Competitive individual and team sports are a ubiquitous part of childhood. The benefits are well understood, but sports participation can also present challenges for both kids and parents alike. Preparing your children with strategies for good mental game-play will help them navigate some of the emotional and social obstacles that may arise.
What Competitive Sports Can Teach Your Child To Foster Healthy Competition in Kids
There are many reasons to encourage your child’s participation in competitive sports. Other than the positive impact physical fitness can have on your child’s health, research highlights that additional key benefits from healthy competition in kids can include (Eime, Young, Harvey, Charity, & Payne, 2013; Hansen, Larson, & Dworkin, 2003):
Teaching children important team-building, problem solving and social participation skills.
Improved cognitive function and motor coordination.
Helping your child learn that healthy competition is a natural part of life and that effort can lead to success.
Improved general motivation and engagement in other activities.
Boosting self-esteem – there are many valuable lessons in both winning and losing.
Mood stabilisation – participation may help protect your child from experiencing low mood and depression.
Decreasing risky behaviour – sport provides a structured and supportive environment, as well as an outlet for expression.
Risks in Overdoing It
Undoubtedly, you want your child to succeed in life, and sport is no exception – but in your eagerness are you perhaps pushing your child too hard?
While engagement in competitive sport has its merits as outlined above, when young athletes overwhelmingly commit to a single sport year-round with next-to-no downtime, there can be considerable risks. Research suggests that putting too much pressure on a child and emphasising outcome-goals (winning) instead of process-goals (participation and personal bests) can have negative consequences. This can lead to (Brenner, 2007):
Burnout – Negative mental, physical and hormonal changes, can make children feel tired and disinterested. This can actually lead them to them perform worse in competition.
Overuse injuries – If a child is unable to adequately rest and recover due to the pressure of competition, they can injure a bone, tendon or muscle.
Loss of interest – Negative experiences early on can reduce the likelihood that your child will engage in future physical activity. Watch for phrases like “It’s not fun anymore!” and “I don’t care.”
How to Foster a Love of Healthy Competition in Kids
Whether you are a supportive parent or a sports coach, the following approaches can be used to help foster healthy competition in kids and give your little one a greater sense of well-being when engaging in sports.
Strategy #1: Modify Expectations
Expectations are normal in the realm of competitive sports (and of course you want your child to succeed), but rather than framing your expectations in terms of winning and losing, it is often more beneficial to frame sport participation as a form of leisure time or social engagement for your child. For example, use dialogue such as,
“You looked like you had a lot of fun playing soccer with the team today!”
Highlight personal bests and growth, rather than focusing on winning. For example,
“This week you swam to the flags. That’s longer than last time – great work!”
Emphasise the importance of your child following through with a commitment once it has been started. Statements such as,
“I am proud of you for playing your best all season!” are really encouraging.
Strategy #2: Visualise the Event
If your child gets nervous leading up to a game, mental exercises like visualisation can be really helpful. For example, if your child is running a race, have them imagine each stage – Walking up to your lane, bending down, taking deep breaths, pushing off the ground and quickly taking the lead, making sure to remember to breathe as you continue to charge through the race.
Tasks like these will help your child prepare for every aspect of the race or game ahead of time (Quirky Kid, 2018).
Strategy #3: Teach Your Child To Self-Check
One way to promote healthy competition in kids is to teaching your child to self-check is a two-part process.
First, check in on physical nerves. Having your child check in on their immediate physical state can help them identify and manage the physical symptoms of anxiety.
The second part of a self-check involves your child reflecting on their thoughts. Is there any self-doubt arising as the event/game gets closer? If yes, encourage your child to try replacing these unhelpful thoughts with more helpful thoughts.
Strategy #4: The Pep Talk
‘Pep talks’ are ubiquitous in competitive sport. Whether led by a captain or coach, these talks are often the last step before the event starts, meaning these words leave a lasting impression. You want to inspire the children and motivate them so they are ready to compete. Be careful, however – there is a fine line between pumping children up and placing unneeded pressure on them.
