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 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.
Comments Off on Curb Bullying with these Social and Emotional Learning Skills
Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)
Bullying in schools has become a nationwide concern, with many anti-bullying practices being implemented in every state. Social and emotional learning (SEL) can provide an effective foundation for reducing bullying in schools. Practicing SEL skills will create a school environment that fosters positive interactions. Here are four characteristics of SEL, that aim to curb bullying in schools:
1. Open, supportive relationships between students and teachers.
Opencommunication between students and teachers presents an opportunity for students to learn positive conflict resolution techniques. These techniques allow students to resolve problems before they escalate into fully fledged bullying.
2. Solid communication between schools and families.
Families need to be involved with their child’s school. When a parent is actively engaged in what happens to their child at school on a daily basis, they can help teach positive behaviour and reinforce messages from the teachers. Working as a team with the child’s school, ensures that the same positive messages are being taught on a variety of levels and in a variety of environments.
3. Emphasis on respect and tolerance.
SEL requires school policies that highlight respect for peers, acceptance and appreciation of everyone’s differences. A school community in which students understand and embrace differences is a place where positive behaviour will thrive.
4. Teaching skills that allow kids to recognise and handle emotions, and engage in caring peer relationships.
In addition to school policies requiring respect and tolerance, students must be taught how to engage in positive social interactions and develop caring peer relationships with one another. Teaching students how to express and handle emotions positively will support responsible decision-making and avoid negative scenarios that could escalate into bullying.
SEL skills arm students with the ability to handle their emotions in a positive way that results in enhanced social problem solving, supportive attitudes toward others, and overall academic success. Social and emotional learning provides students with many benefits that enhance the school community as a whole, creating a caring and nurturing environment in which bullying has no place.
Quirky Kid has also recently published a comprehensive SEL program called The Best of Friends. Find out more about it online. Equip your child with some of our therapeutic resources such as the Quirky Kid ‘Face It’ cards, which are designed to increase emotional awareness. Most importantly, please feel free to contact us to learn more about the benefits of social and emotional learning.
Comments Off on Teaching Kids Emotional Regulation
Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)
One of the ways in which children develop an ability to manage their emotions is by watching their parents and mimicking their coping strategies (Cole, 1994). Naturally children develop those emotional regulation skills gradually and parents need to consider suitable modeling strategies for the different developmental stages. A three-year-old, for example, may express anger by throwing a tantrum, while a five-year-old might be able to more clearly verbalise the source of the anger. Many children will, however, struggle to cope with the intensity a specific emotion. For some children, the development of emotional regulation does not come automatically and requires more focused input from parents.
All Emotions are Valid
There are no “bad” emotions. Children will experience a range of emotions everyday from mild to extreme ones. Help your child to understand those emotional changes, name them and explain how each emotion feels in their body. You can continue to explore what behaviour comes out of those emotions and if there may be a better way of expressing it. The Quirky Kid ‘Face It’ Cards are designed to increase emotional awareness.
To a child, the disappointment of missing out on a play date may be every bit as intense as what you would feel if, for example, you missed out on your best friend’s wedding. Allowing your child to experience, recognise and name that disappointment lets them know that you care about them and their feelings (Denham, 2012).
The same is true for anger. A child who is angry about a perceived unfairness – not being allowed to watch television, having to leave a birthday party, or being “mistreated” by a sibling, for example, needs your acknowledgement that their anger is legitimate. You aren’t denying them the emotion; you’re simply asking that they express it appropriately.
As the children develop, and with some assistance from their parents, this process is transferred from an external source (e.g., parents calming a crying child) to internal (e.g., children using language to calm themselves).
You can’t change what your child feels. In fact, your child needs to feel safe expressing a full range of emotions. You can, however, help shape the behaviour that occurs as a result of those emotions.
For example, a child who is prone to violence can have his anger validated while still knowing that hitting, kicking, or pinching are not acceptable. It often helps if you’re able to control your own behaviour. Yelling, smacking, or punishing harshly in an effort to get the undesirable behaviour under control will spark further negative emotions in the child, making it more difficult for them to get their behaviour under control.
On the other hand, modeling appropriate behaviour will help your child to learn how to control their own emotional responses. Show your child that sometimes, you need to take a moment to think things through or remove yourself from the situation. Modeling these behaviours will give your child a clear example of how they should act.
Share Your Own Feelings
Because children learn from your responses, they need to understand what has prompted those responses too. It can be very helpful for children to have their parents share how they feel and how they have behaved. This can help with not only validating how children feel but can also provide opportunities to discuss appropriate coping responses and develop a sense of understanding of the child’s situation. Participating in discussions about emotions gives children new tools for regulating their own expression of emotions.
Through modeling positive ways to cope with different emotions, a parent implicitly teaches children how best to express emotions and regulate them (Valiente, 2004).
