Last week Dr Kimberley O’Brien spoke to a local magazine about how to help children enjoy sport. We recorded this and would like to share it with you as a podcast and transcript below.
Quirky Kid runs our popular performance psychology program, Power Up!
[00:00:00-00:00:16] Doctor Kimberley O’Brien introduces the challenge of getting children to enjoy sports.
Hi. You’re listening to Dr. Kimberley O’Brien, child psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic. We’re talking today about why kids might dislike school sports, and whether parents should be concerned, as well as how to encourage children to enjoy sports.
[00:00:16-00:02:56] Often children dislike school sports because of negative experiences, such as sensitivity to loud and overwhelming environments, pressure from authorities, perfectionism, discomfort with competitive environments, and lack of exposure to sports as a positive experience.
About why kids might dislike school sports, or sports in general: often it can come from negative experience. It could be that kids could be enrolled, even as toddlers, in some indoor KinderGyms or soccer lessons, that might have lots of noise, whistles, and other kids. If children are sensitive to their environment or have sensory issues, sometimes they can find these environments quite stressful.
Think about what negative experiences kids might have gone through in the past which might impact their perception of sports. Sometimes it’s pressure from parents to participate, or even a negative relationship with a coach, that might put them off the idea of participating in sports.
Other kids might be perfectionists and find it sort of frustrating or embarrassing to try a new skill. When they’re not good at something they refuse to participate, and they just don’t want to fail. Sometimes that can be one reason behind kids not feeling comfortable with team sports.
Another idea could be that they are not comfortable in a competitive environment. In some schools, children do become competitive with sports. Teachers can encourage competition between kids. Thinking about how the child might feel, they may feel inadequate or self-conscious when they’re in a competitive environment.
And another possibility around a child’s negative experience related to sports, could be that parents have had similarly negative experiences with sports. So parents might actually be reluctant to seek out opportunities for kids to participate in sports, just trying to be protective with their children and not wanting to put them in a competitive sports environment. They may avoid sports and maybe favour technology, for example, instead of sports. So when kids get to school, the idea of participating in sports might not be something that they’ve experienced before on a regular basis.
Other well-meaning parents might start off kids in a soccer or nippers type of environment, where there’s lots and lots of kids learning a new skill. And this can also be overwhelming for children.
[00:02:56-00:06:27] When you introduce kids to sports, start small, in low-pressure environments. Respect their resistance, and praise them for their efforts and improvements. It’s also important for parents to build a positive relationship with the trainer and model participation sports. For perfectionist kids, have them study theory online before attempting to physically learn a new skill.
So when you’re thinking about how to introduce kids to sports, here’s some tips on how to do that:
Step one, start with a small environment, a few kids. Think about how to increase their exposure to sports gradually. You might use a soft toy rather than a ball when you’re practicing catching or throwing, at home in a safe setting. Or instead of starting small, you might enroll your child in a one-on-one coaching clinic. For example, tennis, rather than starting with a large group setting like soccer or large team sports.
It’s also really important to build a positive relationship with the coach or trainer. This will help young people to feel safe with that unfamiliar adult, and to boost their motivation to go along on a regular basis. Parents can probably relate to this one when it comes to choosing the right swim teacher for their toddler. If the relationship is really positive between parent and teacher, then often kids will feel safer and be more interested in participating. Having a regular coach or trainer rather than having a different person each week will also help kids to feel more comfortable, more willing to participate.
Another point when it comes to helping kids cope with sports, is to respect their resistance. So if kids are resistant to participating, don’t push them or punish them. Try to praise any improvements that you’ve noticed. “It’s great that I saw you watching the other kids today.” “I noticed you were listening to the instructor today.” Just highlighting the positives rather than letting them know what they’re not doing.
It might also be worthwhile to shop around and find an environment that suits you and your child. It could be that something more open. For example, circus skills with a free trial lesson might make you and your young person feel more comfortable, rather than paying in advance for a full term and then increasing the pressure on participating week after week.
