As the Olympics kick into gear and dominate the sports scene over the coming weeks, we’ll get to repeatedly witness what sportscaster Jim McKay called “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” The competition itself makes for captivating television, and the climax of the competition is, of course, the thrill or the agony of the competitors.
That agony can be painful enough to watch when the person going through it is a stranger on TV. What do you do when your own child is the one hurting? She’s just lost her big swim meet. He’s just missed the penalty kick that could’ve won the game. What do you say when your child is discouraged, and a post-game snack ticket isn’t going to do the trick?
Here are some suggestions. Hopefully they’ll allow you to address the pain while also teaching the important lessons that painful experiences offer.
If you’re like me, the temptation after a tough loss will be to "look on the bright side."
Let your child cry, and even sulk. My husband and I actually teach our kids that during a game, they need to hold it together emotionally. When their team needs them, that’s a time to focus on the present moment. When they get upset during the game, we tell them to notice their emotions and then “put your feelings in your pocket,” where they can stay until the game is over.
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But after the game, tears should be acknowledged and welcomed. It’s not exactly groundbreaking science to say that unexpressed feelings can be problematic, both mentally and physically. So when the game ends, it becomes your job to hold your young athlete while he cries, and to comfort and soothe him. It really is crucial that we not only allow, but also encourage and teach our children to feel their feelings. Especially when things haven’t gone their way. That means we have to ...
Listen. If you’re like me, the temptation after a tough loss will be to “look on the bright side.” There’s nothing wrong with pointing out the positives in a situation, but first, let your child express her feelings. Long before you say something like, “Hey, at least you got to play goalie” or “Lots of kids don’t even make all-stars,” hear your child out. Let her tell you about her disappointment. Your job is to be present and respond primarily with nonverbal comfort, like hugs and empathetic facial expressions.