Why Kids Quit: The Stages of Engagement
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One of our most powerful explorations at Risky Kids, we identified the key stages of learning, motivation and engagement and how to respond to each.
If you’ve got a kid, you’ve heard it. “I’m bored”. Sometimes this is just when they’re sitting at home, but I’m sure you’ve probably heard it about a program both you and they have sunk time, energy and money into. But what’s really behind this? They loved it a few weeks back!
- There are many ways of learning, and things to learn, but the way we feel when we’re learning them are often the same,
- Treating each stage the same will often mean less resilience, not more, and more quitting, not less,
- The Novelty stage is where everything is new and motivation is easy and resilience isn’t really required,
- The Discipline stage is where it takes hard work to improve and young people begin to want to quit and give up, but resilience is truly built,
- The Intuition stage is where we begin to master our skills, our body and our mind and have developed real resilience,
The Learning Stages
Learning isn’t just a straight line. Both in terms of how we learn, but also how our mind and body develop. Risky Kids has built a powerful system of engaging with this.
- Our model is based off of motor mechanics learning,
- With it you can predict disengagement and respond,
- If your kid has ever quit something, you’ve seen it in action!
At Risky Kids we began applying a motor-mechanics model of learning to the emotional journey of a young person and found that they aligned incredibly well.
We became able to predict when young people would begin to disengage, and then built the tools to respond to those feelings both proactively and in the moment.
You’ll have seen this so many times before, when your young person is drawn to something new, is immediately engaged and enthusiastic, but several weeks or months later it’s a fight to get them there! Not to worry, we’ve got some powerful tools to help understand and engage with this.
Getting It Wrong Means Less Resilience
It’s critical that we learn both how to spot these different stages and the behaviours which go with them, and have the tools to respond to them.
- These ebbs and flows in motivation are precious opportunities to grow,
- Adversity often prompts us to opt out, with kids this means “I’m bored” language,
- Kids don’t have the self awareness or language in most cases to understand why, so we must guide them through,
If we don’t learn how to see these stages we run the danger of missing opportunities for real, meaningful growth. There’s also the chance we have the opposite effect, reducing resilience and increasing the likelihood of them quitting again in the future.
When young minds are faced with adversity, their default (and of most people) is to opt for the path of least resistance. Only once a reasonable amount of resilience is built will people begin to relish challenge. So when they’re struggling, they’ll report less enjoyment, or boredom.
Kids and young people rarely have the language or emotional self awareness to consider that these emotions they’re feeling aren’t the cause itself, but the result. This disengagement is typically from challenges being too easy, too hard, feeling confused or facing failure.
Stage 1 : Novelty and Newness
Everything’s exciting when it’s shiny and new. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if we begin to value that newness over the skill itself, we’ll never master anything.
- The Novelty Stage: Newness and big leaps in skill,
- Often accompanied by minor trepidation or fear,
- Easy to motivate during this stage,
The first stage when we’re learning is called the “Novelty” stage. This is characterised by a feeling of “newness”, where things challenge our mind and body often through the simple prospect of being unusual. This is something we often crave as people, varied stimuli. We typically see this stage last between 6 to 12 activations / classes / lessons.
It’s also accompanied often by large and relatively easy increases in ability to a foundational level. In part this is because we’re going from zero to our first steps, which can often feel like a huge step.
Whilst sometimes there’s a bit of fear of this new activity and way of doing things, unless we’re very risk averse we often adjust to this quickly. This is often the most exciting part of learning, starting something new, which is why it can become addictive.
It rarely takes much effort to encourage young people to be motivated during this time. If you find that even at this stage their reporting boredom and disengagement it could be that either they really aren’t interested, or more commonly that they’re not fully committing to trying it, often out of a fear of failure and discomfort.
Stage 2 : Discipline and Discomfort
This stage is the one where you’ll have to really go to work as a guide for your young person. This is where they’ll want to quit and find something shiny and new again.
- This stage has the most disengagement,
- Hard work is required for accomplishing small improvements,
- This is the most important step to work through where resilience is learned,
The second stage in the learning process is the Discipline stage, often characterised by increased discomfort. When your Risky Kids begin to step from Novelty to Discipline is where you’re most likely to experience challenges and disengagement. We typically see this stage last between 12 to 40 (or even more!) activations / classes / lessons.
This is because the once large increases in skill have begun to shrink, and take more and more effort to accomplish. The reality of how much work it will take to master these new skills begins to sink in, often unconsciously and our interest wanes at the prospect of all that effort!
Young people entering this stage, depending on their experiences up until this point, will find that the balance of challenge & discomfort up against affirmation and growth become skewed, and they begin to experience discomfort, or even worse, boredom as they disengage.
To put it simply, it’s at this step that true, deep resilience is learned. This is where young people learn about themselves and how to overcome the internal challenges. As parents and guardians we will so often make the mistake at this stage of wanting to give a young person what they’ve asked for, to stop. This is missing a huge opportunity though, because past this stage is where greatness lies.
Stage 3 : Intuition & Mastery
Our final stage of learning is where we’ve overcome the discipline stage, and our participation has become a matter of habit and a part of our personality.
- Achieved with intrinsic motivation and value,
- Our foundations of intuitive skill let us explore and develop true mastery,
- In this stage we are resilient and have learned what it takes to master a skill,
The Intuition stage is where the skills we’ve been learning begin to become unconscious and intuitive. This stage is only reached once a young person overcomes all the internal blocks, and participation becomes a matter of intrinsic value.
We’ve built up a foundation of ability in whatever this skill is, and that allows us to begin to explore higher and more complicated challenges and begin to master ourselves. Here we have real clarity on our abilities, our strengths and our weaknesses and the knowledge to develop and use them both.
Typically at this point if a person were to say that they were no longer interested in a pursuit I’d be inclined to believe them! They’ve earned the right and built up the appreciation and knowledge to make that decision. However, often you’ll find that at this stage we’re excited to continue to learn and dig deeper than ever before to build our skills and truly master them.
These three stages of learning: Novelty, Discipline and Intuition, each come with their own challenges and opportunities. With Novelty we have to ensure we don’t come to value newness over the skill itself, with Discipline we have the opportunity to help our young people better understand themselves and during the Intuition stage they master their skills and build the accompanying self confidence.
We must learn, as parents, guides and mentors, how to challenge them when they need to be challenged, mentor them when they need to be mentored and yes sometimes even make them go when they don’t want to!
Risky Kids Founder, Director of Programming
Richard Williams is a fitness industry consultant, gym owner, business coach and professional stunt actor with more than a decade of experience in the health and fitness industry. With an education in psychology and criminology, Richard blended life experience as a fitness industry consultant with Spartan Race, gym owner, elite-obstacle racer, ultra-runner and professional stunt actor to create the Risky Kids program.
Richard has a passion for enacting meaningful social change through all avenues of health and wellbeing and believes that obstacles are the way. Some of Richard’s key achievements include:
- Key consultant/coordinator Spartan Race/Tough Mudder/Extreme Endurance
- OCR World Championship Finalist – Team & Solo (2015)
- OCR World Championship Silver Medallist – Team Endurance (2018)
- Professional film and television stunt performer for 15 years
Considered one of Australia’s foremost experts in the fields of fitness, wellbeing and behavioural science, Richard is frequently in demand as a guest speaker for relevant government and non-
government bodies and organisations. Speaking engagements centred on the success of the Risky Kids program, philosophy and approach have included:
- Expert speaker/panellist Sports & Camp; Recreation Victoria and Outdoors Victoria forums
- Closing expert speaker at the Australian Camps Association National Conference
- Expert speaker at the National Fitness Expo, FILEX