've almost got it!" you know?

Baseball is almost over--all we have left are playoffs, and I doubt we'll play more than 3 games. He is still enthused about baseball and wants to play in the Fall, but I don't want it to take over his life. Should I sign him up for Fall Ball or tell him no?

We've already cut back to tkd only once a week--I can't cut that back any further without quitting altogether, which is not an option. He made a commitment to the Demo Team, so he needs to be a part of that until next March--it would be wrong to let him quit before then and leave them short a member, and it is wrong for him not to give them his best effort.

As for school, the removal of games did the trick. He read two chapter books and earned his points. He still has a ways to go, but he's back on track. I'm not going to stress about the Math. He met his goal for the year, he can work on future goals next school year......I feel like such a bad mom saying that though.

What do you think?

Tabitha - posted on 05/15/2013

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The only thing you can push him on is his school work, that non-negotiable. Extra-curricular activities are his choice, let him make that choice and i bet you will see a huge change in his school work. Pushing him to do something he doesn't want to do will only make him rebel.

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