Showing your kids how to deal with the human element on a team
Most of us have kids who are involved in something: sports, dance, music, STEM, 4H, you name it. If you do, you know that there are all kinds of rewards and challenges lurking in these awesome programs. Specifically, challenges that can kill their confidence or boost their emotional toughness depending on how they choose to react and how you as the parent choose to respond to the situation. That’s right, your response can actually greatly influence how the situation in question will affect them.
Let’s take sports to start with. My kids are not really into sports, but I have a friend who has two very sporty kids. She has talked a lot about her daughter and son and their experience in soccer and baseball, respectively. Her daughter got into soccer because she liked the game. Of course, she wanted to contribute to the team and be considered a valuable player, but her skills were not quite up to the level of many of the other girls on the team. This started to discourage her, and she wondered if she should just quit and try something else. Her mom reminded her that many of the other girls on the team had been playing soccer since they were very little, so that had had more time and experience to get that good. She had only started playing that year, so the fact that she made the team at all was a huge testament to her natural ability. Even better, the other girls on the team didn’t treat her like an inferior player; they welcomed her on the team and considered her one of their own. Her mother was able to clearly show her the logical reasons why the others were better and laid out why her presence on the team was actually an acknowledgment of her raw talent.
Her son’s experience on the baseball team was a little rougher because people are flawed. He is not a from-childhood player but really wanted to be on a team (outside of school). He’s not competitive and isn’t in it for the win; he just wants to have fun and play the game. His mom tried to get him on a community baseball team but she found that they were so competitive that coaches would not spend much time helping him improve because his skills were too undeveloped to spend much time on. On top of all that, there was confusion about his registration status and he aged out on one team, so he had to register for another team, but they weren’t accepting any more players…it was a big hot mess that made her son feel a little dejected because all he wanted to do was play the game and have fun. Of course, her mama bear instinct came out and she started talking about calling coaches and marching down to this place and that place and make a big fuss to get her son onto a team. She knew she could be hot-headed when it comes to her cubs, so she asked her husband to help. Eventually, her son did make it onto a good team and had a lot of fun playing. The great thing about what this mom demonstrated to her son is that even if they both know he’s not a spectacular player, she will fight tooth and nail to get him onto a team so he can have that social interaction and fun with other tweens that he desperately needs (being an off-the-charts extrovert). She showed him multiple different things: tenacity, determination, perseverance, love, and above all that she cares about something he cares about, even something as trivial as community baseball.
While there is fun and great camaraderie on teams, there can also be blame, alienation, and hurt. My daughter is in a wonderful dance program that always puts on a huge show at the end of the school year. They have many different class levels and dance types, but somehow the director always manages to fit every class into an entire story. This year, they performed The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; every class contributed to moving the story along. My daughter’s hip hop dance included quite a few kids that were a couple years older than her and had either had a bit more hip hop experience or just natural talent. Near the end of their dance, they have to run in concentric circles in opposite directions around one of the main characters. On the first night’s performance, they miscalculated and there was a collision between my daughter and some other kids. Later on in the dressing room, my daughter overheard some of the kids talking about how it was her fault that they collided and were saying some other stuff that hurt her very much. She was in tears on the way home. When got to our house, I held her for a while in the backseat and just let her cry and let the hurt flow. I know the director personally and so I emailed her and told her what my daughter had shared, knowing she would not want that kind of team dynamic in her company. The dance teacher who leads that class had a little chat with the other kids. The next night the dance was amazing; everyone was right on with their moves and the concentric circles worked just as they were supposed to. As we were driving home that night, I told my daughter the dance looked amazing and asked her if everything had been worked out with the other kids. She told me they had apologized to her and they admitted it was actually their fault because they had gone in the wrong direction, and she forgave them no problem.
I have a mama bear instinct, but sometimes I have to squash that instinct a bit in the interests of raising children with a modicum of alligator skin when it comes to how others can make them feel. Sometimes I’ll get involved, but I always check my emotions before I do that. There have been many times when she has been sad about something someone said to her at school, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to march down to the school every time that happens and demand retribution for the offense. I counsel her that sometimes kids are mean; sometimes adults are mean. It’s something that never goes away and she must deal with on some level for the rest of her life. I will not always be there to help, so she needs to figure out how to handle it herself. That is what teams can do; they can teach life lessons through triumph or through pain. How we teach our kids to handle that is key. Be humble in your triumph; be willing to forgive when someone hurts you.
Tools: Model, Teach
Teams teach amazing lessons all the time. With my friend’s daughter, she learned that it’s okay to not be as good as the others; you can still be a valuable teammate and improve your skills by playing with others who are more skilled. With my friend’s son, he learned that sometimes you have to really work hard and not give up to get or be a part of something you really want. With my daughter, she learned that teams can sometimes be discouraging and hurtful, something that is just a part of life. Her classmates also taught her that even when someone’s words hurt you deeply, you can always hope that they apologize and make it right. Even if they don’t, mommy will be there to comfort her and help her move past those negative feelings. Any time more than one person is working together, there is potential for someone to be hurt by words or actions, but exposing our children to that possibility is essential to building up their emotional alligator skin so that when they are adults, they are able to climb the emotional mountain after having walked through the painful valley and come out stronger on the other side.