Should I make my kid take lessons even if he hates it?

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Paint Brushes

Kelly sent us a question about lessons: What if you sign your kiddo up… and he or she can’t stand it?

Last summer, I signed my eight-year-old son up for art classes. At first he really seemed to love them, but now he says they’re “boring” and wants to quit. I don’t want to force him to do something he’s not enjoying … but I also really want to cultivate his creativity and appreciation of the arts! Should I let him bail, or keep encouraging him?

I personally am all about this question — in our household, my husband is in the “make our kid take piano lessons even if he hates it” camp, while I am very defiantly part of the “let him do what he wants!” crowd. Both sides have validity: my husband maintains that Jasper will learn discipline and possibly a magnificent skill if he pursues music, but I am terrified of the idea of forcing Jasper to do something he doesn’t want to do.

What do you guys think: is it worth it to make your kid keep up with artistic endeavors even if he or she really doesn’t want to?

Comments on Should I make my kid take lessons even if he hates it?

  1. I’m sure this has been said, but in case it hasn’t…
    I haven’t been faced with this yet. But as an adult who was a try-something-for-5-minutes-then-quit-kid, I definitely wish my parents had made me stick with it.
    Will your son ever in his adult life regret those art lessons (or for me…piano, gymnastics, softball, soccer, swimming)? Definitely not. In fact, if they grow up like I did, they will so wish you had made them stick with it. They will be resentful at the time, but the talents will make them a better person and they will eventually thank you for it…as is parenting in general, no?

    • I disagree, it definitely is possible to regret being forced to do something when you wanted to quit. For example, maybe you start to develop negative associations with it and never want to do it again, even if you are talented. There are some great examples of this situation up thread!

      It’s never too late to learn a new talent, but it can be hard to undo past experiences of being forced to do something you didn’t like.

      In my case, for example, I hated playing volley ball, and kept it up anyway (this was my own decision, though, so it’s not a perfect example). Now I refuse to play any team sports because I had such a negative experience.

  2. So, I had to say that I hated taking Piano lessons when I was younger and my Grandmother made me do it. Well, I finally got old enough that my angst towards them was too much for her to beat down and so I stopped.
    Now at 25 i really really really really wish I hadnt been such a pill and continued on with the piano lessons. It may be because I am a singer and it’s hard to find an accompianst (man I cant spell) but It’s my big regret in life.

      • I just needed to reply to this, as it as been said several times throughout these comments. I am learning piano now as an adult, having learned another instrument as a child, and it isn’t impossible, but it is a LOT easier to learn something as a child. When I was ten, I had very few responsibilities and a ton of free time. As an adult, you (often) have less time to devote to something like this – just something to keep in mind.

        As to the original question, I think that there is a difference between boredom and dislike. As previous posters said, find out for sure which it is. If they really don’t like it, let them finish the session/season and try something different – if it is boredom, try to pinpoint the cause and come at it from a different way.

        • Personally, I took piano lessons as a child (but not long enough to become really good at it) and am now learning another instrument. I’m finding learning an instrument now much easier. As a child, I didn’t want to be learning to piano, so I practised as little as possible, and I hated it. My progress is actually MUCH faster this time around. It’s interesting that you and I have had opposite experiences in this regard!

          (Although maybe my situation is unique: I was super busy in high school and had a ton of homework. I actually have more free time now. At 10, like you, I had free time, but by the time I was 12 I had very little.)

          So, while I can see your point, I’m not sure it’s always true. It may be easier to learn something as a child, but in my opinion and experience, not wanting to learn something is the biggest barrier to learning it. I guess it really depends on the individual!

  3. I think it’s a delicate balance. My mom made me stick with things until the school year, season, class ended at least. That way I learned to follow through with commitments. After that we’d talk about why I wanted to quit. If I was truly miserable and didn’t like the activity I could drop it. If I didn’t like the teacher, felt frustrated, didn’t like the kids in the class we’d look at how to solve those problems.

  4. My partner and I have discussed this as we are TTC. We decided that we’d let the child chose what they want to try but that they have to give it a genuine go if they opt in. They won’t be allowed to quit until the session, unit, lessons (something predetermined) are over. So, let’s say our future child chooses to do volleyball in mid-school. Since that level doesn’t usually make cuts, she’d do it for the entire six weeks. If she doesn’t want to do it again, no worries.

  5. I think my parents had a good deal going for most of the time. We always had to finish out the year or season.

    I didn’t really quit or try much when I was small, simply because I much preferred reading and my parents realized that, like them, I was a pretty severe introvert so too many activities would be overwhelming.

    I quit soccer because team sports just aren’t my thing, but I had to wait until the year finished. I quit the community children’s choir because it was boring (the first year it was fun, but the second year they wouldn’t let me sing alto and all the music was the same – so sometimes it really is boredom) but I had to finish the year.