Recent research suggests that the best pep talks are those that follow a competence support approach (Fransen, Boen, Vansteenkiste, Mertens, & Vande Broek, 2017). Put simply, a pep talk should encourage your child to focus on improving their performance and reflecting on positive times already encountered in previous games, rather than thinking only of winning. Framing a pep talk in this way improves children’s sense of team unity and increases their intrinsic motivation (i.e. self-motivation) to compete – so be sure next time to give this approach a go.
If you notice your child experiencing negative emotions, which are persistent and detrimentally affecting your child’s ability not only to engage in competitive sport, but to effectively function in other areas of life, it may be indicative of a more serious, or potentially more pervasive issue. Here at Quirky Kid, we implement an award-winning program, Power Up!®, designed to enhance mental resilience and performance in young athletes. Should you have any concerns about your child, or are interested in helping them maximise their sporting potential in a healthy way, please don’t hesitate to contact our friendly reception on (02) 9362 9297.
Brenner, J. S., & Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (2007). Overuse injuries, overtraining and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. Paediatrics, 1199(6), doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-0887
Eime, R. M., Young, J. A., Harvey, J. T., Charity, M. J., & Payne, W. R. (2013). A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents: informing the development of a conceptual model of health through sport. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, 10(98). doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-10-98
Fransen, K., Boen, F., Vansteenkiste, M., Mertens, N., & Vande Broek, G. (2017). The power of competence support: The impact of coaches and athlete leaders on intrinsic motivation and performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 28(2). doi: 10.1111/sms.12950
Hansen, D. M., Larson, R. W., & Dworkin, J. B. (2003). What adolescents learn in organised youth activities: A survey of self-reported developmental experiences. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 13(1), 25-55. Doi: 10.1111/1532-7795.1301006
Quirky Kid (2018). Power Up! Retrieved from https://childpsychologist.com.au/service/workshops-info/power-up/
Welcome to the fifth episode of the Impressive podcast. Rachel Peachy, a design expert, entrepreneur, and co-owner of Racket Design Studio is here to share how it is like travelling with her partner, Paul Mosig, and their two kids while working on projects exploring playground culture and organising exhibitions for their work. Enjoy:
How to seek out family-friendly international gigs;
The pros and cons of hiring a babysitter while working abroad
A three-month stint of homeschooling away from home base
Join Dr Kimberley O’Brien on the Impressive Facebook Group to receive news, share your opinion and learn about resources for home and school. You can also Join the Mail List.
Impressive is a weekly podcast that sheds a new light on the world of parenting. Join host, Dr Kimberley O’Brien PhD, as she delves into real-life parenting issues with CEOs, global ex-pats, entrepreneurs, celebrities, travellers and other hand-picked parents.
In an approachable on-air consultation style, she listens to some of the smartest, kindest parents share their latest parenting challenge with their incredible kids. Together they brainstorm solutions and Kimberley offer handy tips and valuable resources to help bring out the best in toddlers, teens and in-betweens. Drawing mostly on two decades of experience as a child psychologist, Kimberley also shares her personal insights as a mother of two and entrepreneur with a passion for problem-solving.
Are you constantly asking your child to tidy their room, to put away their washing, or to help clean the car? You’re not alone! Getting kids to complete the chores is hardwork. Here at the Quirky Kid Clinic, we’re familiar with the frustration of parents who regularly ask: how can I get my child to help more around the house?
As children move through their developmental stages, involvement in domestic duties can be challenging in various ways. Research suggests, however, that your perseverance in engaging kids in household chores may yield considerable benefits for them. Your child/ren will gain a sense of responsibility, basic life skills and team-building experiences (Coppens et al., 2014). The less you do for them, the more they will learn.
The following article will discuss some of the common challenges faced by parents when encouraging their children to be involved in chores, some suggestions for how to overcome these, and the considerable benefits that children and families can experience from working together.
