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/
Sexting, a name given for the creating and sharing of sexually explicit pictures or messages through mobile phones, the internet and other electronic devices, has become an increasingly recognised and concerning pastime of children.
It is estimated that in 2012, over 20% of teenagers engaged in sexting, with a higher prevalence reported among girls. In a survey carried out by a popular girls magazine in 2010, around 40% of girls reported that they had been asked to send sexually explicit photos of themselves, with the majority of girls complying, citing fears about disappointing or aggravating their male peers as reasons for engaging in sexting.
Along with the negative emotional consequences that often accompany sexting experiences, such as feelings of embarrassment, regret and anxiety, are also an increased vulnerability to being exposed to cyberbullying and more serious legal ramifications.
Current legislation states that the taking, sending, receiving or possessing of naked or semi-naked images of someone under the age of 18 years can lead to a child pornography charge and placement on the Sex Offenders Register. Australian law does not distinguish between sexting and more serious sexual crimes such as paedophilia and there are no minimum age requirements, such that a young person under 18 years can be charged and placed on the Register.
Sexting between consenting persons always carries the risk of being made more public and attracting cyberbullying attacks. For example, images may be passed through social networking sites without consent and attract derogatory, abusive and vicious attack. Cyberbullying can have a significant impact on young people, with the potential for reputations to be destroyed and for young people to experience social isolation and depression as a consequence.
Why do young people engage in sexting?
A common question among clinicians, teachers and parents is why do young people engage in sexting when the consequences for doing so seem so negative?
Some answers commonly given by our young clients are that they do not view semi naked and naked images as wrong or shameful, typically viewing these images as more of an expression of fun and flirtation. Developmentally, expressing oneself sexually in the teenage years is considered to be common and normal. With recent statistics showing us that around 78% of Australian students between Years 10 to 12 engage in some form of sexual activity, sexting appears to be one way our young people are expressing their sexuality.
Additionally, young people are seeing images of their role models engaging in sexting themselves (eg. sports celebrities), such that there is a culture of acceptance and a visible lack of understanding around the real consequences so often involved in sexting experiences.
This raises an interesting question as to what safe and secure ways can young people be expressing their sexuality without attaching shame, negativity and embarrassment to the experience?
Some positive ways parents can address sexting are:
Discuss the issue of consent with your young person: Saying “no” in the face of peer pressure is a difficult territory for young people to navigate. Help your child identify times in which they may be exposed to peer pressure (eg. parties) and what they can do to resist the peer pressure, such as seek out a helpful friend, make an excuse to exit the party, say “no” assertively.
Educate yourself: young people are typically very savvy with technology and it is up to parents to be vigilant and learn about new technologies and stay up to date with the latest trends. When young people have the privilege of having a phone or device from a young age, conditions must also be implemented to protect the young person’s safety, such as parental monitoring of the phone.
Educate young people: Discuss with your child the social, emotional and legal risks associated with sexting and the possible future consequences. Make a plan with your child rather than lecturing them, get them to come up with what is appropriate and discuss openly any times they have engaged in sexting and the reasons for doing so, such as being peer pressured. Overcome your embarrassment about talking to your kids about sex and how they can protect themselves and keep your emotions calm.
Help your young person to stop and assess: develop clear boundaries around what your young person can and can’t do on a device and help them develop a clear understanding of what they should do if taking a selfie and/or receiving a sexually inappropriate message. For example, wait and think before sending, assess whether the image could be inappropriate in any way, show a parent before sending or upon receiving an image that could be inappropriate.
Engage school support: Schools have a variety of supports that can be helpful when addressing sexting among young people. For example, schools often have access to a Police Liaison Officer, who can be engaged to discuss sexting and cyberbullying with the students and be involved in individual cases if need be. As cyberbullying frequently involves peers, schools can aid parents in addressing the problem if it arises.
Address things when they arise: be alert for any signs that your young person is engaging in or receiving sexually explicit images. Often parents hope that the issue will resolve itself, however, picking up early warning signs that your young person is engaging in sexting can lead to to far better outcomes. You may be prompted to open up communication with your child about sexting if they are being more secretive and defensive around their device, agitated after using their device, selective around what pictures they show you, withdrawing from friends and seeming depressed for example.
Balancing young people’s right to privacy and their right to safety is one of the many challenges parents face. Providing focused guidance and support around how young people can use their devices in a safe and responsible manner needs to be an ongoing conversation in our families.
Fisher, S., Sauter, A., Slobodniuk, L. & Young, C. (2012). Sexting in Australia: The Legal and Social Ramifications. Parliament of Victoria Law Reform Committee Sexting Inquiry.