    My mom’s a piano teacher but she never forced piano on me which was quite beneficial. I started playing at 3, stopped when I was 6 and didn’t start again until I was 14. I love playing piano though. I play trombone as well and my mother forced me to go to lessons, just like the rest of my siblings. I tolerated this 5th-8th grade because I knew that I’d love marching band when I hit high school (yay for having older siblings)

    The thing I loved the most though was something my parents never had to force me to do – robotics. I was in FIRST Lego League and loved it, continued through high school in FRC, and I’m nearly a full-fledged mechanical engineer now!

    So, make them stick it out until the season/year/time period is over, but let them try new things. Don’t try to make your child an art or a music or a robotics person if they don’t want it. But, if there’s a progression, like in band, try to show them what the really fun stuff is so they know what they’ll miss out on if they quit. Just try to let them determine where they want to be.

  6. OK, I’m just going to speak from personal experience here. But I will start with this: keep your child in the lessons if he is showing an aptitude for art. (If he is perfectly average or less and hates it, let him quit).

    I wanted to take piano lessons as a child. At first I loved it. I showed a strong aptitude for music. I got bored. I didn’t like my teacher. I started hating lessons. I begged to quit. My grandmother insisted that I continue….AND that I practice daily whether I wanted to or not. Eventually, I came full circle. I still didn’t like the lessons, but I loved playing. I particularly started loving it when I found out people would pay me to pay at different events. I became incredibly grateful my family didn’t let me toss away talent because I went through an ornery phase. I eventually even studied music for a year at college before I realized that literature was my true passion. But, I still have great skills that I developed from years of study.

    I will say, that if my family had forced me into sticking with the lessons and I was never going to be more than a mediocre musician, it would have seemed like a waste of time.

  7. I think it’s important to finish the program, but then be able to try out something else if they want to.

  8. I always swore I would never make my kid keep up with any sport that he doesn’t like. But recently, he decided he wanted to quit karate. He’s been going for about seven months, and at first he loved it. Lately it’s been harder to get him to go. But when he gets there, he has a great time, and his instructor said he’s doing awesome. So I made a deal with him- he keeps going until the end of the school year, then we’ll talk about taking a break for the summer. Of course, two days after he wanted to quit, he got his orange belt, so he’s back to being excited again for now.

  9. Had to deal with this with my daughter recently. We’re looking for something for her to do this summer. Besides play that damn Nintendo DS. So, I went up to a Martial Arts school where a friend of mine took her kids (who are both significantly younger than mine) and signed her up for an intro and free class. The entire week before the appointment she kept saying that she didn’t want to do it. I kept saying “we’ll see how you feel after Wednesday.” Five minutes and one Avatar: The Last Airbender reference from the instructor into the lesson, she was doing her best to hide her smile. Now she’s bugging us for lessons and wants to know when she can go back.

    As a contrast, I paid for her to get guitar lessons when she was almost 6. She hated every minute of it. Every. Last. Minute. I learned more in that class than she did. She still has no desire to learn guitar (even though she asked for the guitar) so I don’t press the issue anymore.

    I’m in the “ignore their protests when you suggest it; and if they don’t like it after trying it, then listen” camp.

    In this particular case, he’s done it, for a year no less, and now he’s tired of it. That’s fine. Maybe he’s just bored of the classes, or the style of the art. He’s 8. Find him some books or classes that centered on manga style art. If he’s still not interested, then drop the issue and find out what else he’s interested in. I say this as a self-defined flake. I bounce from thing to thing like a crow in a mirror factory. And it’s not a passing interest at all. I want to learn about all the things that interest me (and those things range from knitting to auto repair). Let him drop the class. If he’s bored he won’t get anything out of it anyway.

  10. I think one factor is expense. If it’s an activity that requires parents to purchase expensive equipment, like a musical instrument, make a deal that the child has to stick it out for a set number of years. When I wanted to start learning flute in fifth grade, my parents told me that it was an expensive instrument and that learning an instrument can be hard at times, so I’d have to stick with it through eighth grade. I remember feeling very frustrated in sixth grade, but knew that quitting wasn’t an option. By eighth grade I loved it, and at 28 still play regularly. My four older siblings all quit their instruments during or after high school, and that was fine.

    That being said, I was allowed to quit gymnastics after a few months, and didn’t continue beyond one year of ballet. But I did ballet again in college for a year and loved it, and also learned piano as an adult. I did horse-back riding, too, until our family finances changed and I had to choose between that and flute.

