By Fatima Kazee, mum to a professor, a super hero and a little princess. Part-time wife to a fanatical fisherman. She’s addicted to sneakers anything chocolatey & is an invaluable part of the Jozikids and Kznkids team.
One of the worst feelings in the world is seeing your child feel disappointed and sad at not winning or being chosen in a test or a race. This could very easily deter them from ever taking part in anything again if the disappointment is that deep. So what’s the best way to deal with it? Because at some level, watching your child in a race and seeing them not win is disappointing to you as a parent as well. Maybe you’re inclined to second guess those hours spent at extra mural practice or the money you spend on each child trying to improve them and it now seems all worthless.
Common sense and parenting coaches tell us to congratulate the child for trying. Saying things like ‘I’m so proud of you’, ‘you’re always a winner to me’, ‘you did your best and that’s what counts’. From personal experience these words aren’t always comforting even if followed by hugs and a big bowl of ice-cream. And at the same time, perhaps deep down you’re feeling like he didn’t perform to his full potential and he could have done better. Should you say that? Is it encouraging to say that or will it just break your child’s spirit even further and create a situation where he decides it’s better not to take part at all? The world is a cruel, cold one and competition is tough in more ways than one – we need to prepare our kids for possible disappointment and dealing with it healthily.
Does being the positive parent help in the broader context of preparing our kids for the real world? I think so and here’s my issue then. There’s a fine line between being a supportive parent and a parent who smothers their child in undue praise. If you’re being dishonest it will become apparent to your child at some point that he wasn’t as great as you made him out to be. He may also then perhaps never really put much effort into anything he does because he thinks that his mediocre attempt seemed wonderful to you. At that precise moment what we say is most important.
My son was selected to take part in the advanced swimming races at school. I was already impressed because those races are difficult and being selected means that the coach felt that he has what it takes to compete. During the practices and heats he did really well. Once first and a few times a close second or third. On the day of the gala though, he didn’t perform very well and he was visibly disappointed. Now anyone who’s read any of my other blog posts would know that I can be rather cynical and downright negative. So my first instinct was to say “C’mon, what was that?” Or “Really son, ducks swim faster than that!” (I’m kidding I’d never say that) Instead I told him how proud I was and that he did really well. And he seemed to feel better knowing that I was proud of him regardless of the outcome.
My disappointment could easily have shown but in my opinion what I said to him made the difference. And as inconsequential as it sounds those small moments of reaffirmation are the ones that condition your child to become what he will be one day. He will hopefully feel that he is good enough, that winning isn’t everything but that taking part, having fun and trying is part of learning and growing as an individual.