How to raise kids who don’t quit

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Piano duet at a yearly recital.

In an article called “My mom’s one sports rule? No quitting,” by Samantha K. Smith on espnW.com, I remembered the t-shirts one of my all-time favorite swim dads came up with for the Piranha Swim Team, “Winners never quit, Quitters never win.” We wore those shirts with pride for years.

From the article:

“When it came to giving her children unsolicited sports advice, our mother got a lot of flack from her five kids who knew her experience was limited. The one and only story she told of her high school cheerleading days was about how the front of her skirt was longer than the back because the girl who’d previously worn it was pregnant. So we often went to Dad for help with our free throw or pitching form; we went to Mom for rides to practice, trips to the mall for new sneakers, and to locate the water bottle stash. Our mother worked late nights at the YMCA for our discounted memberships and paid our uniform and league fees without question each season. But she had one strict, abiding rule when it came to signing up for a new sport: There was no quitting.

“This was why I had new, never-worn softball gear hanging in my closet for the duration of high school. I’d ordered the uniform but remembered Mom’s tenet: If I was unsure whether I could make the full commitment, I shouldn’t officially sign on to the team.

“Now I walk into the basketball gymnasiums of my childhood and see parents storming off with their children after a bad referee call, or children quitting teams midseason because of playing time. In an age of helicopter parenting and participation trophies, my mother set out to teach us one of her most valuable lessons about commitment. If you make one, you see it through even if, and especially when, it’s not playing out favorably for you.”

I did let my son quit a few sports, but only because we had him overbooked with “if this is Tuesday it must be tennis” running from one end of the valley and back to get from piano lessons to the court. During a stressful rushing afternoon, I hit a curb, got a flat tire and realized that enough was enough. Eventually, we settled on a single sport and music. Our routine and life went swimmingly well from then on.

I interviewed the Anderson family for an article in SwimSwam magazine. The Andersons have three daughters, two are Olympic medalists and the youngest currently swims for a D1 university. The mom also had the same rule as the writer above. She said that each year she’d sign the girls up for swimming with the understanding that they were committing for the year. When the weather was no longer perfect sunny and warm and one of them asked to quit, she’d remind them that they had agreed for the year. When the new season started, it was once again warm and beautiful outside and her daughters would commit again.

There’s something to be said for sticking through it all—so long as the situation isn’t abusive or dangerous. A lot of life lessons can be learned when things aren’t perfect.

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Once we settled on one sport, things began to go swimmingly.

What is your rule for your kids and activities? Do you make them stick with it through the season? Did your parents have a “never quit” rule?

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What NOT to do as a sports parent

kat underIn a website called sheknows writer Marshall Bright has some tips for sports parents in Is Your Kid Starting a Sport? Here’s What NOT to Do:

Back-to-school season is also back-to-sports season. While there are summer leagues, many sports time their season to the school calendar. By entering a new grade, many kids may also qualify for a local league or sports team. But before you sign on the dotted line for another season of soccer or basketball, there’s one thing you should do first: Make sure your kid actually wants to participate.

This may seem obvious, but many parents want their children to (or assume their children will) participate in the same sports they loved as kids themselves. And parents of older kids may also just assume their child will stick with whatever sport they’ve already been playing — especially if they’ve been successful in it for a few years. Hopes of seeing your child play varsity, or at the college level, or even just sharing in a sport they love, can cloud what parents should really be focusing on: where your child will have the most fun.

Matt Thompson, the Branch Executive Director of the Gateway Region YMCA, has worked extensively with youth sports during his career with the organization. He has seen firsthand the benefits of sports, which include statistics that show active kids can score up to 40% higher on tests and are 15% more likely to go to college. He also sees statistics on how likely kids are to drop out of sports: most will quit by age 11.

“What’s most important to the kids is having fun,” he says. That means finding sports your kids will actually enjoy.

“One of the things parents tend to lean towards is looking at traditional sports like basketball, baseball, football, and soccer. A lot of our kids these days are very interested in other activities,” Thompson continues. He includes individual sports like swimming, martial arts, and gymnastics, as well as other physical activities like dance that might interest kids. If you allow your children to find activities that they enjoy, they’ll be less likely to drop out later.

If your child isn’t sure what they’ll like, see if there are ways you can explore different options together. Martial arts studios may offer a drop-in class before commitment, for example. That also may mean trying out a few sports for one season until you find the fit. If a child has been an enthusiastic soccer player for several seasons, it also may mean having an ongoing conversation if they’re feeling lukewarm about it suddenly. By making it an ongoing conversation, rather than letting them quit (or insisting they keep playing), you can hopefully support them in finding a better fit, rediscovering their original passion, or even deciding together that it’s time for a break.