  11. I’d like to pose a question to the original poster and everyone who has commented that it is important to make kids stick with things so that they learn follow-through or learn a valuable skill: if you signed up for a class and eventually found it to be boring or unpleasant, would you stick with it? And how would you feel if your partner said you needed to stick with it because of the money invested or so you would learn to follow through?

    I have stuck with some classes for a while because of the money or time I’d already invested, but man would I be frustrated if somebody told me I didn’t have the option to quit once I’d really had enough.

  12. My mother pushed all 3 of us (myself as the oldest and my 2 brothers who are 9 and 12 years younger than me) into piano lessons when we were young whether we wanted to do it or not. I hated it and so did the older of the two. But the youngest was a piano prodigy by age 13 and loves beethoven. You never know what might stick, but have a limit on how long you make him go for cause it took me years to get over the rebellious anger on being forced to do something I hated for so long.

  13. My plan with my kids is to give them a ton of taster session both in the arts and sports, fill an entire year with crazy fun doing things they’ve never done before. Then ask them to choose an art and a sport. It means that the one they really like they will know they have to stick at and be committed to for at least a decent length of time. But they will have made the conscious choice to go for that. I totally see the pros in discipline because I recognise that my attitude of often giving up halfway probably wasn’t helped by me being able to drop piano, kick boxing, etc. It was only when I forced myself past my own comfort level that I realised there was a huge benefit in learning to work hard for something and discipline of being able to set aside time each day to do practice/jobs etc. I’m learning gradually but I reeeally want to give my kids the knowledge of lots and the dedication to carry through something they love.

  14. When I was a child I was an extremely talented violinist. I mean REALLY talented. I loved the violin but I hated practicing. So to anyone who wasn’t me it looked like I hated playing the violin. I just lacked discipline. I went pretty far, played for movie soundtracks and played in large symphonies, and it was easy for me because I was talented. When I became a teenager and a more advanced violinist the learning curve was more steep. Since my mom had never made me do things when I didn’t want to, I did not know how to persevere through the difficulty. I ended up quitting and have never been able to really pick it up again. It hurts my heart in a huge way. That is not to say that it is my mother’s fault, that would be ridiculous. And in a lot of ways I am grateful that I didn’t have to do shit that I hated. But, it has been very difficult for me, as an adult, to live with that and to learn the habit in later life.
    I guess I would try to suss out whether your kid loves art, but would rather be playing, or if he really doesn’t like what he is doing. If he loves art, then I think he should keep going. You could find another class for him, or let him stay in the class he is in. If he really doesn’t like art at all, maybe there are other ways to incorporate art into his life. And hell, kids can do more than one thing at a time. So if he wants to do art and sports, there are inexpensive ways of doing both. Community colleges generally have kid’s classes that don’t cost too much.

  15. Alright, alright…. I’m not a parent, but I am a piano and guitar teacher so while I rarely put my two cents in on forums, I think I can offer something here. In my opinion, everyone should think really hard about why you are putting your child into lessons. In my line of work, I get a lot of students who stay with me for a long time, many of them have been taking lessons from me for almost ten years (since I started teaching as a teenager). And while these students ebb and flow in their discipline toward their instrument, what their parents have in common is that they value ART AS A CONSTANT IN THEIR CHILDREN’S LIVES. I often discuss with students how your relationship with your passions are like any other relationship you pursue (friends, lovers, sports, school, etc): sometimes you’re super excited to participate, and other times your interest wanes. Basically the task at hand is to discover whether or not it’s worth it to you to ride out the hard spots. Just like those other relationships.

    It IS important for kids to learn to persevere, because the harsh truth in life is that not everyone is privileged enough to hop in and out of responsibilities. So one way to pay respect for your opportunities and your talents is to really learn what it means to try your best, and I think that recent generations have gotten away from this idea some.

    Now obviously success is easier to achieve if you and your child’s teacher have a belief system and approach that is complimentary to one another. But be honest with yourself about whether you want your child to dabble in specific techniques or gain respect for a larger life concept.

  16. Stress is toxic! Though I don’t have proof, I believe that positive youth development is what helps you as an adult be able to follow through and finish things in a HEALTHY way. While you can train a kid to finish things, it can often be training them to respond to guilt or fear (whether it is fear of your disappointment or fear of failure or whatever). My parents so valued my accomplishments that I interpreted that to mean that my ONLY value was my accomplishments. Therefore, I was a stressed out perfectionist and made myself super unhealthy until I broke down. Now as I rebuild myself, I am learning to do things for reasons other than “My entire self-worth is dependent on me accomplishing this goal perfectly.” There are many roads, but I think if your kids gets lots of love, if you tell them their mistakes are ok, if you talk to them as much (or more)about their health and wellbeing as you do about “sticking to it”, I think they will be fine and able to make healthy decisions as an adult, not just accomplish things. 0h, and empower them to seek out activities where they feel super VALUED rather than activities that will make them into your vision of successful or what you wish you were (genius pianist or artistic prodigy or whatever). In that regard, the quality and tone of teacher or organization is more important than the activity.

