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My Child Plays Sports

I woke up last night in the middle of a panic attack. It’s not the first time, either. Heart pounding, sweating, mind racing. I have two son who are competitive gymnasts.  We travel all over for meets. Both go to the same gym but compete at different levels. My younger son enjoys the comradery, but he’d much rather sing, ride his bike around the neighborhood, and hang out with his friends. For some kids, being part of a team is about learning to lose gracefully and putting effort and pride into everything they do. And that’s such an important lesson. My older son, however, lives and breathes gymnastics. This is what he wants to do. He has big dreams and plans, and works hours a day on achieving his goals. I’ve read a lot of blogs. They all say, “You are doing a good thing; you’re teaching them about perseverance and how to lose gracefully”. Occasionally, people will recognize the time, money, and energy parents put into their children’s sports. Sometimes this is to fulfill the parents’ desires for greatness through their kids. Sometimes it’s the athletes drive and motivation. My sons call me a “gymnastics mom”. They make fun of me when I remind them to point their toes or get out of their heads and into the back tuck.  Which brings me back to my panic attack.  Am I pushing too hard? Am I giving him my all so they can give theirs? Should I leave it alone? Most of all, am I the cause of their stress or lack of effort? How do I stop getting tense in the middle of the night, meet, or practice? As anyone who’s ever experienced a panic attack knows, they aren’t so easy to stop. And one leads into another into the next. In the moment it’s hard to remember to breath, unclench your jaw, or count backwards from 10,000. Sometimes a podcast helps as a distraction; meditation to remind me to get into my breath and get out of my thoughts.  It’s hardest to remember not to try too hard. Just to let it go. And that’s the best thing I can for my kids: to learn to chill, take it as it comes, accept what is and trust in myself as a parent, as a chauffeur, as a psychologist, and as a back-seat coach and cheering squad. It’s hard not to take their scores and effort, or lack thereof, personally; to equate my blood, sweat, and tears with how they perform, or don’t. And I guess that the point. My sons’ gymnastics (or any other) experiences aren’t in my control. The decisions I make for them, and the emotions and drive I try to instill are done in good faith, with love and knowledge. And that’s where it must end: faith in myself and faith in my kids. I can only do so much. And I have to be ok with that, and let the rest be.

The Question of Strong Feelings

Considering the current political climate in our country, it’s important to talk to our children about how to be gracious winners and losers. Sometimes, we tell our children, we don’t always win. Sometimes, we remind them, we will. Both are ok. Both are part of life. But it’s important to remember that we live in a world with lots of other people who don’t feel the same way. Or who tried hard, and lost, or won. And it’s our place to come together afterwards and still live and get along. What many people might be feeling are strong emotions, adults included. Our children may not understand why we have these strong emotions; why we are feeling anxious or upset, or elated and confident. They may not know why the adults around them feel these strong emotions, or they might understand the concept of “winning” and “losing”. But they all feel our emotional cast offs. What most children don’t understand is how to process these strong emotions. Often regulating these feelings are hard; they get carried away and end up on an out of control emotional rollercoaster that leaves them feeling out of control. Here’s how to help:
  1. Accept their emotions. They, and you, have a right to feel the way they do. It’s ok to be happy, or sad, or confused. All our feelings are ok.
  2. It's how we express our emotions that count. We can have feelings, but our feelings can’t stop us from living our lives. We still must go to school, or work. We still must eat, and sleep, and do what is expected of us in our everyday lives. That’s what makes the world continue to turn.
  3. We can learn to handle our emotions. Learning to sit in our emotions, to accept what we are feeling without judgement but acceptance, is key. There are lots of meditation apps that you can download to help everyone practice focusing: on your breath, on a though, on a feeling. When you control your emotions, your emotions don’t control you.
Being in control of our emotions will help our children be in control of themselves. And as a person, a family, and a country, we can be more in command of ourselves, which will allow us to continue to live our best lives. This holds true for a soccer game, a test, and an election.
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