Svantesson, D. (2010). ‘Sexting’ and The Law. How Australia Regulates Electronic Communication of Non-Professional Sexual Content, Bond Law Review, 22 (2), 1-17.
Crofts, T. & Lee, M. (2012). ‘Sexting’, Children and Child Pornography. Sydney Law Review, 35 (85), 85-106.
School can be both an exciting and a challenging experience. A young person’s experience of school is influenced by many factors, such as peer relationships, learning ability and family life. Problems in these areas can lead a young person to develop a negative experience of school. Actively avoiding school, either by not attending school or not staying at school for the duration of the day, is known as school refusal.
School refusal can occur at any time during a young person’s schooling, however it is more likely to occur during high school. An Australian study prepared by Youth Support Coordinators highlights the increased likelihood of school refusal during periods of transitions, such as the move from primary to high school or the move from one school to another (2009). Australian research suggests that up to 9% of school population may experience school refusal at some point in time (Withers, 2004).
There can be multiple factors contributing to school refusal among children. Two significant factors appear to be experiences of anxiety and bullying (Kearney, 2007). Anxiety often manifests as physical symptoms, such as headaches and nausea, which can make it difficult for parents to distinguish whether their child’s complaint is medical or psychological in nature. Seeking medical advice and monitoring the timing of physical complaints can help discern the nature of the complaints. Being bullied at school is also another major contributor to children becoming fearful of school and thus attempting to avoid school (The Monash School Refusal Program). Other common factors include:
Difficulty in peer relationships
Fear/difficulties with teachers
Transition to high school
Traumatic life event
Warning signs that may indicate school refusal
Some indicators that your child may be school refusing are:
Frequent and unexplained absences from school
Frequent lateness to school
Absences on significant days (e.g., days on which tests or specific classes are scheduled)
Frequent requests to go to sick bay
Frequent requests to call home or to go home during the day
In the home
Complaints of physical symptoms when getting reading for school, e.g. headaches
A reluctance or refusal to get dressed for school
Negative comments about school
A reluctance to talk openly about their experiences at school
What can parents and teachers do to support children experiencing school refusal?
It is important for parents and teachers to address the initial concern(s) of their child, while at the same time supporting them to maintain school attendance. Asking open questions and engaging young people in collaborative problem solving allows them the opportunity to express their feelings and feel listened to. Things that may be helpful in addressing school refusal in your child are:
Identify the issue: Gaining an understanding of why your child is anxious about school can help with problem solving and developing strategies around helping them back into school. For example, if you child is being bullied, then a collaborative approach with the school on how to manage the issue may be the first step. If your child is nervous about a transition, then working through their fears and worries and equipping them with skills to manage stressful changes may be more appropriate. Seeking guidance with a Psychologist can help to clarify the issue behind your child’s school refusal and help to put in place effective strategies to facilitate your child’s transition back into school.
Keep things calm and predictable: Keeping morning routines and school routines (such as classroom and playground routines) calm and predictable can help to minimise your child’s anxiety about attending school and can facilitate positive school-based experiences. Routines can include things that you know your child finds calming, such as taking a shower, drawing, walking to school and meeting their friends at the gate.
Keep an open dialogue: Be your child’s advocate and support and keep the dialogue and communication open with the school as to why your child is fearful about attending school and what your child needs at school to help them feel safe. Help your child identify which staff they would feel safe with involving to support them and check in with these staff members regularly. Also be open with your child on the importance of school attendance and what things they, the school and you as a parent can do to support them.
Develop a sense of school connectedness: Feeling like a valued and important member of the school community can develop a child’s sense of confidence and happiness at school. Ask your child’s teacher for ideas of how to foster your child’s interests and gifts at school and strengthen school-friendships by inviting friends to play after school and on weekends. Praise your child for their efforts in attending school and don’t let the small gains they make go unnoticed.
Set some goals: Confronting feared situations is never an easy task, however, setting small goals with your child can help them gain a sense of confidence and mastery over their anxiety. With your child and their support team (eg. teachers, friend, grandparents), set small achievable goals to help them get back into their schooling, such as going to school for the morning, having mum walk them in, sitting near the teacher. Help your child challenge and replace any unhelpful thoughts along the way (eg. “I hate school”) and look for more realistic, helpful thoughts based on their experiences (eg. “going to school in the morning was ok, I was able to see my best friend and read my favourite book”). Reward your child for every achievement and continue to set small achievable steps to help them reach the goal of being back at school.