#1 Build up your child’s skills
As parents, we need to remember that we’ve had a lot of practise when it comes to particular chores, and over time we have refined our understanding of what is required for each task. If your child is struggling to start or complete a chore, you may consider: is there a skill deficit here? If you think there may be, allow some time to support your child in building their fine and gross motor skills, or their organisational skills in relation to the task.
One simple way to build new skills is to break a task down into easily-manageable steps, and assess whether your child is actually capable of performing the task. Pair each step with praise and parental attention. If a child is struggling with how to do the task, try teaching the skill in a practical way with visual guides, role-modelling, prompting and sometimes physical guidance.
Lancy et al. (2010) explains that a key way children learn is by first observing others, building their skill repertoire in this way. Provide opportunities for your child to observe you completing tasks. As your kids start to show interest, actively encourage them to join in at a developmentally appropriate level. For example, if you are folding the washing, your child may take charge of finding matching pairs of socks or picking out the clothes that belong to them and sorting these into an organised pile. Eventually, they will acquire the skill to also fold them. During these activities, remember to praise and reward your child with attention, to show them how much you appreciate their contribution to the shared task.
#2 Adopt a team approach and foster family cohesiveness
Let’s face it, many adults don’t enjoy doing chores. However, we often enjoy it more when doing them with someone else. Coppens et al. (2014) describe the concept of “learning by observation and pitching in (LOPI ).” LOPI increases the child’s collaborative initiative by feeling part of a shared purpose. The earlier a child can be encouraged to participate in the household activities or chores, the more likely the child is going to willingly participate and be interested in contributing to the family activities long-term. Children as young as 2-3 years old are able to help when given the right task!
By encouraging an environment of shared purpose and teamwork, children learn that chores are part of being in the family unit and they are a shared responsibility for all family members. Hold regular family meetings to discuss fun activities you can engage in together, and plan for team chores to be completed just before an exciting family event. For example, if the children are excited about a day out at the beach with ice-creams and surfing, ensure that before the beach day starts, everyone has tidied their rooms and sorted their washing for the week. Children will be less likely to express resistance to chores if completing a job signals transition into fun activities.
Completing chores as a family, particularly when children are younger, helps the child to share in a sense of accomplishment and unity as a family. This is especially important if a child’s skill level requires support, in which case chores may be broken down into small tasks relevant to the child’s developmental age. For example, when cleaning the bathroom, the youngest child could wipe the vanity benchtop and check the toilet paper is well stocked, an older child might scrub the bath, while the parent cleans the toilet. Setting a time limit and making a game of the task, or making up a silly song together while you’re cleaning may also help support comradery.
#3 Understand and develop your child’s motivation
The behaviours of toddlers are motivated and reinforced by parental praise, affection, attention and anticipatory games such as peek-a-boo, tickles and chasing games. In most cases, simply joining in with their parents during household activities is deemed fun by a young child, and the positive responsiveness of the parent to the child’s participation will ensure that the child continues to want to join in.
To successfully engage young children, parents should provide encouragement, minimal teaching, and allow the child to freely explore the task. Doing so helps the child to develop a sense of accomplishment, whilst utilising their ‘intrinsic motivation’ skills. Areepattamannil et al. (2011) describe ‘intrinsic motivation’ as the child’s internal satisfaction with a task, without reliance on external factors. If a parent tries to “take over” and show the child what they are doing wrong, the child is more likely to view the interaction as less fun or rewarding, and they will be less likely to willingly join the parent in such tasks again in future.
Support participation from young children by praising the child’s effort, rather than the success of the task. As the child increases their fine and gross motor skills, and their organisational skills, increase parental reinforcement around the outcome of the task.
For older children, competing priorities such as playing with their toys, devices, time with friends, interest in extracurricular activities and completing homework means extrinsic rewards are often required to promote continued participation in household chores. ‘Extrinsic rewards’ increase the motivation to do the task based on externally-regulated contingencies (Areepattamannil et al., 2011).
