As a parent on the sidelines, it can be challenging to watch your little competitor have a tough day on the field or in the gym, not to mention seeing them be the last one picked for a team. How can a parent help a child navigate the fallout from such a disappointing experience? Remember that these heart-wrenching moments for you can also be valuable life lessons for your kids, and read on for answers from local experts to the question:
|How should I handle it when my child is frustrated or upset after a particularly bad day with sports?
See advice from experts in the Suffolk County, Long Island, area:
"One of the great benefits of sports is learning to face failure and to persevere through adversity. Even the most successful athletes repeatedly fail. A hall of fame hitter will make an out 7 times out of 10 official at-bats. Michael Jordan missed more field goal attempts than he made, but that didn't keep him from taking the last shot ("I never made a shot I didn't take"). Thomas Edison experimented with thousands of filaments before finding one that could carry an electric current and produce a light bulb. He said he never failed - he just discovered thousands of things that didn't work! Our young people need to take risks, to fail, to persevere. These are character builders. They are the stepping stones on the road to success. And if along the way you find that others are better than you at this or that, perhaps you can learn a little humility, too. After all, you'll never meet a single person who's not better than you at something. This is not something to get discouraged about. It's what our high standard of living in an interdependent, free society is based on."
-Pastor Ronald Stelzer, basketball camp director, Our Savior New American School, Centereach, NY
"If your child is in a position to be someone who is not chosen first by a peer, remind them that there are a variety of reasons that could be behind it. Children tend to pick kids they know. They may also remember that someone is good at a particular sport, and overlook another child. Tell them: We all can't be first. Do your best, learn from those who are better, and be a good sport. Attitude is everything. Life is not fair, and learning how to deal with these issues at a young age can teach volumes."
-Cynthia Marsh, youth administrator, St. Patrick Youth Community, Smithtown, NY
"Everyone at some point fails at key times, like when a team is counting on you. Younger children recover quite quickly from these types disappointments - they might cry for a moment, but then they're wondering where they're going to go to get their ice cream! Around the age of 10 to 12, kids are really introduced to competition. It's important for parents to understand that kids aren't used to competition. It's a real rollercoaster ride.
Just because a child fails, it's not a bad thing. Parents should stress that the athletic process is one of persistence. There will always be failure. We can give specific advice on how to improve-the mechanics of a baseball swing, for instance - but it's more important for the child to realize that there's always another chance for success if someone is properly prepared. So often parents don't think to simply encourage practice. They realize that if their child takes an exam in school and fails, he needs to study more to improve. Well, it's the same thing with athletics. Practice makes better; it doesn't make perfect.
With parental involvement and encouragement, kids can reach great heights. Put your kids in the hands of coaches who are good role models and good people, who know how to deal with children at different ages. In my mind, that's more important than someone who knows the ins and outs of the game.
All kids mature at a different pace. I always tell kids that it's dangerous to be the best 12-year-old, because chances are you're not going to be best 17-year-old when you reach high school. Even some of the kids I coach who are 21 years of age struggle with failure. But we should always remember, and remind our kids, to keep perspective: It's just a game.
Parents must keep in mind that they can't control what happens on the field. Sometimes they feel powerless. But they can root for their kids and be supportive, which is great. Enjoy the process of watching your child compete. Enjoy traveling to the games with your child. Parents of kids who participate in sports generally spend more time with their kids than others do-and it's valuable, quality time. That time is worth pounds of gold. Enjoy it!"
-Bob Hirschfield, director, New York Baseball Academy, Old Westbury, NY
"First of all, listen. Provide some emotional support for the fact that she had a bad day. Try to compliment the child on sticking with it, giving it her best shot, even though it was difficult. Help the child keep the event in perspective by gently reminding her of more successful times she has had. If a child is the last to be picked, validate her disappointment: 'That must have been hard for you - I admired your courage in giving it all you had, even though your feelings were hurt.' Help her recall times in which things went better. Do not express disappointment in the child herself and do not place the burden of your own feelings as a parent on the child. When she is upset, it is not the time to problem-solve. Later on, if she begins to reflect on the game and talk about it, resist telling the child what she did wrong, and instead encourage her to problem-solve for herself. Ask him what she might change. Not 'I told you if you didn't keep your eye on second base that the other team would score!' Instead, 'How do you think you would change your strategy next time?' "
-Jane Albertson-Kelly, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, Child & Family Psychological Services, Smithtown
Do you have kids heading off to summer camp? Learn how to deal with the inevitable separation anxiety, and find other great advice from experts in your area at NYMetroParents.com/AskTheExperts.