Withers, G. (23-24June, 2004) Disappearance: Some recent statistics and a commentary on non-attendance in school. Paper presented at the Learning Choice Expo conducted by the Dusseldorp Skills Forum: Sydney
Kearney, C. (2011). Dealing with school refusal behaviour: A primer for family physicians – workable solutions for unhappy youth and frustrated parents. Journal of Family Practice Online, Vol 55 No 8.David, P.
McLaughlin, R & Peace, D. Youth Engagement Strategy: Understanding and Addressing Chronic Student Absence Behaviour, School Refusal and Truancy in Primary and Secondary Schools: A comprehensive summary of reports http://education.qld.gov.au/studentservices/behaviour/docs/youth-engagement-strategy.pdf
Dudley, A. & Rollings, S. (2001). Anxiety and School Refusal. Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, School Refusal Program
It seems in today’s world children are born ‘digital’. From young toddlers to teens, children appear to have a knack of being able to navigate the world of technology, using a range of gadgets for enjoyment, social connection, education, communication and convenience. Technology is the vehicle through which children are taken on missions, through fantastical virtual landscapes, into characters and to their friends and provides children with much reward and enjoyment. Classrooms are now filled with technology from computers to interactive whiteboards and families are now inviting a range of technologies into their homes.
Along with the multitude of benefits technology brings, there has been widening concern over the time children spend with technology and the type of interactions children are having through technology.
Here is an Interview we completed regarding this top:
The Australian Communications and Media Authority reported that in 2007, children were spending on average close to five hours a day with technology, a figure which has likely increased with the proliferation of media-enabled smart phones and other electronic devices (ACAMA). In fact, in April 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that nearly a third of all 5-14 year old children had their own mobile phones. With the increased sedentary time children are spending with technology and reduced time in outdoor play, links are being drawn between overuse of technology and a delay in children’s achievement of sensory and motor milestones (Rowan, 2010) and reduced academic performance (Gentile, 2012). Certainly, parents have been commenting on the struggles they have in steering their children outdoors for playtime and the friction caused when children are asked to leave technology for homework time.
The types of interactions children are having with technology is also of concern. Australian research mirrors that of the United States, in which significant increases in the popularity of electronic gaming, particularly among boys, has been observed (ACAMA). Exposure to violent content during gaming has been correlated with aggression and desensitization to violence (Gentile, 2012), which is of particular concern, given the evidence that gaming can be very addictive (ABC, 2012). There appears to be a great interest among children in combat-focused games, which is starting to filter into playground play with their peers.
How can I tell if my child is addicted to technology?
The Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing Guidelines suggest that children younger than 2 years should not spend any time watching TV or using other electronic media such as DVD’s, electronic games or computers. Children between the ages of 2-5 years should be limited to less than one hour a day on these activities and children 5 years and older should be limited to 2 hours or less on these activities
Some key signs that may indicate that your child is spending too much time with technology are:
your child may be spending large amounts of time consumed and preoccupied with technology, which may impact on his/her time to complete other daily tasks.
your child may withdraw from previously enjoyed activities such as playing with their siblings and playing outside.
your child may withdraw from family and friends
your child may be saying things like “I’m bored” or “lost” without technology.
your child may be becoming very tired and irritable as a consequence of staying up late or waking through the night or early morning to use technology.
your child may request or demand technology during mealtimes.
your child may be spending time surfing the internet with a lack of purpose
your child may become angry or distressed when limits to technology use are attempted.
your child’s technology use may be impacting negatively on their grades and school work.
your child may be reporting an increased preference with socialising online.
your child may engage in unsafe technology use, for example, making friends with strangers.
Problems and suggested strategies for with technology
Research suggests that even 2 hours spent a day on non-homework use of technology can negatively impact on children’s overall development (King et al., 2012). Some common problems are:
A) Falling behind on social, emotional and physical milestones:
Children need to be active, have their senses stimulated and have opportunities for social connection to develop both physically and psychologically. Children who are spending more and more time on technology, for example, have been observed to be failing to meet their motor milestones (King et al., 2012). A recent study, including Australian children, demonstrated that more children between the ages of 2-5 years could play games on a computer than complete age appropriate tasks such as tie their shoelaces and ride their bike (SMH).
Some helpful tips would be to:
Set a good example. Set your own limits and demonstrate this to your child. For example, a family rule may be no phones or technology at the dinner table for any family member.
Skill up your child. Help your child develop coping skills for managing technology and non-technology time. For example:
Explore their talents and interests and foster these
Help your child develop problem solving skills and practice using these, particularly in times when your child is feeling at a loose end without technology
Develop your child’s physical capabilities, such as helping them with their fine and gross motor skills.
