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Mixing Up Your Feelings With Your Child's


On The Edge Of A Danger Zone

Joan sat at her kitchen table, tears dripping into her coffee cup. Her twelve-year-old son, Brad, hadn't been selected for the travel lacrosse team - again. "How awful for Brad," she thought. "I should do something. Everyone knows he's the Lasers' best defender; but, somehow, he never gets on the travel team. He'll be so disappointed." With this kind of thinking, Joan is on the edge of a common danger zone for parents of young athletes - confusing her feelings with her son's. She's poised to take up Brad's cause and go to battle.

It's easy to understand why. Parents see things through adult eyes. They know that rejection is painful for them, so they think it must affect their children in the same way. This assumption can arouse a powerful protective instinct, leading some parents to threaten coaches and league officials, interrogate other families for evidence of discrimination, and foster an image of their child as a victim. Unfortunately, such parental behavior can have disastrous effects on a young person: a loss of self-esteem, increased anxiety, and a mounting pressure to excel which can lead him to quit sports altogether.

A Major Disconnect

Let's take a closer look at what's going through Joan's mind:

  • "Brad will think he's a failure."

  • "I'm not a good-enough mother."

  • "The coaches don't like Brad."

What's in Brad's head can be quite different:

  • "I like the kids on my team; playing lacrosse is fun."

  • "I don't know if I'd like practicing every day and playing on Saturday and Sunday."

  • "My mom gets too upset about lacrosse."

Joan is engaged in a spiral of "negative thinking" - she's fixated on the worst interpretation of the facts. Her own self-esteem is threatened, and she's defensive. Brad isn't particularly bothered by not being selected. He is a little embarrassed by his mom. There's a major disconnect here - independent trains of thought, false assumptions, and no communication.

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