Once, before one of my sons' soccer game, I ran into my friend, Lauren, who was dropping off her son, Henry, for the same game. As Henry and my sons dashed off to practice, I told her, "I'll wait until you park, and we can walk over to the field together." She looked at me dejectedly. "I won't be staying to watch Henry's game," she said. "He told me in the car on the way over that he didn't want me to come anymore."
Henry was only eight, yet he had strong opinions about who could attend his games. I couldn't understand his reasons, and when I asked Lauren, she was as perplexed as I was. I started ticking off a list of possibilities for Lauren.
"You must be one of those moms who yell at him from the sideline," I said half-jokingly, knowing that kids are embarrassed by loud parents.
"No, that can't be the reason," she said. "I spend most of my time during the games knitting or chatting with other parents."
None of the other possible explanations for Henry's demand seemed to apply either.
Thinking that Henry might tell me why he felt the way he did, I volunteered to give him a ride home. Lauren agreed.
In the car after the game, Henry and my three boys were celebrating how well they had played. Henry was a bit sad that his mom hadn't been there to see him play goal, as he had recorded a shutout. I asked him why she had gone home. "Well, it's a long story," Henry said, "but I don't like her to see me play poorly. In my last game, I gave up five goals. My mom tried to tell me what I did wrong, and I didn't like it. She's never played soccer and doesn't even know the rules."
Kids, especially under twelve, are always seeking their parents' approval. Negative labels and generalizations and criticism can have a devastating emotional impact. If you critique your child's performance, she will interpret your anger, disapproval, and disappointment as meaning that you don't love her anymore-that your love is conditional.
Every child will have good games and bad games, so keep in mind a couple of points:
It is important to keep the bad times in perspective. After a loss, your child will most appreciate words of encouragement and a hug. Resist the temptation to hash out everything that went wrong right after the game or scrimmage on the way home in the car.
- Just like you after a hard day at work, kids just want to relax after a game or practice; it usually isn't the best time to talk to them. If you want to talk about the game, do it when your child isn't stressed or thinking about the game he just played. Children need to be given the space to process the experience on their own and then move on.