In our fast-moving world today, there is barely enough time to squeeze in a meal together, let alone time to work on the emotional development of your kids.
Yet, no matter how well you provide for their every need, if you neglect your child’s mental well-being then you are doing them a disservice in life. But, before I explain how you can find that precious time, you need to understand the following facts:
- Parents are the epicenter of their child’s world and creators of their environment.
- Children are born with certain inherent qualities or traits.
- A child’s environment influences how those qualities and traits will develop. In other words, how a child deals with what nature has given them, to the positive or negative, is directly impacted by their environment.
So, what is a parent to do in the midst of their busy lives? First, parents don’t necessarily have to “find the time” to nurture their child’s mental game.
Developing a mentally strong child will, for the most part, require parents to simply alter their current interactions with their child.
Let’s examine a few typical times you spend with your child:
- driving to and from activities
- at sporting events
- family time on weekends
- down-time before bed
Each of these times involves an enormous opportunity to foster a strong mental game. Know that when I talk about having a strong mental game, I am referring not just to sports but life overall.
Now these daily conversations involve three aspects:
I always tell parents to practice being empathetic.
Parents should put themselves in their kid’s shoes from the moment they wake up and be honest about what their child sees and hears.
Are they met with smiling happy faces or are they met with a barrage of to-dos and irritation? What do they see when from you they walk off the field, court or course? Again, are they met with a smile or admonishment?
If you can place yourself in your child’s shoes, you will begin to understand their environment from their perspective and hence, understand what they are trying to tell you in words. Understand that kids don’t always say what they mean. You will need to practice watching for other signs kids send through their actions.
Yes, I understand some of you might say, “I talk to my kid. So, I must be doing this right.” It’s not about talking, but more about what you say.
The words parents use, are more critical than most parents realize. I bet if you thought back to when you were younger you can easily remember a harsh criticism given by your mom, dad, or both. Things we say can impact a child’s view of themselves long into adulthood.
So, when you speak to your child use the following guide…
1) Use Growth-Minded Words
Growth-minded words focus on the processes of life not the outcome; the opportunity to learn and grow, not the win or the loss.
If the child plays poorly in a game, the focus should be on what they learned from that failure and how they will turn it around for next time, not on harshly criticizing them.
2) Keep All Critiques of Performance Specific to How They Played
For example, your basketball player refuses to pass the ball to his teammates—losing points for the team. Do you yell at him from the sidelines or after the game and give him some of your “tough love?”
No, but you do need to correct the behavior.
Keep your criticism specific, “I noticed during the game you weren’t passing to your teammates. In a team sport everyone has to work together in order to score.” Here you are not using harsh words, just specific facts to discuss about their performance.
3) Never Tie Your Love to Their Performance
Overly critical parenting focused on the child’s loss can derail their passion and ability to learn from their mistakes.
And overly positive praise in response to a win also sends the message that your love is tied to results. Keep all assessments or comments focused on something specific to the skills they demonstrated, as discussed above.
4) Stop Hovering and Over Protecting
The over-embellishing parent, who insists on making sure their child never has their feelings hurt, robs that child of learning from defeat or failure. Kids who are constantly praised in generalities such as, “You did so great!”, “You are the best player out there!” never get the benefit of learning specifics of what they did right or wrong.
And from my experience, these children develop a high-need for positive reinforcement, which will derail the development of grit—necessary for success.
5) Teach Children Through Showing or Demonstrating How You Handle Life
Remember our kids are watching us and our interactions with others all the time. How parents handle situations is a key teaching opportunity:
- Let your kids see you using growth-minded words when you talk to others; address your conflicts and failures with a growth-minded attitude.
- Let them see your passion for something and how you had to work hard to achieve a goal you had for yourself.
- Tell them stories about times you had to work at something you initially failed at.
Again, parents teach through their conversations and actions with their kids.
So, providing an environment that promotes them to thrive and succeed with a strong mental game doesn’t take more time, just you the parent, being more aware of what you say and do during the time you currently spend with them.
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Dr. Nick Molinaro has worked in the arena of performance psychology for over 30 years with middle-school aged children through professional and Olympic athletes in all sports. His client list includes athletes and players from the PGA and LPGA Tours, NASCAR, NBA, NFL, AFL, CFL, Olympic Gold and Silver Medalists, members of the US Ski and Gymnastic Teams, 2016 Ice Skating and X-Games.
To Learn more on nurturing your child’s mental game, read Dr. Nick’s new book, Beyond The Scoreboard: Learn It Through Youth Sports, Carry It Through Life.