Guys, sports, and parenting series #5

Guys have tremendous power to be an influence for good in their kids’ lives.  To help us understand the skills we have, we’re going to talk sports.

Penalties happen.  False start, illegal procedure, clipping, and all sorts of other calls.   Sometimes for us as players the action is too intense to avoid an infraction.  Sometimes the refs catch it and sometimes they don’t, but when they catch it, they call it.

As players we like to yell, “No way, you didn’t see what the other guy did!”  Hopefully we yell it to ourselves or at the turf, because if we start yelling at the ref, another flag comes out.  If we start shoving and pushing, more flags come out and hopefully the cooler heads on the team will grab us, get in our face, and herd us toward the huddle or the bench.  If not, and fists start flying, we might get kicked out of the game, and the refs are not shy about doing that.

A great football player has extreme intensity and power, but it is always power and intensity under his control. This is how the best become and stay the best.  The player that loses his cool, loses his edge and often falls apart.  Keeping your cool and your head in the game is a key to playing sports that Coach taught us, and our kids desperately need us to pass on that lesson.

When does learning to keep your cool begin?  It begins in the first year of life.  Every day our kids are checking out our faces and our reactions to the world and they are literally downloading and learning how to react (Bornstein, 2012).  This is why chaotic homes – where we allow yelling, belittling, and intimidation – teach kids to yell, belittle, and intimidate without us ever giving them a lesson.

Just like football, things are going to go wrong in life.  Our boss is going to be a turkey, our car is going to get dinged, our spouse is going to snap at us, our kids are going to throw a fit.  No matter what happens, we need to keep our head in the game and keep our cool.  It’s tough on the football field and it’s tough at home, there is no getting around it.  If we hang in there and keep our cool on the football field, we increase our chances of winning the game, and if we demonstrate how we can hang in there at home, we increase our kids’ chances of winning in life.

Giving our kids these lessons of emotional control requires two things.  1)  We spend time with them.  There is no way for our kids to learn this if we are glued to the TV, playing video games, or gone.  We need to play with them, rough house with them, talk to them, eat meals with them, play board games with them, go on walks with them, and be a partner with our significant other in taking care of them.  2)  We need to keep our cool, and apologize when we don’t and make it right.  If we trash someone’s feelings or character, or bust something in anger, we need to man up and make it right.  Doing this will help us remember the next time not to blow up.  We literally need to be our own referee and let our spouse or friend be our referee as well.

It is amazing, but by the time our kids are only a few years old they have learned a ton about emotional responses (or not learned if we have allowed them to sit in front of a screen instead of playing with them).  There is no way a screen can teach our young kids the kind of emotional skills they need.  We need to shut off their screens and our screens and get down on the floor and play with them.

From the day that our kids are born, their brains are hungry to learn, and we are a better teacher than any game, or computer program, or TV show, or anything else.  Our time is what they need.  Make time for them!  Show your kids what Coach taught us:  no matter how tough the game gets, we keep our power and intensity under control.  Way to keep your cool, Coach!
Bornstein, M. H., Suwalsky, J. T. D., & Breakstone, D. A. (2012). Emotional Relationships between Mothers and Infants: Knowns, Unknowns, and Unknown Unknowns. Development and Psychopathology, 24(1), 113–123.


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