Is six an appropriate age to teach the importance of seeing things through to the end? My son wants to join karate which is very expensive, I don’t know if he will want to continue when the weather breaks and his friends are playing baseball. He got interested through a birthday party and had a trial period and seems to really like it. We can’t do both because I work second shift and we have two other young kids. We are trying to keep some balance in our lives and not become overwhelmed physically, emotionally and financially.
Six is certainly an age to have a conversation about seeing things through, and make a plan together. Decide what's an acceptable outcome for you, and talk to him about what is important to him.
I've had roughly the same kind of conversation with my six year old, who decided he wanted to play violin and take a ballet class instead of some other activities. This required a detailed conversation about how much practice time he'd put in and how much he'd stick with it; that conversation, adapted to your specifics, roughly is below.
Ultimately, though, remember that stick-to-it is important, but it's also important for kids to explore their surroundings and learn what they like. It's one thing to want to quit Karate because it's too much work; it's another to want to quit because it's just not what he thought it would be, and not interesting to him to justify putting in the work. Make sure you balance commitment with revisiting the decision in a reasonable amount of time - long enough that he's fully gotten an idea of whether it is "for him" or not, but not so long that you're having to drag him to class every week because it's really not his thing.
Jimmy, I hear you want to take Karate. Karate's a great way to learn about your body, to learn control, balance, and self-discipline. It's a lot more than just hitting and kicking!
Yeah, Mom, it was pretty fun too!
Well, I'm happy to sign you up for some classes. But let's talk about the future here some first. I think that to get the most out of Karate you're going to need some time in it, right? Do you think we can talk about how long you want to do Karate for?
I want to do it forever!
Do you remember when you were really into Buzz Lightyear last year?
Mom, that's baby stuff.
Well, sure, but you sure loved it for those six months. The question we have to figure out is, are you going to stay with Karate long enough to get something out of it? I don't think I want to sign you up if you're only going to do it a few months and then get bored.
Oh, no, it's so much fun - I'll never get bored!
Try to think of yourself in a few months, when Johnny and Alex are on the baseball team. You know we don't have the time to do two activities like this, right? If we sign up for Karate now, we can't sign up for Baseball in the spring.
That's fine, mom, I don't care. Karate is the best. Baseball is so boring. So much standing around.
Okay, then let's make a deal. I'll sign you up for Karate, and you promise to give it your best for the rest of the spring and summer at least. We can revisit this in the fall, and see if you still are loving it then, okay?
It's a deal, mom.
Yes, but...make a conscious decision about how you want to balance commitment and the ability to explore.
First, every child is different. But in my personal experience I discussed and enforced a certain amount of follow through with each of my three children when they were five and started getting small chores. They seemed to understand and while it took all of them many repetitions to get it to really sink in (my youngest is still working on it at 7), it seems to me that starting early helped.
However, each parent is also different and needs to decide what type of lessons they want to teach. I value exploration and experimentation and want to make sure my kids aren't afraid to try new things. I have taken pains to teach them that they need to follow through when they have a firm commitment and other people are counting on them. My kids all know there are consequences for not following through. When my son was young the kids soccer team he was in wouldn't have enough players to field a full team if he quite so he had to finish the season.
The flip side is that my kids also know they can try certain things without committing. My daughter is starting the kids class at the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school I attend starting Friday. She knows she is free to quit after giving it a fair try if she doesn't like it. My son had to finish out his soccer season because they needed to field a full team, but he was allowed to quite as soon as no one was counting on him. All of my children have seen their tastes in games change as they mature.
Forcing people to commit early can make children, or even older people, hesitant to try something new for fear of being locked in. And for some things, and I very much include Karate, it can take more than one session to determine whether you like it or not. In fact, for Karate specifically when I was young I tried more than one style of Karate as well as Tae Kwon Do before settling into Jiu Jitsu with the occassional Judo cross-training. I explored and experimented before "committing" and I'm glad I did. Even now, my commitment is a loose one where I plan to train Jiu Jitsu well into old age but I'm open to exploring other martial arts or to moving out of martial arts entirely if my life changes. Its a hobby and no one counts on me to do it so I don't want to be bound to it too tightly.