Written by Doctor G

When a Child Doesn’t Want to Go on a Family Outing

My ex-husband and his whole family are very into skiing. They take family trips to ski, and tend to be athletic and outdoorsy overall. My family is not. My son, age 6, takes after his father and loves to go skiing (and sledriding and biking and anything else). My 9 year old daughter, on the other hand, does not. She has complained every time her father has taken her skiing and says that she will not go again. My ex-husband really feels that she should have no choice in the matter–that she will grow to like it, and that even if she doesn’t, she will grow as a person from having been made to push through her fear and preference for indoor, cozier pursuits. Also, he really wants her to be a part of this family time. I agree with him and wish I’d been pushed to do things like this as a kid. However, it’s not our usual style to force her to do things. Plus, skiing is supposed to be enjoyable: does it make any sense at all to require it?

Sara, in PA

First of all, it’s so refreshing to hear a divorced-but-co-parenting Mom sound so much a part of a parenting team. This issue does not seem at all affected by your “ex” status.
It sounds like you and your daughter’s dad agree – getting your daughter out of her comfort zone for a week or two a year will build her character. That makes sense to me as well, though I can sure understand why your daughter doesn’t agree!
So, since both parents feel like she should learn this skill to some degree, the question is really how do you help her learn from this, and avoid as much resentment as possible.

Be clear.

Decide with your ex what your goals are for her and what she has to do. How many days a year is he talking about? Does she have to spend the entire vacation on the mountain? Can there be some trade off for in-the-lodge time? Lay out for her the advantages of giving in gracefully and the consequences for doing this with a bad attitude.

Be honest.

Explain to your daughter (together if you can) why you are making her do this. Don’t pretend she might be happy with your decision. Accept her certainty that no good can ever come of this! You can require it of her anyway. You’re the parents.

Be surprising!

Ask your ex to do three things:

  1. Focus on the love. It is out of love that he wants her to be a part of his family time. It is because of love that he wants to share this passion with her.
  2. Be appreciative of her time. When she does go skiing, don’t spend the time trying to convince her how much she really likes it, just express how happy is to have her there.
  3. Give her a huge gift. Nope, not an I Pad. He will make a major impact on her if he offers to learn an activity she loves and do it with her on a regular basis. Perhaps she wants to take martial arts with him, or learn hip hop dancing. This exchange will help her see how much he values her!

Learning a new skill, even if she never excels, builds her resilience. Being a part of her Dad’s family on outings will make her more likely to understand and meet responsibilities in the future. And having her Dad do something she chooses will help her feel respected.

Having parents who work together to raise her, even without living together, will do her more good than any other thing. Way to go!

Parents, do you ever force a child to do an activity they don’t like for the sake of family time?

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15 thoughts on “When a Child Doesn’t Want to Go on a Family Outing”

  1. I LOVE this advice. Especially the part about letting these outings include time in for her and trying to find activities that the family can do together but that the daughter would like. It might be easier for her to accept Dad’s idea of fun if he can accept her idea of fun.

    1. Tonya, I am so glad it is good timing for her. It is so much easier to see options when you’re not in the middle of the situation your self.

  2. This is such wise advice, and so important to keep in mind as my kids get bigger!

    {I’m so grateful for having you in my corner as I muddle through these bigger kid years!}

  3. I think it’s great advice, but not entirely applicable. I was forced to ski and skate as a child, and to do other sporty activities that I did not enjoy and was terrible at. If she’s tried it and doesn’t like it, to me, there’s nothing to gain from continuing. At least she’s willing to try, and it’s not quitting to not do it again. If she’s forced, it will sour her forever, and those family times will become negative experiences. Just my opinion, but gained from experience. Once I was allowed, I found other things to do when my family was skiing, and enjoyed other times with them.

    1. Mara, I understand your point. Certainly I (and presumably her parents!) don’t want her to be soured on sporty activities. But I imagine that her parents also feel the need to teach her some perseverance and sacrifice for the sake of her family – both important character traits to learn – and I really believe that being honest with her about the reasons they feel this is important can make all the difference. They can have good conversations about doing things we don’t like for other reasons, and why that effort is often useful.
      Thank you for bringing your experiences to the table – it is valuable to hear how this can go from an adult’s been-there perspective.

  4. Getting out of a comfort zone is one thing. Forcing an activity on a child because the parent love it, is another. You can’t force anyone to love something. How many parents avoid roller coasters their kids ride 20 times in a row? When should a parent have to back off and understand this activity is not something the child enjoys?

    “Sacrifice for the sake of her family” and “doing stuff things we don’t like” would be missing a birthday party to see a family member’s musical perform or sports game.

    What about the idea of maybe skiing is the father and son activity? When does the father get out of his comfort zone and do something the daughter likes?

    1. Amanda,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I completely agree, Dad should get out of his comfort zone and try something she likes, as I suggested with the “gift” idea – do something that she wants! There is no question that forcing an activity on a child without respect can breed resentment. That’s why I very much hope this family will talk to their daughter and find a middle ground that gets her out of her comfort zone at times, and well in it at others even on the same vacation.

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