Parents are also encouraged to model participation sports. That could just be playing beach soccer or backyard cricket. Leading by example will help young people also want to participate. Sometimes just laughter will help to lighten the mood when it comes to participating in sports, but adults should keep in mind that it’s good to laugh when adults are playing sports, but not so much when a child’s learning a new skill. Try and refrain from laughing if they’re struggling with a new skill, because kids might become self-conscious.
For those kids that I mentioned before, that may be perfectionists and prefer to not participate until they’re good at a particular skill – these kids often benefit from doing online tutorials before they even practically participate. Lots of theory and following instructions online can make kids feel comfortable enough to attempt to ride a bike or attempt to serve a tennis ball. So keep that in mind as well.
[00:06:27-00:08:35] Performance psychology offers a few tips on how to help kids enjoy sports. Let them choose their sport, give them breaks, point out their improvements, and praise them for trying. Make sure that they’re doing sports in a low-pressure environment that praises effort over results. Get them to score how much effort they put into their sport on a weekly basis, and hopefully you will see improvement over time as they get more comfortable.
Now just finishing up: I’m going to take you through final tips to help kids, teachers, and parents, and help kids to enjoy sports more. All this information is linked to performance psychology. We know that Olympians often use performance psychology such as goal-setting, arousal regulation, and positive self-talk to help them get the best out of their sporting performance. You can find out more about this in our “Power Up” program which is the only performance psychology program for children, developed by Quirky Kid. So if you want to find out more, have a look at “Power Up” on the quirkykid.com.au website.
So these final tips are: let your child choose their sport. Having more choice will increase participation and motivation. Number two, give them regular breaks. Number three, point out their improvements, not their problems with the new skills. Number four, praise your kids for trying. It’s really important to be mindful of the environment in which they’re learning that new sport or participating in sports. So if there’s competition or a coach putting pressure or putting down students that are not reaching the results that they would like, remember to look for a new environment that praises effort over results. And last but not least, ask kids to score themselves in terms of effort. That might give them a 6/10 for the first week, and then get them to monitor their effort week after week. Over time I would hope that as they feel more comfortable in the environment, they are more likely to want to go back and continue practicing that new sport.
All right, I hope you’ve enjoyed that little session about kids and sports. And keep in touch! I’m Kimberley O’Brien from the Quirky Kid Clinic. Thanks for listening.
[00:00:00-00:00:17] Doctor Kimberley O’Brien introduces friendship challenges as children transition from the holidays back to school to start the year 2017.
Hi. It is Doctor Kimberley O’Brien here talking about best friendships as we move into 2017. The new school year often brings some challenges when it comes to friendships, especially when kids are just returning to school and maybe they’ve spent a lot of time with family over the holidays.
[00:00:21-00:01:28] On average, age 7 is when solid friendships begin to form between children, although there are many factors at play, such as when the child started spending time with other kids, as well as the gender of the child.
When do children start to form solid friendships? We know that this differs depending on the child. Some children are exposed to playgroups from the age of 2 or 3, and then preschool, so often kids are starting to form closer friendships if they’ve been in social situations for a longer period of time, whereas other kids who start school at the age of 5 and haven’t been to preschool or day-care sometimes feel quite shy in the company of other kids, so they may take a little bit longer to form some solid friendships. Generally speaking, around the age of 7 is usually when kids start to pair off in having one close friendship. Of course, this doesn’t always stay the same, especially for girls. Around eight years old girls will often have some challenges with their friendships, so that could be that jealousies start to occur, even competition between girls to try to win over certain friends, and when more popular girls could also start to take place.
[00:01:30-00:02:47] Quality and quantity are important when it comes to friendships. Parents should model having friendships with more than one person to encourage their child(ren) to do the same.
What can we teach our children about friendship? I believe it’s important to teach children that it’s about quality friendships, friendships that make you feel good all the time, not hot and cold friends where sometimes they’ll be nice and sometimes they won’t, because when friendships are unpredictable kids can often feel anxious about approaching that person, not sure whether they’ll be friendly or not. Having someone who’s consistently nice and kind is really important in a friendship.
