As parents, what you want may not necessarily be what your child wants, or what is best. Adulthood leads us to believe we know what’s best for child athletic development, and this may be true in some cases. However, there are many occurrences where our desire to support children reveals tendencies to live vicariously through them; something for which parents need to be cautious. Regardless of how good your intentions, living out your dreams through your child’s experiences can negatively impact their opportunities for athletic and social development. Furthermore, it can erode your relationship with your child. So, before you manifest visions of major league success, I encourage you to connect with your child in a way that conveys your genuine commitment and intentions, and strengthens her/his self-directed leadership.Connect with your child on a deeper level. Hold an engaging and heartfelt conversation that addresses your perspectives as an experienced parent, while also supporting the views of your child. I’ve seen countless parents commit their children to activities without prior discussion, and for which the child had no genuine interest. Depending upon the age and maturity level of your child, I strongly encourage you to develop an agreed upon list of expectations to follow.
Creating a shared list of expectations for children and parents offers countless benefits. First, it creates an open and supportive space to discuss areas of interest in a preventive manner. By addressing certain topics in advance of a sport season, you can strengthen lines of communication and be better able to troubleshoot hazards down the road.
Second, it encourages children to take leadership in their development. So if you abhor helicopter parenting this is for you. Doing so however, requires you to accept consequences of your child’s self-directed approach. In other words, you must allow your child to fail in certain areas, then allow her/him to get up on their own. Too often I see parents picking up after their children, rushing to their aid, and even carrying their sports equipment. Children must learn to be self-sufficient, and learn to thrive in the process of failing; a necessity in areas of development. When children learn to take care of themselves and recover from mistakes, they are in a better position to build from such experiences and strengthen areas of sufficiency, confidence, and maturity.
Third, a shared expectations list is great as a visual reference displayed in the home. As an agreed upon document it can serve as a reminder of important areas for collective and unified intentions.
To begin, ask your child to create five self-expectations and five for you. Meanwhile, you will do the same – five for you and five for your child. Discuss what’s been developed and engage in an open and supportive conversation. Celebrate areas of shared expectations, as well as areas where differences lie. Ensure that a difference of expectations doesn’t lead to unease, but is instead an opportunity to openly discuss areas of importance and value.
Here are examples of expectations from athletes and parents:
- I (athlete) will be responsible for having all of my equipment three hours prior to events.
- Our (parents) verbal support of you (athlete) during events will be only positive feedback.
- Collectively we only discuss the performance after an event if the child initiates conversation.
Expectations are not goals or performance-based objectives. Rather, they involve behaviors identified as supportive to your child’s development and sport enjoyment. What your child views as supportive may surprise or enlighten you. Be open to the many possibilities that arise from such a discussion, and foster your child’s ability to have a say in the matter. By demonstrating an open and unbiased approach you can strengthen areas of trust and communication, and create a positive ripple effect for years to come.