Provide extrinsic reward systems such as sticker charts or pocket money to show the child that by participating in the household chores they are working towards earning items of their choice. Ensure that the reward items are relative to the size of the chores, and continue to emphasise a team approach to chores involving all of the family. Tasks may be picked by the child based on their preferences and swapped within the family at times to ensure that all family members are role-modelling the duties. Fun approaches to chores may include a “chore of the week” that is turned into a game, has a larger reward attached to it, or is completed with a whole-family approach to include fun, laughter and togetherness.
Just like adults, children need to understand the task (what it is and why it is necessary) in order to want to engage with it. In the absence of a meaningful purpose, the task can seem pointless to a child, and they are less likely to be motivated to complete it. For example,; to some children, making one’s bed seems like a waste of time, as the bed is simply messed up again at bedtime! Explaining a rationale to the child in relation to the chore will support their engagement and motivation. Ideas may include:
“We make our bed because it feels warmer when we get into it at night,” and
“it helps the room to stay organised and an organised room helps you to know where your favourite toys are,” or,
“wayward pets will be unable to make themselves cosy in your bedsheets.”
Encourage children to take ownership of tasks, inspire a sense of pride in the completion of chores and provide lots of positive reinforcement (praise and recognition) for completing the task. Taking a photo and sending it to Grandma from time to time, or printing out a photo and putting it up on the fridge as a “great work example” may encourage children to feel more positively about a task.
#4 Lead by example and reflect on experience
Parents’ expectations of their children and chores are guided by their own experiences. Take some time to think about what you were expected to contribute to the household as a child. Were you expected to participate in all of the chores around the home? Were you provided rewards for helping with the chores? Or did you actively try to avoid participating in chores, and manage to get out of helping around the house? Your own childhood experiences with chores will shape your expectations for your child and influence the ways in which you try to engage your child. If you had, or still have, a generally negative approach to domestic duties, take the opportunity to reframe your own thinking and consider your positive motivations for completing chores. Remember your positivity as a parent about the task will also support the child to see the task in a positive way. If you are dragging your heels and trying to avoid chores, your child will naturally adopt this same attitude.
Conversely, if you are frustrated by your child’s opposition to chores that you believe you didn’t express as a child, reflect on what motivated you. (Or check with your own parents to get their perspective on this!)
Lastly, the type of day you have had and the stress you may be under as a parent will affect your expectations for your child in relation to helping around the house. Remember to consider the type of day your child has had too, as they may be just as tired as you are and, depending on their age and school year, they may also be under considerable stress. As calm and positive parents, allowing yourself to accept the stresses in your day and the emotional thoughts in your head without battle or negativity will help you be present in the moment with your child (Coyne et al., 2009).
Generally if you:
Encourage your child to participate in the household chores from a young age;
Build up your expectations slowly in accordance with your child’s developmental skills;
Reward the chores with praise and attention for younger children and extrinsic reward systems for older children;
Allow children to choose their preferred chores;
Approach chores as ‘teamwork’ and ‘being part of the family collective’; and
Acknowledge stressful time periods in your child’s life when chores may need to be delayed you will have more success in encouraging your child to participate in household chores with motivation, engagement, effort, and with less resistance.
If you would like some help learning how to implement these strategies, please contact us on 9362 9297 to discuss the ways in which our team could assist.
For a unique approach to extrinsic rewards, try our Quirky Kid Tickets. Check them out here.
Areepattamannil, S., Freeman, J. G., & Klinger, D. A. (2011). Intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and academic achievement among Indian adolescents in Canada and India. Social Psychology of Education, 14(3), 427.
Coppens, A. D., Silva, K. G., Ruvalcaba, O., Alcalá, L., & López, A. (2014). Learning by Observing and Pitching In: Benefits and Processes of Expanding Repertoires. Human Development; Basel Vol. 57, 150-161.
Coyne, L., & Murrell, A. (2009). The joy of parenting: An acceptance and commitment therapy guide to effective parenting in the early years. New Harbinger Publications.
Lancy, D. F., Bock, J. C., & Gaskins, S. (Eds.). (2010). The anthropology of learning in childhood. Rowman & Littlefield.
