As engaged, loving parents, we all want to support our children and cheer for their successes. Unfortunately, in our super competitive world, cheering for your child can easily veer into movie villain territory. Slate Advice columnist Mallory Ortberg – aka “Dear Prudence” -- has a response she often gives her letterwriters. She asks, “Did what you said sound like something the villain in a Reese Witherspoon movie would say?” If yes, she says, you may want to re-examine your words and actions.
Support can become pressure and cheers can become too much. Suddenly you find yourself screaming and yelling at your child’s soccer game. On the other hand, helicopter parenting can result in an “everybody gets a trophy” mentality, which makes it harder for your child to learn how to handle things that don’t go their way.
So what is the best way to cheer for your child? Support comes in all shapes and sizes, and this advice applies to more than just sports. Your child needs your healthy support in every activity, from soccer to competitive rock, paper, scissors.
Supporting your kid in a healthy way
According to a study, cited by the Wall Street Journal, a majority of children and teens (7-14) are embarrassed when their parents yell or single them out with cheers. Even cheers that seem positive, like,”Come on Sally, you can do it!” can put spotlight on them and make your kid feel like you think they aren’t doing their best.
Following are two no-fail rules for successful, supporting cheering:
- First, the rush hour rule. When you are stuck in traffic, you have to go the same speed as the flow of traffic. You take care not to be the fastest or slowest car on the highway. Do the same with your volume while cheering. Take care to ensure you are not the loudest parent at the event.
- Second, the team-player rule. One of the reasons that your child is participating in this activity, whatever it may be, is to learn to be a good team player. So, you need to set an example by cheering for the whole team. Avoid singling your child out, and you’ll keep them (and the team) in good spirits (and avoid embarrassment).
Should everybody get a trophy?
A 2014 poll at Reason Magazine showed that 57% of Americans think that only winners should get trophies. Participation trophies spark debate across the country, as parents (and politicians) argue over whether giving everyone a trophy is the best way to support our kids or not.
However, research shows that all people, kids included, are more committed to activities we do out of passion rather than activities to pursue an external award. In other words, it’s usually the parents who care more about who gets the trophies than the kids.
Sports psychologist Jonathan Fader writes at Psychology Today that phrases like, “You’re a winner,” or “You’re a natural” can actually be toxic and keep kids from learning how to deal with losing. Focusing on winning as the result of innate talent confuses kids when things don’t go their way. Instead of deciding that they need to try harder, kids will often decide that they have somehow lost that innate talent. They’re no longer a “winner” or a “natural.” If you want to support your child and praise them for winning, focus on the process. Praise them for their effort, their resilience, or how much they practiced to do so well.
That “other” parent
If you are at an event with an out-of-control parent, you can help them calm down. Ask them, gently, why their child is signed up. Is it to win? Or is it to enjoy the activity and learn to be a team player? Remember though, you can only control your own actions. Talking to another parent may not result in them calming down, and can easily escalate. Be discerning about the best way to approach the situation.
The best way to support your child in any situation is to set a good example of fair play and good sportsmanship, on and off the field.
For hope and healing,
As the director of communications for Clarity Child Guidance Center, Mike shares the insights of children’s mental health experts, both inside and outside of Clarity CGC, who work with families looking for answers about their children’s mental health.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).