This has been my mantra for 2012. I have had some on-going medical and family problems that promise to continue into at least the first quarter of 2013. Every time I begin to feel sorry for myself I repeat this statement. My parents raised tough kids; I come from ancestors who took Conestoga wagons from Ohio to Wisconsin and then ultimately to North Dakota. My family, for generations, was made of farmers battling drought and pests. They survived the Great Depression, loss of children, living in tents, and suffered through influenza epidemics and being gassed fighting in WWI. So in this day and age of flu vaccines, nuclear medicine, air travel, moving companies that pack up, transport cross-country, and unpack everything in our 3,000 square foot homes within a week, two cars in the driveway, online shopping and instant movies, we really have it pretty good. Nevertheless, when things go wrong, it can seem not only bleak, but unfair.
Youth soccer is filled with tough times. As parents, we can get discouraged if our kids don’t make the top travel team, lose an important game, suffer a major injury, lose their starting spot, watch best friends move on to other clubs, don’t make the state Olympic Development pool and a dozen other scenarios we’ve all experienced. Our kids likewise feel the frustration of soccer not going as well as they had hoped. It’s tough! Yet, even the toughest situation will eventually pass into oblivion. What has to last is the family, our children’s joy and the will to improve enough to not give tough times a foothold.
How can we let our kids know that tough times will disappear while also giving them the tools to be tough enough to face any situation? We can’t confuse toughness with boorishness or confrontation. Toughness is an internal state of mind that allows us to handle adversity with a positive and effective solution. There are several important techniques we can use. Each one plays a significant role in helping our kids not wallow in self-pity while still being sympathetic to their right to feel bad for a while.
First, don’t be overly solicitous. Giving your players a good hug, agreeing that the situation stinks and giving them the space to feel bad will indicate your support. But don’t try to bribe them into happiness; pout with them; denigrate the team, the coach or the other players; and definitely don’t talk about it being unfair. Fairness is subjective, and if children think every time something bad happens to them it’s because they were victims of injustice they won’t learn to accept responsibility for their role in tough outcomes or for their ability to overcome the situations.
The next step is to become solution oriented. Discuss with your children what the next step should be. Modulate their anger by gently encouraging them to come up with reasonable and well-tempered ideas. If they lose their starting spot, they might react by wanting to quit the team. After all, they lost face. Who wants to return to the field to watch another player in their spot? But that’s an extreme and emotional response to a common tough situation. So, you can agree that quitting is a solution, but point out where that leaves the player – no team. Show them how a tough-minded individual would handle it. Sticking with the team, finding out from the coach how to win the starting spot back and working extra hard to make that happen. Find solutions in which your children have to make an investment. Encourage them to give the problem time to smooth out so that any solution has the space to evolve.
Finally, give your children lots of praise for hanging tough. It’s not easy for your son to know he didn’t stop the winning goal in the state championship or your daughter to know her foul in the box gave the opposing team a PK. But that’s soccer. What happens in soccer happens in life too. Our children will fail important tests, have fender benders, lose a love and break their favorite toy. How they respond to those tough moments depends on their willingness to accept that those moments happen. Let them know how proud you are that they worked through sorrow, frustration and embarrassment. If they need help accomplishing that, then give it to them, but do your best to make them take the reins. Eventually our children will learn that they can overcome the bumps in the road because they have the confidence and tools to do so.
I certainly don’t wish anything more substantial than disappointment as the trouble life throws them, but if your children can handle the small stuff, they can also handle the big stuff. I’ve been pretty lucky in my long life to avoid really tough times, but I was given the skills and self-reliance to handle troubles. Like I said, my parents raised tough kids. I don’t know what more the fates have in store for me, but I take the problems as they come, repeat my mantra and know that every situation has a solution. Kids possess a natural resiliency that slowly dissipates as they become more invested in success and self-image. Our job is to translate that resiliency into the tools to stand tough in the face of adversity. We can do it if we also can do it for ourselves. When we become tough people we show our kids how effective being tough can be in getting through life. Truthfully, tough times may extend for a while, but they don’t last. Eventually something good will come along. We just have to develop the feistiness to get through to the good stuff.