Welcome to the fourth episode of Impressive. Doctor Kimberley chats with Amanda Berlin, a former corporate publicity strategist and currently helps business owners with her expertise on PR. In this on-air consultation, Amanda seeks advice on how to deal with the frustrations when her five-year-old daughter is having a meltdown when trying to learn new things. Enjoy:
Learning patience while encouraging kids
How co-parenting works in separate households
Decisions of a new mom when finding the business suitable for starting a new chapter in her life
Impressive is a weekly podcast that sheds a new light on the world of parenting. Join host, Dr Kimberley O’Brien PhD, as she delves into real-life parenting issues with CEOs, global ex-pats, entrepreneurs, celebrities, travellers and other hand-picked parents.
In an approachable on-air consultation style, she listens to some of the smartest, kindest parents share theit latest parenting challenge with their incredible kids. Together they brainstorm solutions and Kimberley offer handy tips and valuable resources to help bring out the best in toddlers, teens and in-betweens. Drawing mostly on two decades of experience as a child psychologist, Kimberley also shares her personal insights as mother of two and entrepreneur with a passion for problem-solving.
Feeling sad is normal but how can you know if your child’s sadness is indicative of a disorder? The following article discusses what childhood depression is, how it is diagnosed, and what to look out for if you have concerns for your child.
What is Childhood Depression?
Just as in adulthood, children experience a full range of emotions; from happiness and excitement to anger and sadness. According to a recent Australian government survey, 2.8% of children between 4-17 years met criteria for a major depressive disorder (Lawrence et al., 2015). Prevalence rates were higher in the 12-17 years age group, affecting more females than males (5.8% and 4.3% respectively; Lawrence et al., 2015).
Depression is a mood disorder characterised by periods of low mood for most of the day, most days for a period of two weeks (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). How it presents and the severity in which it is experienced varies from individual to individual. In children, depression can present itself more like irritability than typical sadness (Australian Government, 2018).
There is no exact way to predict who is more at risk of developing a depressive disorder. It is a likely combination of biological predisposition (i.e. the child tends to focus on the negatives of a situation) and life circumstances. In children, key social stressors focus on pivotal times of change, including family conflict, friendship trouble and difficulties at school (Siu, 2016).
How is Depression diagnosed?
Diagnoses can be made by psychologists and psychiatrists using clinical interviews and observations in context to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the International Classification of Diseases (DSM-5 and ICD-11 respectively; APA, 2013; World Health Organisation, 2018). Screening questionnaires like the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS; Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995), may be a useful tool to help discern whether an individual is experiencing clinical depression.
To be diagnosed, at least five of the following symptoms need to be observed over a minimum two week period. At least one of the symptoms is either depressed mood or loss of interest/pleasure (APA, 2013). Other symptoms include significant weight changes, sleeping difficulties, psychomotor agitation or slowing, fatigue, feeling worthless or guilty unnecessarily, reduced concentration, and/or thoughts of suicide. These symptoms need to be having a significant impact on different areas of your child’s life (e.g. socially, at school, at home).
Presentations will vary and an initial consultation between the child and psychologist and the parent would best determine whether they are expected to meet the criteria.
Early Signs to look out for
Identifying characteristics of depression in a child can be difficult. Concerns may arise due to the ‘absence’ of behaviours considered to be ‘normal’ development and the ‘presence’ of behaviours considered to be ‘abnormal’ development.Consider seeking help if your child is demonstrating the following behaviours (Australian Government, 2018):
Weight gain or loss
Difficulty sleeping (too much or little), nightmares
Saying negative comments about themselves or the world around them
e.g “I am not good at anything”
Feeling tired, lethargic. Hard to get your child motivated. E.g. ‘dragging their feet’
Trouble at school; with friendship groups or concentrating in class/grades slipping
Gives up easily, hopelessness e.g. “what is the point in trying, I won’t be able to do it”
Deliberate harm to self
No longer enjoying games or activities e.g. wanting to drop out of the soccer team. Avoids social interaction
Changes to eating
Sensitive to rejection or being told no
Poor memory forgets details or doesn’t seem to listen
Jumpy, cannot settle
Risk-taking behaviours particularly in adolescence e.g. drug taking
Following diagnosis, recommendations for treatment are provided and they are tailored to each unique needs. Typically, the most common treatment for depression involves a cognitive behavioural approach (Australian Psychological Society, 2018). In addition to working directly with the child, treatment considerations may include working with the parents/carers and family systems to provide strategies to assist at home.
