Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When to Push Your Kids and When to Let it Go

When to Push Your Kids and When to Let it Go

Monkey was so excited to begin track, 

but by the time starting day came around, he had forgotten how much fun he had had at the open meets last summer. He's finally old enough to be on the Youth Track team and the season has just begun.

The first couple days were a shock for him! So many kids, and not a familiar face in sight. I was hoping he'd find a friend there like he did over the summer, but looks like he'll have to make a new one.

That very first day, we arrived early. I know it takes him time to warm up to new situations so I made sure he could be there to see people trickle in, rather than coming in to a huge group all at once. He began to play with a girl his age right away and I was thrilled! He's already made a friend! He'll have a great time!

They played tag and he tagged her a little too hard, however, sending her sliding across gravel on her knees. She was okay, but cried to her dad and never wanted anything to do with him again. He recovered, but found much younger kids to play with who are too young for the team and can't join him out on the track and field.

I've had to push him to get out there with his team. 

He starts out alright, but lags behind and eventually runs to find me. I can see by his body language his anxiety building and building the longer he's in the crowd.

The only way I can convince him to get back with his team is to go with him and run along side him. There I am, the only mom out there; the first time with Boo, my 3 year old, happily running with us, though making us even slower. At the last class, my husband was there to keep her on the sidelines while I was yet again running and even doing sit ups and push ups with him. Then, a while after I had convinced him to stay without me, I see him wandering off the field again looking for me.

The coach even called to him to get back in the group. He yelled, "What's your name?! Every time I look at you you're not where you're supposed to be."

I understand his anxiety. 

I still go through the same thing in large groups. I know it's hard to get involved when you don't know anyone. But, I also know how much he loves to run! He'll have so much fun if he can just connect with one person and the only way to do that is to keep going. He's never complained before class about going there. I know he wants to have a good time, but his nerves take over once he's there.

Today we arrived half an hour early. I've been coming early each time hoping he can make friends before class, but today I wanted to talk to the coach so he would understand that Monkey's not a troublemaker, just nervous as it's his first time here and he's not comfortable with such a large group of strangers. I was hoping he could introduce himself to Monkey and help him feel more at ease, welcome, and comfortable as part of the group.

The coach arrived just as Monkey ran to the bathroom. He saw me, probably recognized me as that one ridiculous mom out on the field, holding her kids' hand. He came right over to me and said, "Your son needs to listen and do what he's told. I can't have kids running all over doing whatever they want or all the kids will think they can do that too." My anxiety shot up sky high and I was glad I had sun glasses on and was standing in the hot sun, so he couldn't see my cheeks turn bright red. It was all I could do to force words from my mouth. I hate confrontation, it makes me freeze up.

I explained Monkey's anxiety and said we came early to see if he speak to him. He said he would, but didn't seem in the least bit understanding. He just said, "he'll meet friends if he's out there, but he needs to be doing what he's supposed to."

When Monkey came back, I told him it'd be nice to meet the coach so he could see how nice he was and not be scared of him (hiding the fact that I was terrified of him at this point!). I found him and it took every ounce of courage I had to fight the anxiety in me, which I prayed Monkey couldn't feel. I had to drag the kid to him, he wouldn't look up at him at all. I said, come on, he's not scary. Coach said sternly, "Oh, yes I am." Thanks. That's helpful. I tried to believe he was joking, but he never let on if he was.

Monkey refused to shake his hand. Great, now he thinks my kid really is just defiant. but did listen to him explain why he needs to follow directions and stay with the group. Monkey did get out there and begin practice on his own, with the team. Then, not long after starting, the coach made him do extra push ups in front of the whole group (way to get him singled out, Mom) because he was doing them faster than the group, not counting along with them. Humiliation- that will get him to want to come back.

I was surprised Monkey stayed out there. I half expected him to come back crying and tell me that he never wanted to be here again! I wasn't sure if he was starting to know what was expected of him and feel like part of the group or if he was just too afraid to step out of line. I had conflicting feelings over whether I should allow a coach to continue to lead with fear or pull him out now. I decided to see how he felt about all this, and not project my own anxieties on him.