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Early days at the pool.

I think this is good advice to make sure your kids are interested in the activity first — before making a huge commitment. I put my daughter in activities she despised — ballet and piano — and it of course didn’t work out! One day, the ballet teacher pulled me aside after several months and said, “I know she can do it, but she won’t. She just stands there and doesn’t move.”

I loved ballet and I was so surprised that my daughter didn’t love it too! In fact, as an adult, I took up ballet again taking four classes a week and even did a few shows. Our children are different human beings than us and will have their own interests. Give them a chance to try different things and perhaps a passion will take hold.

Our kids ended up in swimming after trying different activities. It was nice they both settled on swimming and we went full bore as a swim family. My son also liked his piano lessons and formed a band plus took lessons until he graduated from high school. He liked music more than swimming the last year or two and we didn’t see it. Or, he didn’t want to disappoint us because we were so invested in the aquatic life. I’d sign him up for swim meets and he’d be a no show because he had other activities going on. It should have been an obvious tell to me when he continually missed practice. We probably could have saved a lot of aggravation and money — if only we’d be honest with each other — or open to a talk that his interests had changed from second grade to a senior in high school!

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She didn’t want to be a ballerina. She wanted to swim!

What advice do you have for new sports parents?

 

What I love about being a swim mom

I wrote this the second year of my daughter’s college swim career. It’s fun to look back on how much I enjoyed age group swimming and all that goes into it. I’m looking forward to getting back in the pool myself — after my two-month ordeal with eye surgeries end. I’m almost there! In the meantime, I miss swimming and being a swim mom.

My daughter diving in for the 1000 free during a dual meet. Utes vs. USC.

My daughter diving in (with pointed toes) for the 1000 free during a dual meet. Utes vs. USC.

We went to my daughter’s first college dual meet of the season this weekend. I loved every minute of the meet, but even more, spending time with her. She invited several swim teammates out to dinner. It felt like the sprinkle of rain after a long drought—listening to them laugh and talk about their meet and practices.

I didn’t realize how much I miss the little daily things about being an age-group swim mom.

I miss the kids hanging out. So many personalities, so many different families, all bound together by one common goal. Swimming.

My son and swim team friends.

My son and swim team friends.

I have a fierce loyalty to our team and the couple times when factions of parents split off to form their own teams, I was shocked and hurt. It felt like losing members of my immediate family. I’d always wonder why? I never thought we had a bad experience—maybe at times less than perfect—but I guess that’s part of the reason I didn’t understand.

Good times were sitting together in the stands cheering for all our kids. Getting the new team t-shirts, sipping Starbucks on a chilly winter morning under the pop-up tents. Chatting and laughing with parents while we waited to see what the day’s meet would bring. I loved working with our parents and officials under the admin tent, in awards, or in the snack bar at our home meets.

The team cheer at an away meet.

The team cheer at an away meet.

I loved having kids over to the house to hang out between morning and afternoon practices during long hot summer days. I loved cooking eggs, bacon and sausage in bulk for a pack of hungry swimmers. I was amazed at how much they could eat as a group. I loved having the team over for painting t-shirts for a big meet.

Swim team girls painting t-shirts for a meet in our back yard with their coach.

Swim team girls painting t-shirts for a meet in our back yard with their coach.

I loved listening to the kids laughing about silly things that happened in practice and the goofy songs they played and sang to like “Funkytown  and the “Numa Numa Song.”

Most of all, l I loved seeing my kids smiling, laughing and enjoying their friendships. Throughout the years, my kids were surrounded by amazing kids, families and coaches. Just being in the background was a joy.

I miss those days.

Group photo on t-shirt painting day.

Group photo on t-shirt painting day.

My daughter receiving ribbons from her first coach.

My daughter receiving ribbons from her first coach.

At what age should kids start school?

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The big kids with their little sisters.

One of my school mom friends Jean and I would chat for a few minutes after dropping the big kids off (big as in Kindergartner.) We both had daughters who weren’t old enough for school and they loved to play together on the playground while we waited for morning assembly in the amphitheatre.

The school, St. Theresa’s, had a lovely tradition of welcoming parents to morning assembly, where each week a class was assigned the duty of reading Bible versus and announcements.

One day, while the youngers were on the swing sets, the kindergarten teacher asked us if we wanted our young girls to start school the next year.