Remember that your child will experience good days and bad days. If you are concerned your child may be depressed, talk to them, and check in on anything that may be troubling them. This can be difficult as they may not know how to verbally communicate the issue. Be supportive and remember, what you might be able to cope with, your child may be finding difficult.
Strategies for Parents
Whether you are worried about your child exhibiting some of the aforementioned childhood depression symptoms, or you are looking to help prevent the onset of childhood depressions symptoms, the following strategies may be used to support your child:
Keep your child active. Research indicates that children that participate in regular physical activity are more likely to exhibit fewer depressive symptoms in later years (Zahl, Steinsbekk, & Wichstrom, 2017).
Ensure a good diet. Changes to eating patterns is a key sign of depression (APA, 2013). Ensuring your child is well nourished with a balanced diet with limited refined sugar has been shown to foster better mental health in children (O’Neil et al., 2014).
Develop a good parent-child relationship. Parent rejection has been shown to have a strong relationship with childhood depression (McLeod, Weisz, & Wood, 2007). A parent that is actively involved in presents as interested and encouraging will help your child develop a healthy sense of self.
Social and emotional learning. Teaching your child to recognise different emotions and label them as they are being experienced can help them to better manage experiences of overwhelming emotion (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2008). It can also help your child to develop better social connections.
Whether your child has a formal diagnosis or not, you know your child best. Start intervention as soon as you suspect that your child’s mood is detrimentally affecting their daily functioning.
Here at The Quirky Kid Clinic, our experienced team of Psychologists are more than happy to meet with you to discuss any concerns you have in relation to your child’s development and behaviour.
We always start with a parent only consultation to ensure that we get a thorough understanding of your child’s developmental history and a sense of your families identity, history and cultural dynamics. From here we provide an individualised case plan dependent on your child and families needs.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Australian Government. (2018) Depression. Retrieved September 3rd, 2018, from https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/mental-health-matters/mental-health-difficulties/depression
Australian Psychological Society. (2018). Evidence-based interventions in the treatment of mental disorder: A review of the literature. Retrieved from https://www.psychology.org.au/About-Us/What-we-do/advocacy/Position-Papers-Discussion-Papers-and-Reviews/psychological-interventions-mental-disorders
Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing student’s social and emotional learning: a meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x.
Lawrence D., Johnson S., Hafekost J., Boterhoven De Haan K., Sawyer M., Ainley J., & Zubrick S. R. (2015). The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Canberra, Australia: Department of Health.
Lovibond, S. H., & Lovibond, P. F. (1995). Manual for the depression anxiety stress scales. Sydney: Psychology Foundation.
McLeod, B. D., Weisz, J. R., & Wood, J. J. (2007). Examining the association between parenting and childhood depression: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 27(8), 986-1003. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2007.03.001
O’Neil, A., Quirk, S. E., Housden, S., Brennan, S., L., Williams, L. J., Pasco, J. A., … Jacka, F. N. (2014). Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: A systematic review. American Journal of Public Health, 104(10), 31-42. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302110
Parenting Strategies (2018). Preventing depression and anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.parentingstrategies.net/depression/
Siu A. (2016). Screening for Depression in Children and Adolescents: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. Annals of Internal Medicine, 164(5), 360-366. doi: 10.7326/M15-2957
World Health Organisation (2018). International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision (ICD-11). Retrieved 21 August, 2018, from https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en
Zahl, T., Steinsbekk, S., & Wichstrom, L. (2017). Physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and symptoms of major depression in middle childhood. American Academy of Pediatrics, 139(2). doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-1711