You can also teach your children to have more than one friend, which I believe is important, rather than just a best friend because in my work with young people, sometimes having a best friend can inhibit the formation of other new friendships; they’ll become quite clingy with one person or they won’t want to go to school if their best friend is not there. Particularly in kindergarten if they’ve been paired up with one buddy or person, if they’re not there sometimes they don’t want to go to class, and they can become quite emotional.
I think it’s important for moms and dads also in the playground to model having a broader group of friends, rather than just one consistent friend that they talk to every morning or every afternoon because that gives them options when that person is not around.
[00:02:49-00:03:26] Encourage your child to acknowledge people around them, whether it be through verbal or non-verbal greetings.
What strategies can parents use to help their child develop strong relationships? As I said, modelling good relationships is a good place to start, always using eye contact and saying: “Hello.” So, greetings. If children don’t feel confident with verbal greetings, try non-verbal greetings, teaching them that just a nod or eye contact, a smile is just as good as a verbal greeting and they shouldn’t force themselves to say: “Hello,” if they don’t feel ready. Eye contact is a good place to start.
[00:03:33-00:07:06] School/playground observation by yourself or a professional is a good place to start to determine if there are other factors (such as bullying) affecting your child’s formation of friendships, and whether your child needs help developing their social skills or if there is an issue with other children at school which may require a schoolwide intervention. Also, weekly playdates are beneficial for the expansion of critical social skills, as well as “The Best of Friends” program at Quirky Kids Clinic.
What can you do if your children are struggling to build friendships? At the Quirky Kid Clinic, we’ll often go to the school and observe the children in the playground and the classroom to see what’s happening in their environment, because it might be that the young person is quite sensitive to bullies, exclusion, loud noises, or rough and tumble play. There are lots of things that can inhibit children from forming close friendships, so doing a good observation, or asking a school counsellor, or external psychologist to observe the playground is a good place to start to get an objective view of things. Sometimes class teachers can be helpful, but other times they may not want to be dealing with friendship issues; they might suggest that the children solve things themselves, which can also present challenges for young people. I think it’s good to help your child by doing the observation or having someone do it, and then putting some strategies in place to help.
For example, if there is exclusion or bullying going on, it’s more about addressing that issue rather than skilling the individual up with better social skills. Sometimes a schoolwide message about the importance of including others or something along the lines of being kind can really promote that inclusive practice in the school rather than pulling girls aside and talking to them directly; that can sometimes start more trouble in friendship groups. A whole-school approach is often more successful.
If you do think your child is having some struggles socially, the Quirky Kid Clinic also offers a “The Best of Friends”, a social and emotional learning program which was developed 12 years ago because of the constant referrals for individuals, usually parents saying: “I’m concerned my child is not forming close friendships.” That could just be from having a bad experience in the past and not feeling that they can trust new friends, or it could just be that they’re very shy and they prefer the company of one person rather than groups.
“The Best of Friends” program helps kids to develop one-on-one social skills first, with those greetings as we talked about, developing to-and-fro conversation skills, learning how to approach a group. It starts off developing the one-on-one friendships and then looking at how to have two or more friends, which is often slightly more challenging before even considering having a group of friends, which is even more challenging.We talk about having a very best friend or a best friend forever, it’s also very important to consider that’s quite a lot of pressure to put on a young person to maintain one friendship for a long period of time, so please consider having more than one person over for playdates (on a weekly basis is often good).
One at a time to start with so that kids can develop those one-on-one skills before having more than one friend. Having weekly playdates is a great way to develop social skills in a safe setting. You can observe the kids playing, and maybe give some feedback if that’s something you would do with your child, around how to help them to lead play or how to help them to take turns so that they can have more successful and longer playdates down the track.
[00:07:12-00:08:43] Kids who are distracted by devices or doing a lot of their social interactions online miss out on the opportunity to learn and practice their social skills. Face-to-face relationships need to be encouraged, demonstrated, and practised.
How is friendship changing for children in today’s society? I think that friendships are obviously moving more online, so social media is becoming much more important to early adolescents, and so face-to-face friendships are on the decline, while online friendships are increasing. I think it’s just so important to have lots of face-to-face time because there are so many subtle social cues that you learn to pick up when you’re spending face-to-face time with friends.