“No!” I exclaimed. “She’s three!” My friend Jean concurred.

“I know they’re young,” the teacher said. “But I think they’re ready.”

Apparently our overly bright first-borns were making quite the convincing argument to start our second children early. But no. I wasn’t for that. It was around that time that another teacher cornered us on the playground because our darling little girls were heard using foul language! That’s a story for another day.

I read an interesting article today in the Washington Post about ‘Redshirting’ your kindergartner: Is it the right choice in the long run? This article by Lisa L. Lewis discuss the opposite approach. She talks about her own son, who she held back a year because he barely made the cut age wise and she didn’t think he was ready.

If all had gone according to plan, my son would have been one of the older kids in his grade throughout his school years. Even though he turned 5 by our state’s kindergarten cutoff date, we agreed with his preschool teachers’ assessment that he didn’t seem emotionally ready and “redshirted” him by delaying kindergarten for a year.

It worked well for a time, but by second grade, his teacher was regularly sending him next door to a third-grade classroom for math and reading. Just a few weeks into the school year, she told us he really should be in third grade.

I resisted. While the second-grade boys still had small traces of softness, the third-graders had none. Some were a head taller than my son. They wore Nikes, and he still wore Stride Rites. With his emotional immaturity and small-kid vulnerability, masked by a tart-tongued bravado, I worried he’d flounder socially with the older kids.

But he was already struggling, I had to admit, as I consoled him one afternoon during a fit of frustration. I asked if it was hard going to third grade. He said he wasn’t in third grade, or second grade, really, and he felt like he didn’t fit anywhere. He was crying, and it pained me that I’d inadvertently created a separate, lonely category for him, making him feel like an outsider in both classrooms.

As we learned, redshirting — even when done with the best of intentions and with input from educational professionals — may need to be reconsidered as your child develops.

The term “redshirting” originally referred to college athletes who sat out their first year to work on their skills without affecting their eligibility. The intent is similar for would-be kindergartners: By providing younger kids an extra year to develop physically, socially and emotionally, the expectation is that they’ll be better equipped to succeed.

Perhaps the most well-known arguments that support this come from Malcolm Gladwell, who devoted the entire first chapter of his 2008 book “Outliers” to the premise that being one of the oldest provides long-term advantages in school and beyond. In sports, just barely missing the cutoff date means you’re up to a year older than your teammates and likely more physically mature and coordinated. That increases the odds you’ll be a better athlete and thus given more opportunities, he argues, leading to what’s known as “accumulative advantage.” The same dynamic occurs in the classroom, he says.

More recently, a survey of data collected by Truven Health MarketScan Research Database between 2007 and 2015, which was published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that older kids are less likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder than their youngest kindergarten classmates.

That’s in keeping with the results of a 2018 report in Health Economics that Thomas S. Dee, a professor of education at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, co-authored, based on children in Denmark. He found that older kids were better at self-regulation than their youngest peers, who tended to be less attentive and had higher levels of hyperactivity. As Dee explained to me, the extra year “often gives children more extended exposure to play-based environments, [which are] really critical for children’s capacity to develop self-regulation.”

My daughter had several friends who were born the fall. Yes, they were young for their grade. The difference in their maturity was noticeable up until second grade. They didn’t seem to have impulse control or be able to sit still for long times. By third and fourth grade it all leveled out and I forgot they were younger. I think they would have been bored to tears if they had been in the grade behind.

As far as sports, I’ve heard of families holding their kids back to get an advantage. Fortunately in swimming that doesn’t work. You’re put in age groups according to your birthday, not your grade level. That’s one more thing why I like swimming. The age is the age and the time is the time. There’s nothing subjective about it.

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Swim team friends at the beach.

At what age do you think kids should start kindergarten? 

 

The Day I Almost Burned the House Down

I like to look back on what I was up to years ago during the same time of year. One way I do that is with the memories that pop up on Facebook. Another way to remember is by looking back on my blog. It was about three years ago that I decided to do a DIY project and refinish our kitchen counters! Seriously, did I have that much energy back then? I guess that was pre ski accident, major knee surgery and my current eye issues. The project didn’t go quite as planned. You can read more here:

 

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A burst of creativity.

A friend told me the other day, “You could do that yourself.”

I was asking her if she knew anyone who could refinish my butcher block countertops. I hadn’t thought about doing it myself for more than a fleeting moment. Could I? I watched a youtube and called her back.

“I think I could do it myself, but I don’t have the power sanders. I’d have to buy them and all the other stuff—and if I did that, I might as well hire someone else to do it.”

