How Sportscasting Helps Your Children Overcome Challenges
Whenever we see our children challenged… perhaps they’re struggling with a puzzle piece that Just. Won’t. Fit. or they might be arguing with another child over who got the toy first. Or, despite their determination, they’re not managing to buckle their shoes independently… Our initial knee-jerk response is often to soothe, fix or distract the problem away.
We show them the puzzle piece just needs to be turned 45 degrees! There! Or we swoop down and decree our judgement “Sammy got it first!” (grabbing the toy back and handing it to Sammy) “It’s his turn now and in 2 minutes it will be your turn, I’ll put on a timer!”. Or we quickly buckle their shoes for them, “It’s OK!”.
Sportscasting is a tool, first taught to me by Janet Lansbury which allows us to take a conscientious moment before we solve a problem for our child.
Sportscasting happens when, rather than getting involved in the problem with the child, we describe it for them. Using objective descriptors and an emotionally neutral tone – we reflect for them, with curiosity, what we’re seeing. (Tweet it!)
“Huh, that piece isn’t fitting that way. It’s pretty difficult to get it in.”
“Hmmm. Two boys want the same truck. Sammy and Evan, you are both holding it. You both want it. And there’s only one. I wonder what can be done…?”
“It’s hard to close that type of buckle, you’re frustrated!”
Think of a sportscaster reporting on the game before them, recounting the players moves play by play in real time. The sportscaster doesn’t make suggestions, doesn’t jump in and play the game for them, but rather simply portrays what he sees, objectively and without interpretation.
When we sportscast, we send our children some important messages:
- I see your struggle. I take note of you. I am by your side. You have my attention. I care.
- I trust you to be your own problem solver, I don’t have the answers any more than you do. You are the author of your life, and the initiator of change and solution.
- I am not overwhelmed by your discomfort, and neither need you be. Being in an uncomfortable place is simply the initiation of a new idea. You do not need to be saved from negative feelings of frustration, fear, irritation, conflict, disorganization, confusion…
- When a problem arises we need to pause and take note, not rush to fix it. That way we can make wise, mindful, creative choices about how to solve it.
Do you see the refreshing juxtaposition? On the one hand I care, I’m here, I support you. On the other hand, I trust, you have autonomy, you have ownership and control.
Our problems needn’t overwhelm us. We can take note, we can pause, and then we can steadily, slowly and deliberately unpack these problems and decide how to tackle them, constructively.
Once we’ve sportscasted a situation, we’re essentially gently handing back the reigns to our children to solve their problems, with the benefit of our trusting support and attention. Beyond serving as a “deep breath” reminder for our children, it serves us adults (who need this reminder even more) as a reminder to step back from our controlling tendencies and respect our children’s creativity and capacity to figure things out. I personally need this reminder, daily if not hourly.
The Parenting Junkie’s Sportscasting DOs and DON’Ts
- When you see a situation arise DO pause and observe, perhaps the child can figure it out without any help from you.
- When their frustration escalates, DO comment on what they’re trying to do or struggling with. “You weren’t done with that dinosaur, and now Ella has it.”
- DO empathically sportscast their feelings, as well as their actions, “You’re upset, waiting is hard.”
- DO sportscast even when you are the one triggering their upset “You didn’t want me to take the cup away, you’re really mad, mad, mad!”
- DO encourage them to come up with ideas “So what can we do to solve this problem?”
- DO encourage multiple ideas and solutions “We could buy another truck, that’s one solution. What else could we do?”
- DON’T place any blame or label victims and aggressors (even if you perceive them). Instead neutrally describe the events. For example: “Jinny was climbing on that slide and now Max is.”
- DON’T take sides. Make sure to describe what you think is going on for each of the children involved. “Jinny you wanted to play on the slide by yourself. Max, you also would like time by yourself on the slide.”
- DON’T add in any evaluations or judgments “it’s not that bad” or “you’re being silly”
- DON’T rush to offer ideas for a solution. Instead leave your questions open ended “Hmmm, what can we do so that everyone is happy?”
- DON’T poo-poo their ideas. Instead validate each one and lead them to see what works and what doesn’t about that idea. “You could grab it back, yes, that’s one idea… how do you think Ella would feel about that?”
- DO support by gently offering your own ideas if none are being offered by the child or if none are feasible “Hmmm… I was wondering if perhaps we could turn the puzzle piece a bit? Would that work?” or “I wonder if Turner would accept a different toy instead of that one? Want to try and find him another option?”
- DO point out other children’s emotional response (our children don’t always notice them or take note of them). “You want to scream and sing very loudly. Can you see Talya’s face? She’s showing us her ears hurt! What do you think we should do?”
- DO accept solutions that everyone’s satisfied with. “OK, so you both agree that Jinny, you’ll be on the swings and Max, you’ll will be on the slide? Great.”
- DO point out how helpful and pleasant it is when we find solutions, and express gratitude for their help in this. “You guys did it! That’s a plan we’re all quite happy with. It feels great when we can solve our problems and come up with new ideas. Thank you!”
Do you use this reflective approach? How does it work for you?
Want an actionable plan to set limits with empathy? Check out Empathic Limits