    • PS: Probably should mention that positive youth development is a specific framework that I am referring to. It’s super awesome stuff to think about. I was trained by the guy who wrote the followig article, and I highly recommend anything by him (JT Fest). http://www.in4y.com/Online_Library/JTFest%20An%20Introduction%20to%20PYD.pdf
      Excerpt: PYD is grounded in decades of research into human resilience. Just as human beings are ‘hard wired’ with a will to survive, it is also our nature to overcome and grow from the challenges we face. Yet research indicates that there are environmental factors that tend to inhibit our ability to face and surmount challenges. These inhibiting environmental factors are called Risk Factors, and refer to such things as neglect, poverty, domestic violence, physical/sexual abuse, family separation and conflict, alcohol and drug use/abuse, school performance problems, etc.
      But another category of environmental factors tends to have the opposite effect, fostering and supporting innate resilience and enabling people to be more successful when dealing with their personal challenges. These fostering environmental factors are called Protective Factors and, where they exist, they are able to compensate for Risk Factors in a person’s environment and foster the innate resilience within each individual.
      Protective Factors is an area of PYD that may be presented in different ways depending on the source, but the lack of uniform presentation does not represent a lack of consistency between the sources. Regardless of how Protective Factors are presented, the presentations tend to be saying the same things in slightly different ways. The InterNetwork for Youth identifies 3 specific Protective Factors:

      Caring, Supportive Relationships

      High Expectations

      Meaningful Participation (sometimes referred to as “opportunities for” participation)

  17. While I’m not a Mama yet, I can say a little something about this situation.

    When I was four-years-old, my mother started me in piano lessons. She was a music teacher and really wanted her children to be involved with music, as it was her passion. I think every parent has that dream. An artist will love the day her daughter smears her first fingerpaints, and a tennis player will cherish the moment her son picks up a fluorescent ball. My mother tells me that I was an uncommonly disciplined child, and I started into full, half-hour lessons immediately.

    My younger sister was also put into piano lessons when she turned four. However, she didn’t have that same personality, so her lessons were regulated to fifteen minutes, much of which were spent arguing with her teacher. She proceeded to argue about everything related to the piano with my mother, even so far as to assert that this key was NOT middle C. (Though she always believed me when I told her.)

    What I’m trying to say is that at times, I resented my mother for forcing me to keep at piano. She nagged me to practice. And on weeks that I didn’t practice enough, my teachers were disappointed in me, and I was in turn disappointed with myself. Today, as I start to prepare to begin my own family, there is an upright piano in my apartment that my grandmother so graciously rescued from an elderly woman who couldn’t keep it.

    There were times that I felt forced. But today, I am nothing but grateful for what she did.

  18. When I was about 4 years old my mother signed me up for a dance class. I stuck with this for about 6 years and I became quite good. Then I was bored and wanted to give it up because I couldnt be bothered. I wish my mother forced me to keep doing it because although I have started again I have lost the skill and those years and the discipline I could have earned if I stuck to it. Good luck with your decision!

  19. I Have tried lots (I am 13)
    Karate – actually liked this but had no time maybe starting again
    Guitar – most hated thing I have Ever done
    Piano- I didn’t like this idk why but hated my teacher because she was used to teaching I think 6? Year olds but she had a sticker chart
    Things I haven’t quit
    Soccer – best sport ever
    Basketball – I like soccer better
    Singing – don’t have a teacher but I know everyone sings along with the radio and I’m excellent at remembering the lyrics I listen to a song once and know most of it
    Drums- against don’t have a teacher but my friend has some and we play them all the time
    I would ask my parents to get me a teacher for drums and singing but they would probably say no on account of my quitting piano and guitar

  20. I quit everything as a kid. Mostly, I think I didn’t have the patience or discipline for anything–when I started karate, I wanted to be a ninja RIGHT AWAY and quit right before I would have gotten my yellow belt. When I did ballet, I was awful but stuck through the recital, became friends with the best girl in the class, had her over to help me learn, won “most improved dancer,” and quit about two weeks into the next session because the class moved, the teacher changed, and it wasn’t as fun.

    If I’d stuck with karate a few more weeks, it would have gotten a lot more interesting again as I moved up a belt. If I’d explained that I specifically didn’t like my new ballet class, I’m sure we could have found a new studio for me. I feel like the biggest issue was, as other people have mentioned, not being able/willing to explain WHY I suddenly hated my activity. When I have kids, I hope to be able to talk to them, figure that out, and try to come up with a solution other than quitting.

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