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Ask Dr. Meg: Kids & Sports

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

“Ask Dr. Meg” is back!

Dear Dr. Meg:

I’ve read your book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters and I have a question about kids and sports.  I’m a 46 year old divorced dad of 3 kids (2 boys aged 13 and 9) and 1 girl age 10. They all live with their mom. The two youngest kids are into sports and I’m at a loss as how to teach them.

I have been trying to talk to my younger two kids about sports. I tried to give examples of how to be humble and not brag and teach them that winning is not so important and that losing is part of the game. They both compete against each other. My son has to win everything or else he cries and my daughter has been bragging.

Please help me. I’m not sure how I should talk to them.


Every child learns to compete in life. Whether it’s on the soccer field, in the classroom or at a pick-up basketball game, every child wants to know how he stacks up against his peers. Girls want to know who’s in the fast reading group and boys want to know who’s toughest. So we parents need to know how to help our kids navigate this whole compettiiton thing.

There are two important truths that every human must come to accept. First, there will always be someone who is faster, smarter, richer or stronger than us. Second, there will always be someone who is slower, less intelligent, poorer and weaker than you. Our job as parents is to make sure that each of our kids  comes to not only accept these truths but more importantly to become comfortable accepting his own weaknesses and strengths and those of his peers.

I see many parents on the sidelines of their kids’ athletic events doing a pretty poor job teaching this job if this. Many show up at every practice and game, screaming from the sidelines to their son or daughter to be faster or more accurate. The problem with this approach is that the child learns that failure is not an option. If she misses the goal or falls during the performance, she feels as though she is failure and Mom and Dad will be disappointed. From her perspective, she learns that she is the one who is less competent than the other kids.

On the other hand, if a parent never show support for his kids’ endeavors, they learn that the effort they put forth is not important. And this can feel devastating to a child. Clearly, we need to hit some middle ground in order to help our kids grow up  with a healthy sense of balance: that competing is fun, it is important for their own growth and it is part of life. So how do we get this right? Here are a few things that I feel are very important.

Parents should attend many ( but not all) games, but should rarely be at practices (unless a parent is the coach.) Showing up at practices puts way too much pressure on kids.

Second, parents should praise kids for effort, not winning. If a son misses a goal but has worked hard, a Dad should compliment him on his persistence or hard work. We need to make a point of applauding our kids more frequently when they feel they have failed, than when they score the goal. When we do this, then the child can accept the success of others (who did score the winning goal) because they received real praise from us about something they did do well.

Third, parents should let kids know that apparent failure is really OK. They will always compete with peers who are better because someone better than they will always be out there. This should never keep them from working hard, but should serve as a means to help them be comfortable with their own human shortcomings and not feel like a loser.

Fourth, parents should teach kids to encourage others who are weaker and others who are more successful than they are. If a sibling is a better soccer player, the other sibling should be taught to encourage him. Then, the more successful sibling should be taught to encourage his siblings in an area where they shine. We need to teach our kids to be mutually supportive so as to decrease competition between them. Because once one sibling feels superior to others, it is only a matter of time before he is knocked off of his pedestal.

Finally, be truthful. If a child is really bad at something, don’t tell him that he is good. You can praise him for making a great effort or for having courage to try, but ultimately when we lie to our kids, they see right through it. The best thing to do is to help find each child’s strengths and encourage him to build on those (whatever they may be) and let him know that his weaknesses aren’t a sign of failure, they are simply one of the reasons that he was put in a community of others- so that someone can come along and help him out.

Do you have a question for Dr. Meg? Send Meg a message on Facebook or Twitter or just leave a comment here.

**Note that names and letters are subject to change for privacy’s sake**  



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