Helping your child to manage their emotional responses can be a challenging part of parenting, however, it has immeasurable benefit for children as they grow up and learn to navigate the world and the world’s increasingly complex interactions.
Need a little extra help with that process? Contact us to see what we can do.
Cole, P. M., Michel, M. K., & Teti, L. O. D. (1994). The development of emotion regulation and dysregulation: A clinical perspective. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(2‐3), 73-102.
Denham, S. A., Bassett, H. H., & Zinsser, K. (2012). Early childhood teachers as socializers of young children’s emotional competence. Early Childhood Education Journal, 40(3), 137-143.
Valiente, C., Fabes, R. A., Eisenberg, N., & Spinrad, T. L. (2004).The relations of parental expressivity and support to children’s coping with daily stress. Journal of Family Psychology, 18, 97–106.
ADHD which affects approximately 7.2% of children worldwide (Thomas, 2015) presents as either the hyperactive-impulsive, inattentive or combined subtype (Willcutt, 2012). It is often first suspected by classroom teachers who witness the symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention. An interesting new study suggests that students with ADHD are more attentive when allowed to fidget.
While behaviour modification efforts, especially in the classroom setting, are often aimed at reducing both hyperactivity and inattention, new research published in Child Neuropsychology suggests that fidgeting may actually help children with ADHD increase focus and exercise better mental control, contributing directly to an increase in performance on cognitive tasks (Hartanto, 2015).
Professor Julie Schweitzer of the Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences department at the MIND Institute at the University of California, spearheaded the study of 26 children with confirmed diagnoses of ADHD, which saw the leg movements of each child recorded by ankle monitors that each child was wearing during a series of computerised activities testing both cognition and attention. The results of the study confirmed that incidents of increased fidgeting directly correlated with a high level of accuracy in test performance. Conversely, the more still the children were during the test the more poorly they performed on the tests of cognition and attention. According to Schweitzer these results suggest that constant movement probably increases mental arousal for children with ADHD, much as stimulant drugs do.
The practical application of the study’s results seems clear to Schweitzer. Adults should encourage children with ADHD to fidget rather than correct them for it, especially during activities that require a high level of focus.
While Schweitzer’s research supports her conclusions, other scholars suggest that simply making accommodations for ADHD students to fidget misses the mark entirely, and that the real solution for children with ADHD when trying to focus in school is one that would support the student population as a whole (Tomporowski, 2011). That is, all people benefit from the opportunity to move around regularly throughout the day, whether diagnosed with ADHD or not, and incorporating more physical activity into the school day might alleviate the need for fidget-friendly classrooms in the first place. Harvard-trained educator and McLean Hospital alumna Nina Fiore emphasises that, “Regular movement has been shown to increase focus and retention in children and adults of all ages…and diagnoses would be lessened if more movement was incorporated into every aspect of school.”
Schweitzer and Fiore are in agreement about one thing, and that is that all children can perform better when they are provided with an outlet for physical activity. It may be that in the future more schools around the world will incorporate a degree of movement into the daily schedule high enough to alleviate the need for classroom-friendly fidget solutions. In the interim, however, Schweitzer offers some practical solutions that are designed to avoid distracting other students in the classroom. Her ideas include:
allowing children to stand and stretch as needed, attaching elastic bands beneath children’s desks so that they can pull and play with them in a way that shouldn’t bother other children, or using yoga balls as chairs, so the children can bounce.
The yoga ball seat approach in particular, has gained popularity among educators, as evidenced by three American elementary schools that have replaced classroom chairs with yoga balls entirely. One such educator, Robbi Giuliano, who teaches 10-year-olds in West Chester, Pennsylvania, describes the switch as one of the best decisions she has ever made, saying, “I have more attentive children. I’m able to get a lot done with them because they’re sitting on yoga balls.”
Many other opportunities exist for physical activities in the classroom, particularly ones that are neither disruptive nor stigmatising, and they can be used in school settings to help children perform cognitively demanding tasks.
Hartanto, T. A., Krafft, C. E., Iosif, A. M., & Schweitzer, J. B. (2015). A trial-by-trial analysis reveals more intense physical activity is associated with better cognitive control performance in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Child Neuropsychology, (ahead-of-print), 1-9.
Thomas, R., Sanders, S., Doust, J., Beller, E., & Glasziou, P. (2015). Prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 135(4), 994-1001.
Tomporowski, P. D., Lambourne, K., & Okumura, M. S. (2011). Physical activity interventions and children’s mental function: an introduction and overview. Preventive Medicine, 52, S3-S9.
Willcutt, E. G., Nigg, J. T., Pennington, B. F., Solanto, M. V., Rohde, L. A., Tannock, R., … Lahey, B. B. (2012). Validity of DSM-IV attention–deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptom dimensions and subtypes. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121(4), 991–1010.