Develop your child’s communication skills, demonstrate conversation, friendship, conflict-resolution skills and practice these and listen to your child when they are communicating with you
Be proactive in helping your child develop friendships through out of school activities, play dates and developing their interests
Develop some new family traditions. Have times when the family disconnects with technology and reconnects as a family unit. Involve your children in brainstorming activities they might like to do as a family that don’t involve technology and make a point of doing them regularly.
Challenge your own thoughts. Many of our own thoughts and perceptions can get in the way of helping our children limit their technology use. For example, believing the outside play is unsafe or that technology is good to help your child be quiet, can limit your ability to maintain healthy boundaries for your child’s technology use.
Schedule some downtime time. Make sure your child has some scheduled time in their week to be unscheduled, unstructured and free from technology, homework and planned activities. Help your child play in the garden, at the park or the beach, for example, without the distractions of technology. Invite your child’s friends along to foster friendships and social skills. Interact with your child and demonstrate how to make your own fun and play in a free and unstructured way.
b) Experiencing high stress levels and exposure to violence
Children who overuse technology appear to experience physiological changes which mimic those seen in high stress states, such as high heart rates, fast paced breathing and hyperacute hearing and vision (Rowan, 2010). Additionally, playing violent virtual games has been linked to increased aggression and reduced empathy-skills among children and suggests these games may well desensitise children to violence (Rowan, 2010).
Some helpful tips would be to:
Set some relaxation time. Explore the things your child finds relaxing that do not involve technology and make time to regularly engage in these activities.
Be selective. Determine what is appropriate and not appropriate for your child to play and keep the boundaries clear. If your child has played a game that is violent, talk through it with your child, discussing things like what is real and fantasy and how your child might view the game.
c) Falling behind at school
The overuse of technology has been found to impact negatively on children’s academic performance (Farber et al., 2012; Gentile, 2012). Children typically find it difficult to self-regulate their technology use, which can mean that daily tasks such as homework and reading are not completed or not given the time needed.
Some helpful tips would be to:
Set clear limits and boundaries. Negotiate with your child on how much time they can spend with technology daily and stick to it. Help your child choose how to use technology and how to plan for non-technology time. Avoid using technology as a reward and involve older children in these negotiations.
Monitor computer-based tasks. Be aware of the school-based tasks your child is completing on the computer and help them remain on task and focused.
Set time to read and help your child with their homework. Talk to the school if there are difficulties completing the homework and take an interest in school-based tasks at home.
d) Other psychosocial difficulties such as sleep difficulties.
The overuse of technology has also been associated with sleep difficulties and increased anxiety, depression and isolation in some cases, particularly when children are exposed to personal safety risks such as cyberbullying and sexting (Farber et al., 2012).
Some helpful tips would be to:
Educate yourself. Know what technology your child is using and what they are doing on that technology. Be your child’s friend on facebook, look at their Tumblr account, know the websites and games they seek. Most devices have parental controls and keep technology use in public areas in your house.
Educate your child. Help your child know how to safely navigate technology, know the risks and how to identify them and know the supports they can seek if things go awry. Have some simple rules such as no sending of videos or photos without permission, no ‘friending’ people that you haven’t met.
Establish clear bedtime routines and limits. Shift technology use to daylight hours and out of the bedroom. Research suggests that children who use a computer before bedtime take longer to fall asleep, have a poorer quality sleep and are more distractible and fatigued during the day (King et al., 2012). Have a device charging station in a public space in your house for all family members to plug into during the night.
Seek help. Seek professional help if you identify a personal safety risk involving your child or if your child is experiencing symptoms consistent with a mental health disorder.
King, D., Delfabbro, P., Griffiths, M. & Gradisar, M. (2012). Cognitive-Behavioural Approaches to Outpatient Treatment of Internet Addiction in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68 (11), 1185-1195.
Farber, B., Shafron, G., Hamadani, J., Wald, E. & Nitzburg, G. (2012). Children, Technology, Problems, and Preferences. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68 (11), 1225-1229.
Rowan, C. (2010). Unplug-Don’t Drug: A Critical Look at the Influence of Technology on Child Behaviour With an Alternative Way of Responding Other Than Evaluation and Drugging. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 12 (1), 60-68.
Australian Communications and Media Authority (June 2010): Trends in media use by children and young people. Insights from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Generation M2 2009 (USA), and results from the ACMA’s Media and communications in Australian families 2007
Kimberley O’Brien, our principal child psychologist, discussed Facebook and Effect of Facebook on Children with radio presenters Hayley, Craig and Rabbit from SAFM.
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You can read the article by visiting the SAFM Website.
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