“The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak,” is a great article I read 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 had 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 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.
By telling them, “But you looked so good” you are expressing that you aren’t listening to how your child feels. If they are disappointed and we try to make them feel better, we end up making them believe their feelings aren’t valid or important to us.
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.”
How do you handle your children’s athletic or academic disappointment?