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If You Want Your Kids to Be Successful in Sports, Get Out of Their Way

We’ve all been to those youth sporting events; you know the ones I’m talking about. The ones where parents are living out their own dreams, regardless of what their kids want.


I’ve found on many occasions that the adults think they want success for their kids but in many ways they want it for themselves. Just like many other parents, I have fallen victim to this trap one too many times. It wasn’t until a certain eight-year-old taught me a very important lesson that I began to change my ways.

A few years ago, I was standing at the starting line, or what we in the BMX world like to call “the starting gate.” The night seemed to start off just like any other; after all, this had been what our family did every weekend for the last six months, yet on this particular night, something didn’t seem right.

My daughter had been on that gate many times, but this night was different. For a split second, I think I actually saw the panic and worry in her eyes. The green color to her skin, because she was ready to throw-up. The focus on her face to do the best she can, so that she wouldn’t disappoint us. She didn’t want to race, but she did it anyway. She did it because we told her to; because she thought it was what we wanted. My daughter was living out our requests and dreams, not her own.

That was the night we decided that our kids will be the ones who choose which activities and sports they want to be involved in. My daughter decided for herself that BMX racing was not for her. She finished the season, her commitment, and then found her joy in dancing.

One of the most important things we can do for our kids is to focus on their interests and try not to impose our own. At the same time, kids do need some gentle encouragement, because very rarely do they naturally decide to get involved in a sport or activity without some parental guidance.

The most difficult part of this delicate balance is determining how we push and encourage without imposing.

I think John O’Sullivan of Changing The Game Project said it best: “We all love our kids, and we want the best for them, but in this oftentimes race to nowhere we call youth sports, our words and actions are not helpful to our kids despite our best intentions. They hurt performance instead of helping, and that make sports a place of disappointment instead of enjoyment.”

What I’ve realized over the years is that my kids are not simply an extension of me. It’s important to pay attention to where I end and they begin.

The three key common components to long-term participation in sports and other activities are:

  • enjoyment
  • autonomy
  • intrinsic motivation

When faced with the decision to abandon our own dreams and instead focus on our kids dreams, there is one simple way to know which direction to go; look at their face, are they happy? When the going gets tough, do they still want to continue and push through the hard times? No matter how many hours my daughter spends at the dance studio, she still wants more. And my son, well, his bike is pretty much an extension of his body.

So often, parents forget to give their kids the one thing they did have: a childhood. They forget to give them the ability to find things they love, instead of choosing for them. It is not our job to discover what they are passionate about, that job belongs to them. The best gift we can give our children is to allow them to find what makes them smile.

Ultimately, it’s my job to support and stand by my children as they navigate their world. No matter what sport or activity they choose, I will always stick by the three things I tell them before any competition or performance: “I love you, I’m proud of you, and have fun.” After all, they only get one childhood, and we only get one time to be a part of it; we must choose wisely.

I have received my fair share of questioning and criticism regarding what some people have called a too soft/hands-off approach. Frequently, I hear statements like, “How can you expect to raise a champion with that attitude?”

Here’s the thing; I’m not raising a champion, I’m raising a child.

Recently, my six-year-old son accomplished a goal of turning expert in his age group for BMX; a goal he set for himself. While snuggling him on the night of his big win, I was reminded of the very simple reason that I choose to parent this way. As he was drifting off to sleep, I whispered in his ear that the success he experienced was because of him; no one else. He did the hard work, showed up, believed in himself, and had fun.

The words that came next are the ones we all hope to hear from our children:

Thanks mom, it feels pretty awesome that I did this!”

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

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