“I have sanders and I’ll loan them to you,” she replied.

That settled it. I decided to go for the first of about 20 trips to our local hardware store and start the process assembling things to begin stripping, sanding, staining and lacquering my kitchen counters. We have a small kitchen, so the project didn’t look too overwhelming–when I began.

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All finished!

It was more work than I expected, I admit. Many trips to the hardware store—“where everyone knows my name…” Yes, they were calling me by my first and last name after a few days and it reminded me of this song from Cheers:

“Where everybody knows your name
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
the troubles are all the same.
you wanna be where everybody knows your name…”

The problem started when I asked my husband for help. I nagged him into adding a second coat of stain one night after he came home from work. Bad idea. 

The next morning we woke up to a gooey mess. The first coat of stain apparently didn’t dry all the way, and the second coat didn’t soak in–and he didn’t know that you ‘brush it on against the grain and wipe it off with the grain.’

Thank goodness for Google. I found numerous youtubes and sites on how to fix it—or basically start over. I needed to find something called “mineral spirits” to wipe off the mess and then re-sand. My buddies at the hardware store informed me that mineral spirits are illegal in our area and they sold me some paint thinner.

In the garage, I had been practicing each step on an old nightstand of my husband’s grandmother. 

Here’s the biggest mistake I made in the process:

I tossed a pile of rags soaked with paint thinner on the old nightstand.

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The next day, I could smell a faint burning odor like a distant fire. I was done with my counters and I began to put away my supplies. I thought, I need to throw away those old rags. Lo and behold there were no rags! Instead was a pile of charcoal that reminded me of the “snakes” we’d get for 4th of July when I was a kid. Also, there was a long metal object on top, which I finally recognized as a large flathead screwdriver without a trace of its hard plastic handle. I had used it to open the can of stain. After I removed the black charcoal smoldering rags I poured water on the smoldering nightstand, which was by the way, directly under the dry rough wood of the garage.

I almost burnt the house down—by doing a simple DIY project. Who knew that rags soaked in paint thinner could combust? Not me.

My next project, after the kitchen counters, was to salvage the nightstand. After all, it had belonged to Granny. Except for a little lingering smell of charcoal, I think it’s a keeper.

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Have you taken on any DIY projects? How did they turn out?

Why boredom is good for kids

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My son came up with bug headbands for a birthday party made from pipe cleaners, styrofoam balls and lots of glue and glitter. The kids looked adorable. He also got to wear a birthday crown.

Do you remember being bored as a kid? I do. But it never lasted. I could go outside when we lived in town and go ask a neighbor to play. Or, I’d jump on my bike and ride around the block. We could run over to the house down the street that had an extra lot with a brown quarter horse named Snoopy. I’d climb on the fence to pet the white strip that ran down his nose. Most of the time I’d read, or play library and create library cards for all my books and arrange them by author on my bookshelves. Boredom just wasn’t a thing. Our mom was strict about TV and it wasn’t an option. She allowed two half-hour shows daily that she circled in the TV Guide — and they were usually on PBS.

These days, many kids never experience boredom because they lose themselves in a device like an iPhone or iPad. They don’t know what it’s like to have to use their imaginations and find something creative to do. I don’t think it’s helping them to be entertained externally all the time. I wrote about promoting a creative spirit in kids last week, here and here.

Without creativity and an imagination, our kids won’t be problem solvers or discover new ways of doing things. If your kids are bored, so what? It’s okay. Ignore the whining and let them figure it out.

 In the Sarasota Herald Tribune, parenting experts Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman wrote Allow your kids to embrace boredom

 Have you noticed that our generation of parents is terrified of letting our kids become bored? Their anxiety is what drives them to pack a boatload of amusement options when they leave the house.

A few years ago, a waiter at a restaurant in North Dakota told us about a trend in his community. One local mom had created a custom quilted bag for holding multiple tablets so that every member of the family could be distracted and amused while they waited for their meal. It was wildly popular, he said.

Not only is our society’s pervasive reliance on amusement killing conversation and opportunities to connect and build relationships, it’s also preempting opportunities for boredom. Boredom is important for building imagination, creativity and innovation in our kids. Of course we can’t force these things into our children but we can set up an environment that will support the journey.

When we allow our kids to grapple with boredom on their own, rather than providing for them structured activities or distractions and amusements, imagination and creativity may come to their rescue!

“It is possible for boredom to deliver us to our best selves,” said author Nancy Blakey. “If we sit still long enough, we may hear the call behind boredom. With practice, we may have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.”

