Strike Outs, Air Balls, and Dropped Passes: How to Help Your Kids Fail Successfully

These days organized sports are everywhere you turn – especially if you are a parent. Citing a study by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, ESPN has reported that over 21 million kids between the ages of 6 and 17 participate in league sports.  That’s a huge number! And the actual number is probably much larger when you consider kids under the age of 6 and those participating in unreported leagues. Given those numbers, it’s a safe bet that your children participate, to some degree, in organized sports – and that’s great! What’s not great is that helpless, gut-wrenching feeling you get when your child buries his face in his glove after letting a ground ball roll between his legs, watches the third strike fly by, or kicks what could be the game winning field goal only to have the ball sail wide left by inches. Think about how you feel when you see this happen. Is your child going to feel 100 times worse? Is it going to phase your child at all? Failure is an inevitable part of any sport- it’s what you do with your child’s failure that matters.

Every child will react differently to failure. Knowing your child’s temperament is the first step to helping her fail successfully. Some kids step off the field after playing a terrible game and their only thought is “Should I get a purple or a blue snow-cone?” Others will harp over mistakes for days. Although it is important to let your child know that you’re there to support and encourage her (win or lose), a kid who takes failure really hard may need more than that.

If you really want your child to be successful both on and off the field, teach him how to fail in a positive way. This means channeling that failure in positive directions so that it is seen as motivation and feedback rather than as a source of shame and doubt. Even as adults, we know that the fear of failure can be paralyzing. If a child is obsessing over “not messing up” while she’s at the free throw line, her mind is in the wrong place. If your son stands at the plate worried about striking out, the chances are great that he will.

Many children involved in competitive sports place high expectations on themselves.  They daydream about hitting the game winning homerun, throwing the game winning touchdown, or dunking on their weary opponent. When children don’t actually meet their expectations, they come down hard on themselves and lose confidence pretty quickly. Sound familiar?? Teaching these kids to view failure in a different light can vastly improve their sense of self. After all, mistakes are just learning opportunities in disguise. Once your child learns to accept that mistakes happen even on good days and to great players, she will be more able to stay composed and “shake it off” without feeling beat up by the failure.

Healthy Marriage = Happy Kids

I have heard some very well-intentioned parents say that they want their primary focus to be on their children for the 18-ish years that their children will live in their home. Though I can identify with parents wanting to do their absolute best to love their children well, I disagree with this strategy. Instead, I believe that a primary focus on creating a healthy marriage is the cornerstone to helping our kids feel as happy and loved as possible.

When children grow up in a home with adults who model a healthy relationship based on love and respect, the children learn that there is safety and security within their family. The safety and security comes from knowing that their home base is built on a solid foundation. When Mom and Dad truly enjoy seeing one another and have frequent positive interactions, the children feel the love in the relationship. When children experience this love, commitment, companionship, and mutuality between their primary care-givers, it frees them from worry and allows them to concentrate on being children; playing, running, laughing, and learning.

It is important to keep in mind that a healthy marriage will include arguments and disagreements. Unless one marries their clone, marriages are made up of two very different people. Therefore, part of navigating a marriage includes being able to communicate about and resolve differences. In a healthy marriage these arguments are maneuvered in a way that honors each person involved. There is not always a “winner” or a “loser” in the disagreement. Sometimes a healthy couple can resolve a disagreement by agreeing to disagree, rather than finding a compromise or acquiescing. No matter what the resolution, the most important aspect is that each person feels heard, respected, and validated so that the fight doesn’t lead to injury or resentment within the couple. When your children witness a positive resolution to an argument, they are learning conflict resolution skills that will last a lifetime.

Tips for resolving marital conflict:

  • Learn to register specific complaints and requests (when X happened, I felt Y, I would prefer Z).
  • Conscious communication – Speaking the unarguable truth & listening generously.
  • Claim responsibility – “What can I learn from this?” and “What can I do about it?”
  • Validate your partner – Let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, do your best to see through their eyes.
  • Re-write your inner script – Replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimization with thoughts of appreciation and responsibility that are soothing and validating.
  • Shift to appreciation – Strive for 5 times as much positive feeling and interaction as negative.
  • Practice getting undefended – Allow your partner’s utterances to be what they really are (just thoughts and puffs of air) and let go of the stories that you are making up.
  • Focus on your marital friendship.
  • Continue to work on your relationship, ALWAYS!

(Information based on Gottman, John, 1999 The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work)

The best way to focus on expanding your children’s sense of safety and security is through focusing on the health of your marriage. Remember, we learn best though modeling; so do your best to be a healthy role model to your children. Cultivating a healthy marriage is a gift to our children that lasts significantly longer than the 18-ish years that they live in our homes!

The Family That Plays Together

For as long as I can remember I have loved rainy days. I grew up in a family that was always on the go and usually outside. So when all of the practices and activities were rained out, we went home to a giant bowl of popcorn to play Clue, Battleship, Connect Four, Uno, Life, and Monopoly. We sat in the den for hours with the television off talking, laughing, bonding, and playing a board game.

Board games can be a wonderful tool in promoting family unity. It’s amazing that when kids and teens get into the relaxed atmosphere surrounding the board game, they are able to open up and share so many aspects of their lives. As a family sits around a table and laughs together, the underlying message is, “I like you and I enjoy spending my time with you.” To me, this is the definition of quality time.

Board games may just look like fun and family bonding, but here are a few additional areas where board games can be educational.

Concentration and attention to details– Taking turns, following the flow of the game, and adhering to rules are skills that can carry-over into the classroom.

Strategic thinking– Many games require planning several moves ahead. This encourages a higher level of thinking and increases problem solving skills.