Halfway through the class they had a water break and he came bounding over to me happily. He wanted a drink and to know if I was able to see him out there. He told me he had to do more push ups, explaining he didn't know he had to do them at the same time as everyone else. He just thought he had to do a certain amount. He didn't sound at all negative about it, just matter of fact. He climbed around the bleachers, no negative comments, no look of a crushed soul, nothing but a regular kid who was hot and thirsty.

I told him he was doing great and I was really proud of him for sticking it out. I said if he finished his entire class on his own, he could pick dinner. He willingly did. I even saw him laughing and playing a bit with kids while waiting in line for the long jump.

When to Push Your Kids and When to Let it Go
there is a smile on that face

In the car on the way home he was very proud of himself. The first thing he told his dad when we got home was that he had stayed for the whole class! Maybe a stern hand was what he needed, but I think the coach could have had the same effect with encouragement and making him feel welcome rather than scared to death. Monkey hasn't said a word about not going back, so we'll keep going. I didn't ask him if he wanted to, I'm pretty sure what the answer would be. I'll let him tell me if he feels strongly enough about it. I had asked him after the first to day there to stick through the season and then he could decide if he wants to continue track next year. It will be an interesting season for sure.

I know my son and know he needs some pushing to try anything new. There are many things I don't push on him, like letting him choose how he will learn certain things, but when it comes to sports, or any group activity, it takes lots of extra encouragement and patience until he can connect with someone and feel comfortable. Then he usually begins to love it.

It's still an inner struggle as a mom. 

Not wanting to push too hard and cause him to hate something. Not wanting to put him through unnecessary strain and anxiety. It's heartbreaking watching someone who doesn't understand him at all being harsh with him and possibly thinking less of him for his hesitancy.

The key to knowing when to push and when to let up:

Know your child.
Really know them. Spend lots of time talking with them about how they feel in different situations. Ask what they might do and why. This also helps them know they can trust you and always come to you. That it's okay to feel however they do without being ashamed.

Listen to your child.
Hear what they have to say and consider it, don't just dismiss it because you think they're being stubborn, or too shy, etc. Be aware of their body language. Help them sort out how they feel, since kids don't know how to best verbalize it yet, but don't put words in their mouths. If I had asked my son straight out if he wanted to come back, I'm sure he would have said no, but his silence told me he was not completely opposed to continue trying.

If you're kid is distraught, remove them from the situation until you can talk calmly, both of you, even if that means missing part or all of a class. It's worth it. You'll know how they feel, why they are acting the way they are and they can know you empathize, you care, you understand and are trying to help them work through it so they can enjoy this sport, class, make new friends, whatever it is. They need to know you're not just being mean.

Respect your child
I've heard many parents yell at their kids, force them to get out there and do it, even threaten them. They are frustrated and not listening to their kids' needs. If it truly is a struggle, you'll need to decide if it's worth it to force them on and have your child lose their trust in and respect for you or you can accept that they need extra help (running with your child so long as the coach doesn't complain) or even backing out all together. Maybe they're just not ready, or it's not what their gifts in life are leading them toward. Everyone is different, despite how modern education seems built. And each of us has different strengths.

Find your child's strengths
If the current class or sport does not seem to spark enough interest find something that does. Perhaps their first choice holds no value for you, but if it means the world to your child, it could just be what they are meant for. I emphasize focusing on strengths, not weaknesses! Don't go telling all the neighbors, "oh he wasn't any good at track." Rather, "it wasn't for him, his love is music, computer programing, baking, or..." If you truly listen and give your child freedom to explore their interests, you'll see lots of things they're great at and they'll find their passions as well. 

Have you been in this struggle? How did you decide whether to press on or pull out?


  1. This is an awesome post! I felt like snoopy dancing! This is a challenge for me and constantly on my radar. My guy has a temperament VERY different than my own. I also find it difficult to ascertain when to defend him or protect him and when to hover in the background and let him deal with his own struggles. Ugh! So tough, but necessary.