If we provide our kids with a constant stream of amusement options, which includes a plethora of extracurricular activities, we rob them of the opportunity to explore the open space in their own minds where the imagination hides.

They make a good point about having a structured schedule. With piano, swimming and homework, there wasn’t a lot of time for my kids to get bored during the school year. The summers gave us more hours for imaginative play. Also, swim meets when the kids would be sitting under a pop-up tent for hours on end resulted in some imaginative play. We’d be at a meet for five or six hours and they’d race for only a few minutes here and there. I remember observing some very creative verbal word games.

According to the article, the authors suggest having bins and jars filled with all sorts of things in easy reach for your kids like popsicle sticks, fabric, string, paints, googly eyes, papers of different colors and textures, glues, etc. Their suggestion:

Then let your kids get good and bored. Don’t offer many suggestions. Simply say, “Oh, there are lots of things you could do. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” It may take time but eventually their imaginations will awaken and lead them to new horizons.

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The bug headbands made an appearance at several birthdays.

What do you do when your kids are bored?

 

When should parents not say a word?

 

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My daughter swimming on her own during vacation.

I read a great article, “The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak,” in the Washington Post by Nancy Star:

Your child doesn’t have to play in the Super Bowl for you to know the feeling. Their team was supposed to win and then they didn’t. What do you do? Being the mother of two girls who played soccer and ran track, I thought I knew the answer: Talk it through. Tell them you love them. Say it’s just a game. Remind them there’s always a next time. Isn’t that what good parenting is all about? Keeping channels of communication open even in tough moments?

Turns out the answer is no. I learned this when I had a “don’t speak” moment.

I understand this all too well. After my kids would have a disappointing swim, I’d try to reassure them. I wanted to take away their hurt and make them feel better. Most often after I’d say, “That wasn’t so bad,” or “You have another swim ahead,” I’d be met with negativity and a statement like “I sucked!”

I’d get a barrage of negativity that would take me by surprise. I never figured out that by trying to protect them from their upset feelings, I wasn’t making it better for my kids, but was making them feel worse. They weren’t ready to talk about a bad swim with me and “hash and rehash,” as my daughter would say. I read in a David Benzel sports parenting book, “From Chump to Champ,” that we should wait for our kids to talk to us. We need to be there and listen. But, if we start the conversation first, even with the best intentions, they’ll probably pull away and stay quiet. They want to please us so much and may take any little thing we say personally, as though they’ve let us down. It’s best to be quiet and listen. They may surprise us and open up more than ever if we let them take the lead.

Here’s more from the Washington Post article with the mom watching her daughter’s varsity soccer team lose their final meet. She received advice from a dad, Peter, who had more experience with soccer parenting and she followed it.

“Their lead slipped to a tie toward the end of the second half. In the last minute of play there was a stumble, scrambling and a goal for the other team.

Parents supplied transportation for home games, so we waited while our daughters gave sullen high-fives to the winners and then huddled with their coach, listening as he shared his disappointment. When he was done they separated and, backpacks slung over shoulders, trudged across the field toward where we stood.

Watching their grim faces approach I wished a meteorologist were present to confirm my suspicion that 22 high school girls who’ve just lost a chance at a state title can change the atmosphere, collectively sucking the light out of the sky. Their fury was frightening.

But Peter had been through this before. “Don’t speak,” he said. As I started to turn my head he added, “Don’t look. Just walk. Go to your car. She’ll find you.”

I tried not to move my lips as I objected. “All I want to say is I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” he advised. “Don’t speak. Not until she talks to you.”

Because he had been through this before, I listened and walked to my car alone. I felt her before I saw her, walking silently beside me. Reassuring phrases immediately formed in my brain but, channeling Peter, I said nothing.

A moment later I noticed her teammates walking with their parents, mothers mostly, who offered words of consolation. “Are you okay?” and “You played well,” and “There’s always next time.” To me the words sounded gentle and kind.

The girls did not agree. “No,” they snapped, and “I sucked,” and “There won’t be a next time.”

By the time we reached the car, every daughter except mine was crying and the moms were, understandably, annoyed and lashing back. “Why are you yelling at me?” and “Being upset is no excuse for being rude.”

We were silent on the ride home, silent as I turned on to our street. It was when I pulled into the driveway that my daughter finally spoke. “That was such a bad game.”

I nodded.”

How do you handle your children’s athletic or academic disappointment?

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Cheering on a teammate at the PAC 12 Champs.