When the buzzer sounds to indicate the game is over, parents finish their conversations in the bleachers, slowly rising to greet their child on the court. “Great playing. Good game” come the chants from the winning side. And from the defeated team, parents encouragingly say, “You’ll get ‘em next time. Don’t worry about it.”
When you are the parent on that losing team, how often do you want to race over to your child with encouraging statements and hug them to take away their feeling of defeat? By assuming we know how our child feels, what their disappointment is, are we possibly creating a “false start”? How can we assume we know how our child is feeling based on the number on the scoreboard? Could a losing game signify more for your child? Sometimes the sense of loss goes beyond the boundaries of the court. Children experience many different kinds of losses and by assuming that your child is upset about the specific game, you may miss out on what the loss of the game is bringing up. Perhaps your child is reminded of the loss of a friend who moved away, or is feeling defeated by the bully in the playground rather than the loss by the opposing team. Maybe your child is feeling demoralized by a teacher, or feels the frustration and pain at not doing well at a particular subject in school.
When we as parents rush in to reassure, we run the risk of missing out on what may be really going on with our children. It may be quick for us, but in our expediency, we may be missing the mark. Here’s a personal example from beyond the court. Last summer I picked up my son after his seven weeks away at sleep-away camp. I had waited with anticipation for the day to come when I could reunite with him. I knew he had an awesome time, but I missed him. On the morning of pick up, I turned around to find him standing behind me. We had a moment where we just looked at each other. Then, we both started to cry. I hugged him, to tell him how much I missed him. He sobbed. The words from his mouth surprising me… he was sad to leave camp, his friends and counselors. I assumed the tears were for me, the joy of reunion, as mine were for him. A total mis-step!
Here are some pointers we can take to slow down the action in order to get a better read on what’s going on, before jumping in too quickly. These shooting points don’t just apply to court time, but can be generalized to all of our parenting moves.
Give it time:
Allow some time to go by before responding to the situation at hand. Take a deep breath. By letting your internal clock run down, even for a few moments, an emotional space can be created for both you and your child. Time can give your little player the chance to know what’s percolating inside, and hopefully expand the internal playing field by getting to know how he or she feels and thinks. Taking a breather before responding gives you the chance to refrain from superimposing your thoughts and feelings onto the situation.
Talk to yourself first:
Check in with yourself before rushing in to speak to your child. How are you feeling? Are you feeling anxious? Often we respond to our children the way we think we would feel in that situation. Our need to reassure our children and take away their pain may be confused with our own need to soothe ourselves from past and hidden hurts.
Learn from your kids by asking them questions. Ask them how they are feeling before answering the question for them. This way, you can figure out what they really need. Some kids just need to process their feelings on their own. Many do fine knowing you are just there and do well being around you, not necessarily talking it over. Or, you can let your child know you understand it’s tough to lose, to feel disappointed, and to miss out.
By holding off your own need to quickly reassure, while listening and learning from your child, you may both rebound together, more connected, from the agony of defeat.