Episode 86 – Should I push my child to play at a higher level?
Question of the Day:Should I push my child to do something uncomfortable if I think it will be good for her? “My daughter is one of the best athletes on her team. She is good enough to try out for the more competitive traveling team, but she’s afraid of the commitment and the travel. Believe it or not, she would rather be the best player on her current team than challenge herself to play on a better team. She just wants to have fun and play with her friends. By almost 13, I feel like it has to be her decision; but then it makes me feel like I’m encouraging her NOT to push herself in life and that makes me feel like a bad mom! I worry so much that this will transfer to other things in her life! She’s such a great athlete, it’s a shame seeing her play low. I feel like it’s a confidence thing, but I don’t know how as everyone tells her she’s the best player. Do I let her decide what she plays, or do I push her into something new and uncomfortable?” Elana
Parent Educator Answer:It sounds like your daughter is pretty clear that she just wants to play with her friends. If she doesn’t have that competitive spirit and drive that makes her want to be better, there is nothing wrong with that. If she is choosing NOT to play up out of fear, that is another matter. A good rule of thumb for kids and parents is to live on the edge of your comfort zone. We like to stay inside our comfort zones because it feels predictable and safe. If we ONLY stay inside our comfort zones, life gets pretty boring. When we AVOID things that feel scary, we can develop anxiety sensitivity. We become afraid of feeling afraid. It’s important to purposefully put ourselves in uncomfortable situations on a regular basis. This is how we slowly expand our comfort zone, making the uncomfortable, comfortable. It sounds like your daughter is comfortable with where she is now. You can encourage her to try things that are slightly new and different, rather than completely new. Maybe she can talk to the coach about ways she can improve or about becoming team captain. An almost-13-year-old is already living outside her comfort zone. The push and pull between childhood and adulthood, the hormones and changing body, the precarious friendships, the compare and despair of social media… it’s a really difficult time to take on something new, scary, and different! Just being an almost-13-year-old IS living on the edge of her comfort zone. Here’s what I suggest you do to support your nervous athlete: celebrate doing scary things together. Each day, brag to each other about ONE little thing you did that scared you. “I ordered a new drink from Starbucks” “I invited a new neighbor over for backyard social distancing” “I asked a classmate if she wanted to study together” “I talked to my coach about more play time” “I signed up for life coaching” Instead of thinking fear is something to avoid, she will start to view it as something to be proud of. When she sees her mom taking risks, it takes the spotlight off of her (which most tweens are uncomfortable with). Then she can be the encouragement and cheerleader for her mom and not be the only one doing scary things. This feeling of solidarity makes facing fears more comfortable. The next thing I would do is ask enough questions to really understand what she’s scared of. What has she heard about the traveling team that makes her think she wouldn’t love it? Why does committing make her nervous? Is it the unknown? Is she afraid of disappointing the coach? When your energy is relaxed and neutral, ask questions to see if you can learn more. After she gives you more details, use your imagination to create her ideal situation. “So, in a perfect world, you would get to play at a higher level, with the friends who are currently on your team, two days a week, but no tournaments, with a super nice coach?” When you reflect back what she is saying, she will have mental clarity and a sense of calm. Then ask her: “If you don’t try out for the competitive team, what would be the reason? Do you like your reason?” “If you do try out, what would be your reason? Do you like your reason?” Whichever choice she makes, encourage her to have a reason she feels proud of. My answer to the question of “Should I push my child?” is absolutely yes, unless she has a good reason not to.
Life Coaching Answer: What gets in your way from trusting your instincts and what’s best for your daughter?FUTURIZING and CATASTROPHIZING “I worry so much that this will transfer to other things in her life!” You are taking her behavior at 12 and thinking it symbolic of who she is going to be at 23. Nobody tops out at 12. Every year after this she will get wiser and braver, especially if she has your support. HIGH EXPECTATIONS: “Believe it or not, she would rather be the best player on her current team than challenge herself to play on a better team.”
- I absolutely believe it! I would love to just play with my friends. I’m not a fierce competitor. I don’t like pushing my body to perform at its most optimal. I’m guessing you do, Mama? She’s 12. She wants friends who like her. She doesn’t want to stand out.
