Be a Good Sport: How to Behave Better at Your Child’s Games

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Your child can learn a lot from playing sports, but how to scream your favorite curse words shouldn’t be one of them.

Your child can learn a lot from playing sports, but how to scream your favorite curse words shouldn’t be one of them. Unfortunately, such conduct by parents is cropping up on ball fields and courts all across the country, as some fired-up adults who preach the importance of playing nice all week long yell, kick and throw punches on game day.

Our competitive nature and our tendency to take what happens to our child personally are two possible reasons for many parent-gone-wild episodes, says Joanna Chambers, psychiatrist at Indiana University Health. “We project our own selves onto our kids,” she explains. “If they lose, we feel like losers. If they win, we feel like winners.” 

Ideally, your sideline behavior is the model of positivity and restraint—after all, your child is watching you even when they’re running full speed across the field. But hey, you’re human and sometimes it’s hard not to let your emotions get the better of you. When you feel your blood begin to boil, try these tricks to keep cool.

Keep all negative comments to yourself. The rules from childhood apply: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. “Keep whatever comments you make positive 100 percent of the time,” Dr. Chambers says. “Remember, this is a learning experience for kids. If you tell your child it’s all about having fun but then you’re yelling when they make a mistake, it won’t be very fun for them.”

Take a breath. Feel yourself getting hot under the collar? Ask yourself if your comments and actions are positive, encouraging, or helpful. If not, take a handful of deep breaths to calm your-self down, then try to say or think of something positive.

Acknowledge your mistakes. “When parents get very negative with their own child, that’s painful for everyone to hear, especially your child,” Dr. Chambers says. “If you’ve said some-thing negative, apologize right away. Say, ‘It’s okay, just go out there and do your best.” Same goes if you lashed out another child or adult.

Keep some perspective. A game is just that, and even if your child’s team loses, nothing is re-ally lost.

Monitor the environment. Whether you’re signing up your child for a league or are attending a game, take note of whether the atmosphere is overly competitive or negative, Dr. Chambers says. “We’ve been lucky to find leagues that are all about the game and that have a fun, nice environment. But if we signed up our kids for a sporting event and found that there was a lot of yelling and inappropriate behavior, we’d pull them out of the league and find one that’s more positive.”

-- By Bonnie Vengrow

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