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Encourage Your Children


by Dr. Michael Simon

Of course you want to cheer for your player and root for your team, but .... did you know that what you say and how you say it can put pressure on those you are trying to encourage? Here are some tips and a few do's and don'ts when it comes to "cheering."

Butterflies. Sweaty palms. Increased heart rate. The 12-year-old player was experiencing classic signs of anxiety. I counseled him, then chatted with his dad.

"I bought him a martial-arts stretching machine," said the father. "While he stretches, I try to get him psyched for the next game. We're trying to get a jump-start on getting a college scholarship."

The son's pre-game jitters suddenly made sense to me. By pushing his son to become a superstar, the dad was causing him major stress.

It's natural for a parent to want to help children do well, and kids sometimes need a push. But there's a difference between gently pushing and excessively pushing a child. The difference is seen in the effect each approach has on the child. Gentle pushing gives kids confidence and courage. Excessive pushing can cause fear, anxiety, guilt, and even resentment.

When a child is staring with trepidation down a ski slope and the father says, "Come on, you're holding us up," he's intensifying the anxious feelings and likely making the child feel guilty for being cautious. But when the father says, "I see you're worried. I'm here to help," he's validating the child's feelings and making them feel safe. Here's some advice on how to make sure you're encouraging - not shoving - your child.

Focus on your child's needs Children don't play sports to bring their parents glory. If your child is at-bat and you're shouting, "We're counting on you! Don't disappoint us!" you're likely trying to satisfy your need for fulfillment. And you're putting responsibility for supplying that fulfillment on your child. Instead, say something like, "Just give it your best swing!" This gives your child the support he needs, so that he can learn, improve, and have fun. It also reaffirms your unconditional love for him.

Be sensitive You've spent a bundle on baseball equipment, but your child wants to quit. Rather than saying, "I've spent all this money on a quitter," try saying, "Give it a few more weeks so that you can get a taste of the sport ." (Of course, if your child is showing real signs of distress, talk things through immediately.)

Be positive Instead of running down the fence line to shout, "You're giving this game away!" stay seated, smile, and pump your fist as if to say, "Hey, we believe in you. You can do it!"

A parent should help his child cope with the stress of sports - not add to it.

Do you agree with the following statements?

  • Before every game, I make my child review strategies with me.
  • It's okay to give my child advice during competition.
  • I always let my child know if I feel he or she has choked away a game or match.
  • If I spend a lot of money on equipment, I expect my child to play the sport for a long time.
  • I do whatever it takes to get my kid on the top teams.

If you agree with any one of these statements, you may be pushing your child athlete too hard.

by Dr. Michael Simon is a sports psychologist and a consultant to Major League Baseball, the NHL, and the U.S. Tennis Association.

Sports Parents.Com


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