- It could be helpful to take a look at any ideas you have about success, ambition, and competition that make you surprised by this. How would your parents have reacted if this was your decision? I’m guessing either you or a parent of yours was very competitive.
- What are you making it mean about her and about you that makes you feel shame about this?
- Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s separate out her stuff from yours and focus on getting YOU to feel confident in your parenting. What if you knew for certain that the way you were parenting was the perfect way? How would that change the way you handle this situation?
Supermom Kryptonite: Thinking your job is to make kids comfortableWhen babies are little, it’s our job to make them comfortable. To make sure they are happy because happiness is a sign of being well fed, well rested, adequately stimulated and having their needs met. If our babies are unhappy, it’s a signal for us to step up and take care of them. As children grow older, our job changes. We love to see our preschoolers happy, but our job is more about holding boundaries: making sure they eat and sleep even when they protest loudly, teaching them not to throw their food when they are finished, how to get along with others by sharing and taking turns, how to ask for what they want. We do want to pay attention to their unhappiness or discomfort, but sometimes we sacrifice their desires for our values. We say no to cookies and yes to veggies. We teach our kids that a temporary discomfort (going to the dentist) is worth a long term goal (clean, healthy teeth). If you are trying to make your TEENAGER happy and comfortable all the time, you are going to fail. Nobody is supposed to be happy all the time; especially not teenagers! Growth feels uncomfortable. They are changing their identity, taking risks, putting themselves out there to fail or be rejected….it all feels terrible! Your job as a mom of a teen is to be their soft place to land. Be their cheerleader and coach. Support their goals, interests, and passions. If your child’s passion is hanging out with her friends and enjoying recreational sports, you can encourage that. If your child is passionate about playing at a higher level and pushing herself outside her comfort zone, you can support her in that. You aren’t failing if your kid isn’t living up to their potential. Nobody lives up to their potential. You aren’t failing if your kid is unhappy and uncomfortable. Growth involves taking risks and facing fears. Adolescence is a messy time. Parenting is a messy job. There is no right and wrong.
Supermom Power Boost: Constructive AdversityAdversity is defined by Random House Unabridged Dictionary as, “A condition marked by misfortune, calamity, or distress.” Constructive is defined as, “to improve or promote further advancement of.” I got the term “Constructive Adversity” from a school called Tahoe Expedition Academy who uses adverse environments to expand a student’s comfort zone, develop real-life skills, and create lasting knowledge. When I think of constructive adversity, I think of purposefully putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations for the advancement of creativity, character, and growth. Once your kids reach the tween years, taking care of kids has become our comfort zone. Putting our children’s needs before our own and focusing on their well being has become easy and familiar. If you are asking your kids to embrace risk and go outside their comfort zone, make sure you are doing the same things. Deliberately doing things outside your comfort zone has so many benefits: Taking small, daily risks can prevent anxiety, depression, and the trap of perfectionistic thinking. It keeps life exciting, helping you feel fully present and alive. It fosters resilience and grit, making you more willing to try new things. It helps you trust your gut and teaches you to differentiate between fear and intuition. It gives you practice in managing your brain. It encourages perseverance, builds problem-solving skills and creative thinking. The benefits are tremendous. So go out there and take a risk in alignment with your values and who you want to become.
Quote of the Day: “If it is still in your mind, it’s worth taking the risk.” Paulo CoelhoP.S. A note from my son the editor and reluctant superstar athlete: DEFINITELY the mom should push her daughter to try out. The daughter should probably feel like it’s her choice but the mom definitely should push her. Since everything is so uncomfortable at that age, you’re ALWAYS going to try to take the easy path. This is basically the most important year for her if she wants to have a chance of playing in high school. Worst thing that happens if she doesn’t like it is that it is too much and too competitive and she realizes really early that she only wants to play casually and then she can do that and not waste time. The alternative of staying on the team she’s on will probably just see her interest slowly peter out as her friends from that team drop out of the sport or she doesn’t make the high school team. At that age you have no sense of what more competition looks like and the idea of having to make new friends is always scary so the daughter almost certainly will say no, even if she does like being a competitor. If she didn’t like the sport or didn’t like to compete, she wouldn’t be the best player on her team. I agree with all the ideas about the mom taking risks alongside her daughter to support her, but she definitely should push her daughter.
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