Creativity– Many games require drawing, acting and/or making up stories. These actions can have a positive impact on creative writing and abstract thought.

Good sportsmanship– Being able to win respectfully and lose gracefully is a skill that will stay with kids throughout adulthood.

Vocabulary and Spelling– Games like Balderdash and TriBond expand vocabulary. And, I am pretty sure that I learned how to spell the word “queue” while playing Scrabble.

This summer when it’s your turn throw the dice, know that what you are building is open communication, life long memories, and family unity. The family that plays together, stays together.

Gaining Compliance with Your Child

How do you keep your child from going “Mommy or Daddy deaf”?  Often, it can seem very difficult to get your child to pay attention to you, or to get them to do their daily chores, or to do their homework, or eat their vegetables.  The list seems infinite!  But not to worry… gaining compliance with your child is possible. Try some of these helpful strategies and you may just see an increase in the percentage of cooperative behavior in your household.

  1. Specific Commands – State specific, one-step, 10-words-or-less commands to the child.  For example, “Pick up your shoes now, please” or “go brush your teeth now.”
  2. Use Effective Warnings – After the child is non-compliant to a specific command, give him or her one warning.  For example, “If you don’t [do specific command], then you will [have specific consequence].”
  3. Use Natural/Logical Consequences – If the child doesn’t comply with the warning, give a consequence. The best consequences teach, rather than punish, the child.  For example, if the child leaves his/her bike in the driveway, then they lose their bike privileges for a specific time period.
  4. Reinforce Compliance – Offer praise or other forms of positive attention when the child complies with your command.
  5. Pick Your Battles – When trying to change several behaviors, do not ask the child to comply with too many new things simultaneously; choose those things that are most important and work with the child on those.
  6. Increase Positive Reinforcement – Pay attention to and reinforce neutral and positive on-going behavior.
  7. Don’t give in – Avoid allowing your child to get his/her way by escalating his/her aversive behavior.
  8. Ignore – Don’t pay attention to mild attention-seeking behavior (e.g. whining, pouting, etc.).
  9. ACT—DON’T YAK! – No need to threaten or yell.  Avoid escalating your behavior to get the child to comply.
  10. Stay cool.  Remember:  YOU DO NOT WIN A POWER STRUGGLE BY HAVING ONE.  Don’t get emotionally involved (angry, frustrated, etc.).

Remember that getting your child to be more cooperative may take some time.  Add in lots of love and a little patience, and you will have the key ingredients to make this a successful endeavor.

Choosing Life Without Regrets

There was a time in my career when I worked in a medical hospital with patients who were facing death.  Though people develop differing attitudes when they know that their death is imminent, many express feelings of regret.

In the hope of encouraging you to consider living life in ways to avoid these, here is what a lot of people say they regret.

1.  Choosing not to live their lives in ways that they really wanted, but how they were expected to live them.

These are the people who discovered their passions but did not pursue them.  They had dreams but never acted on them.  They let the opinions of others or culture dictate their decisions.  What they chose wasn’t necessarily bad, but wasn’t as fulfilling as what might have been.  Frequently their sadness at life’s end is around the pursuit of money and “things” instead of relationships and their own true preferences.

2.  Working much and living little.

They worked instead of being involved in the lives of their children, whether it was their sports involvements, recitals, plays, or even homework.  They didn’t spend enough time just enjoying the relationship and “playing” with their spouse.

They worked hard to create a “lifestyle” instead of making a living so they could savor life.  There seems to be a movement recently to simplify in order to satisfy.  It’s difficult in our “get all you can get” culture to choose to downsize lifestyle and enlarge living, but the needed perspective and painful regret appear when health is lost.  Then it is too late.  Some of the most painful statements start with “I wish I had/hadn’t…”  At the end, newer, bigger, better, and more don’t mean much.

3.  Fearing to break the silence and speak the truth.

People often express regret at not having had the courage to appropriately express their true feelings.  The usual result is thinking less of themselves for keeping quiet instead of being pleased with themselves for speaking their truth and running the risk of “upsetting someone else, hurting their feelings, avoiding conflict” or whatever excuse they used to support their fearful silence.

Over time, bottling negative feelings creates resentment and bitterness toward others AND toward the one whose voice is silent by choice.  Bottling the positive feelings leads to sadness from missed opportunities and relationships not beginning or being nourished.

Speaking your truth with courage can add to the depth of a healthy relationship or the end of an unhealthy one.  That’s seems like a win-win to me.

4.  Neglecting to maintain and to nurture valued friendships of old.

The usual reason given is simply choosing to be busy with things that are now seen (with the benefit of hindsight and impending death) as far less important than those wonderful, rewarding, and rare relationships.

Realizing that loving relationships are the most valuable commodity human beings can possess comes too late when you only have weeks or days to live.  If nurturing them over time and benefiting from them for years has been missed, they will also be missed as special support during those last days.

They will be missed, not because of preoccupation, but because of the absence of intending to pay attention to those we truly value.

5.  Failing to CHOOSE to be happy.

Huh?  Yes, happiness is a choice.  We can consciously choose to focus on being positive, using language “in our head” that gets us out of the rut of familiarity, frees us from unhealthy or unpleasurable behavioral patterns, overcomes our fear of change, relieves us of the weight of pretending to be satisfied with our lives, allows us to laugh more and be serious less, and encourages more smiles than looks of fatigue, boredom, and sadness.  We can do this consciously and intentionally.

If you don’t know what it would take for you to be successful at achieving this goal, give it some serious thought, talk about it with someone you love, go to a comedy club, rent a funny movie, or call a therapist.

Like Nike said, “Just do it!”, before it’s too late.