    1. That is hard when you can not relate. I know it's easier for me to empathize because I feel or have felt exactly the same. It's still not easy to know if I'm being over protective, imagining his stress is as much as mine, or allowing too much stress.. it's a fine balance that changes with each situation. I hope others can just know it's okay for each to feel differently and okay to walk away from something and try again another day. Recognizing what's truly important- trust & respect between child and parent.

  2. This is something I struggled with for years when my elder daughter was in a swimming club. She was naturally talented - and also quiet and didn't push herself forward for anything. She also had a lot of illnesses and after each bout would get anxious about going back to swimming. I encouraged her as much as I could, but she kept worrying even though she loved to swim. Then in the end, after a long bout of illness she wanted to leave the club. Worried that she would feel she'd failed, I reluctantly agreed, but the interesting thing is that since then she had become much healthier and more assertive too! Perhaps it was letting go of a stressful situation that did it, or perhaps it was taking control, but either way she made the right choice - for her. And it sounds as if you and your son has made the right choice for him.

    1. Sounds like you supported her decision and didn't force her to do what she wasn't up to doing at that time. Good job mama!

  3. Difficult one. I've had something similar, again with swimming. This seems to have resolved with another series of lessons at the same level rather than going up.

  4. IMO, that's not coaching, that's bullying. If there were some other team possibility I would have told him off and left immediately. If this is the only possibility, I would have a stern private chat with the coach. If he agreed to be less draconian, ok. If not, I'd talk to my kid about how willing they were to put up with that kinda crap in order to do that sport. *I* certainly wouldn't.

    1. I agree! There is no other youth track class, but there are other coaches that are much gentler. He actually spent most of that day with a different coach and was excited to go back again for the next class. If he had not wanted to, I wouldn't have made him go back.

    2. Cool. Sounds like you found a good path and a good possibility. I always loved doing sports but there were several times when I ultimately chose not to participate because the coach was too unpleasant. In a sport you enjoy, with a good coach, it can be BIG FUN. Hope he has a great time.

  5. I love this post. I have a 9 year old who is, frankly, flakey. She gets it from me. I'm the queen of, "I want to do this! Whoops. Never mind. I don't want to anymore." That flakiness has gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years and cost me time, money and relationships. I want better for her so, when she tells me, "I want to do this," I usually tell her if she commits I will push her to keep going - and doing her very best - for the duration. Sometimes she gets really upset with me. She feels she is being forced. More often, she is like your boy. She resists but then finds that, in the end, she is glad I pushed her. Now... if she were TRULY having some kind of terrible anxiety-ridden experience that would be different. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it comes down to listening and respect. We all need a little nudge sometimes!

    1. Yes, follow through is important as long as it's not causing major stress and anxiety. And they can't understand that joy of completing something after a struggle until they actually get there.

  6. When my kids express an interest in trying something, a sport/class/group, I always make sure that they follow through and do their best. If it turns out to be something that they aren't so keen on, I make sure that they finish what they started but don't force them to re-enlist for another session. I feel like this teaches them responsibilty while still respecting their feelings by not forcing them to sign up again.

    Really, though, we each know our own children best and need to use our best judgement on whether or not to push. Your situation was hard but you listened to your gut and it worked out. That's the best we can ask for.

    1. I want my kids to learn that follow through is important & usually encourage them to finish what they've started, get the whole experience before deciding if they want to take that class again (for example), but not in an unhealthy situation. Sometimes it's okay to walk away. I would have let him walk away from this one if he didn't have other great coaches and actually wanted to return.

  7. I know all of those thoughts and feelings you describe. It is hard to hand your child over to someone who doesn't know them and who does things differently than you. Good for your son for trying something new and different. I hope he makes new friends and learns great things about himself.

  8. Wow. That was really brave of you to let him keep going (and keeping your mouth shut! Haha!). It's all very surprising, isn't it? When your kid doesn't break down like we "think we know they would?" Kids can be more resilient than us sometimes, I suppose. We just have to give them the chance. :D

  9. I love how you handled this, supporting him when he needed you (even if you felt stupid!) but listening to his cues about what he needed. He's lucky to have such a great mama!

  10. Sometimes it is hard to figure out the answer, thanks for the help :)


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