Picture this scenario — you just watched your child struggle in the game this evening, several times making mental mistakes that lead to on-field errors and missed opportunities. As you are watching this unfold, it’s clear your child knows he has goofed up, and he is visibly upset about what has happened. At the end of the game what do you do?
Of course, there is no specific “right or wrong” answer to this question, but there is a “better “way to handle this situation. But first, lets start with the worst way to handle it (assuming you want your child to improve for the future). As soon as your child gets in the car (while still emotional about his earlier poor play) you begin coaching him and really getting into what he did wrong and what he should have done better. As you torpedo him with your coaching instructions, he is likely to become more emotional and/or want to turn you off. The point here is that when we are already emotional, it’s the worst time to try to offer logical advice.
A much better and more effective way to handle a situation like this is to offer support and reassurance after the game when your child is already down on himself — this does not mean you should overlook the “teachable moment” (that will come later), but instead means that unconditional love and positive regard is what is most important in this moment. Rather than coach, try to instead have a more positive conversation that emphasizes his effort, letting him know you guys can talk in greater detail about the game tomorrow.
Wait a day…
When tomorrow comes around and your child is a lot less emotional, you can then begin the conversation by asking him an open-ended question like “how do you feel the game went yesterday?” and listen closely to his answer. Depending on his age, the reply might actually include the very same “coaching” you wanted to give him (meaning he might already know exactly what he should have done – and is frustrated he didn’t). In any case, waiting a day will give you a much, much better chance at capitalizing on the teachable moments, as well as better retention for your son as it applies to his learning.
While it is tempting to want to coach up your child right after the game, sometimes it’s better to suspend that thinking and instead simply offer positive reinforcement for effort. Try this approach next time your child has a tough game and see what happens!
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