Those social cues can be missed if kids are spending more time online socialising. For example, social cues might be that you’re leaving a space next to you when you sit down so that someone can come join you, or someone might be looking for a seat and someone who picks up on the social cue would move aside and make some room for that person. Kids start to sometimes lose their ability to pick up social cues if they have their heads down, even at lunchtime using laptops or iPhones to play games rather than observing other kids’ play and observing the social nuances in the playground. Having more opportunities to play freely is a good way to maintain social skills, and parents are also encouraged to model those social skills by socialising more often themselves. On that note, I hope that you have a really social 2017, and lots of great playdates at your house and also in the community.
Take care. I’m Dr. Kimberley O’Brien from the Quirky Kid Clinic. Please send your questions for my next podcasts.
Social skills is a common concern among parents. Often children can have difficulties in making and keeping friends. They may be left out of games at lunch, not get invited to other children’s houses or may even be teased by some children.
An important aspect of maintaining friendships is social skills.
Social skills are specific behaviours such as smiling, making eye contact, asking and responding to questions, and giving and acknowledging compliments during a social exchange. These behaviours result in positive social interactions and have been linked to positive developmental outcomes, including peer acceptance.
How can I tell if my child is having difficulties with social skills?
Little use of eye contact,
Uninterested in social interactions,
Difficulties initiating social interactions,
Difficulties interpreting verbal and non-verbal social cues,
Inappropriate emotional response,
Lack of empathy towards others.
It can be upsetting for parents to realise that their children are having difficulties making friends. Research has shown however, that social skills can be effectively taught to children.
How to encourage your child to develop social skills
Help your child make friends by organising play dates, having sleepover and joining clubs.
Offer suggestions on ways to handle situations at school and with friends.
Children learn a lot by observing how adults interact so it is important to always model appropriate behaviour, such as greeting shop assistants and using Peoples names when possible.
Help your child to understand different points of view by describing feelings and having conversations about how other people might feel. This can help your child to develop empathy and will help them deal with conflict when it occurs.
Help develop conversation skills such as asking questions and listening to others
Discuss behaviours such as teasing and bullying with your child, to help them understand that some comments could upset others.
How can the Quirky Kid Clinic help your child?
The Quirky Kid Clinic is a unique place for children and adolescents aged 2-18 years. We work from the child’s perspective to help them find their own solutions. Additionally, we offer a variety of resources, workshops and individualized consultations to support children experiencing difficulties with social skills.
The Best of Friends Workshop TMis an innovative social skills and communicationprogram for children aged 3 to 13. This activity-based workshop encourages children to make the most of their friendships by developing good communication skills. Workshops are available throughout t the year both in school and clinic setting.
How to be a Friend Book – This book published by Quirky Kid helps children to understand how friendships are formed and the best way to handle conflict. It is a must for all children and proactive parents.
Face it Cards are a set of 35 hand-draw facial expression cards. The cards give greater meaning to discussions involving feelings and behaviors. They can help families resolve conflict and classmates explore social scenarios or ethical dilemmas and also allow children to ‘pointing out’ their emotions, helping then to increase understanding, problem-solving and empathy when dialogue is difficult.
Tell Me a Story Cardsare a useful tool for parents and professionals working with young people. They invite children to recall and retell their own memorable moments of extremity, this facilitates communication, highlights strengths, and boosts self-esteem.
—- Information for this fact sheet was taken from an interview with Child Psychologist Kimberley O’Brien, the Raising Children Network website, and the following articles and was compiled by Corina Vogler, Interm-Psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic
Reference: Tse, J., Strulovitch, J., Tagalakis, V., Meng, L., & Fombonne, E. (2007). Social skills training for adolescents with asperger syndrome and high functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1960-1968.
Rao, P., Beidel, D., & Murray, M. (2008). Social skills training for children with Aspergers’s syndrome or high-functioning autism: a review and recommendations. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 353-361.