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Category: Relationships / Topics: Family Grandchildren Love Parenting, Parents Training Values Wisdom

Keys to Nurturing Kids

by Ken Potts

Posted: August 11, 2019

Self-control, praise, teach…

Some of our favorite family stories have to do with our youngest daughter and her childhood zest for life.

For example, there was the time at age 5 she decided she was going to be a soccer star, but wound up more interested in the after-game snacks and sitting on her Dad's lap than in her team's practices and games.

We remember one game in particular on a hot and muggy summer evening. Though our daughter struggled with her normal susceptibility to distractions, at least she was paying more attention to what was going on than some of the other kids present; two of her teammates had wandered over to another picnic table and were -- as far as I could tell -- busy watching an ice cube melt.

Finally, hoping to encourage our budding soccer star, I suggested she go over and tell her coach she was ready to play again. In a burst of energy characteristic of our daughter's approach to life, she leapt up and ran toward her coach.

"Come on, you guys," she yelled to the duo absorbed in the demise of yet another cube, "let's go!"

Now a dynamic trio, they stormed up to the coach -- and right past him.

"We're ready to play!" my daughter remembered to inform her coach as she led her two teammates in a flying wedge toward the ball.

By my count there were now eight members of our daughter's team confronting five opponents, with the resulting pandemonium being "supervised" by a total of six coaches. When the resulting confusion finally subsided, I overheard our daughter's coach speaking in a surprisingly patient voice: "That's the way to go for the ball, Natalie! How about next time wait until I tell you to go in, OK?"

That was one heck of a soccer coach.

Most children are born with a zest for life. They want to experience everything. Unfortunately, they are just as likely to try to experience running into the street as they are running out on the soccer field.

This creates a bit of a dilemma for parents. We certainly want our children to maintain that energy they display as they throw themselves into their activities, that joy they experience in learning, that independence that will be so important as they grow and develop toward adulthood.

Yet, we also want them to survive their childhood. And we would like them to learn to place some limits on how, when, and with whom they express their energy, curiosity and independence.

I'm not about to suggest there is any easy way for us parents to do this, but I do think my daughter's coach's approach offers some guidance.

First, and perhaps most importantly, he got his own emotions under control. Coaching a team of eight 5-year-olds is obviously an emotionally trying experience. Yet he was amazingly patient in his response to my little girl's excess of energy.

Second, he found something to praise. He didn't want to dampen Natalie's enthusiasm for the game -- or even her spontaneous offense -- so he made sure to compliment her on both.

Third, he channeled her natural energy and initiative toward a more constructive end by teaching her a rather crucial rule of the game.

Self-control, praise, teach.

Now, I confess, in some situations -- say the proverbial child running into the street scenario -- such an approach may seem a bit far-fetched. But if we could regain some semblance of emotional calm, we would have to admit that it's not our child's running that has us upset; it's where she is running.

So we could actually praise the energy and joy in running while teaching that the backyard, not the street, is the place to run. (I'm not sure I could pull this off, but I'd at least like to be able to.)


Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of SamaraCare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove, Illinois.

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Posted: August 11, 2019

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