So much of parenting seems to revolve around protecting our children, and rightly so, this is a vital duty. But what about teaching them to be tough in hard moments? Or encouraging new things even if it causes discomfort? Like absolutely everything else in parenthood, there is a delicate balancing act to shielding our kids while also making them resilient. Everyone has different approaches, but for me I feel that introducing my kiddos to new things, taking an emphasis off of the reward’s process, and also encouraging activities that test their resolve (and even push their limits) are effective ways to introduce them to real world happenings.
Basketball is not for everyone. However, I think every child should try playing it, at least once, during their younger elementary years because it is a contact sport that does not require outdoor arenas or a ton of equipment. My third-grader has two seasons under her belt, and playing ball has been a mostly fun experience for her. There have also been challenges, but they are the type of struggles that in the long run introduce some good life lessons to my daughter as well as her father and me.
Basketball is a game where opposing players invade one’s personal space, get handsy, and are prone to do the occasional shove, push, or kick. While I in no way encourage brutal force or dirty tricks while playing ball, I do think it is good for my daughter and other kids to understand that in this type of situation, you have to be tough, work hard, and get physical. The first game of the season this year my daughter was guarded by a forceful opponent in pig-tails. This defender grabbed a bit and probably could have been called for quite a few fouls. Every time our team went to offense, I could see my daughter’s frustration level sky rocket. She got red in the face, stomped her foot, and made tight fists of anger. Her negative reaction only instigated her piggy-tailed foe to play harder and guard closer.
I found myself being more concerned with my daughter’s reaction, than the overly physical contact of the little gal guarding her. My husband had the same opinion as me. We both played basketball in our younger years and thought our daughter needed to toughen up and focus on the game. Mainly because basketball is a contact sport and you need to be able to withstand some rough-housing. During a time-out, my spouse talked to my daughter about her attitude and we both had lengthy discussions with her after the game about sportsmanship and understanding that guarding players and going for the ball are key elements to playing good defense. The bottom line was that in basketball you are going to get your personal space invaded, so get used to it or find another past-time.
To cut my girl some slack, I understand that it does have to be confusing for kiddos when it comes to playing more aggressive sports. Especially since my generation of parenting spends a lot of time “helicoptoring”, worrying, and going to great lengths to make our kids feel overly comfortable the vast majority of the time. For years my daughter has heard me say “Keep your hands to yourself.” or “Give everyone a hula-hoop of space.” So when it comes to basketball, it seems like a huge oxymoron to now instruct her to get out there and be scrappy and aggressive.
Over the course of the season, my daughter was not the only player on our team who got overwhelmed with how aggressive playing ball can be. It was actually from the spectator seats that a group of us moms began commenting on how basketball was good for our children because it was introducing them to some grit. People are going to try and walk all over you in life, so it doesn’t hurt to learn through a controlled sporting event that it is okay to stand your ground and be forceful in the appropriate moments.
Should Participating Equal an Automatic Reward?
I do not have a firm stance regarding participation trophies. I see the joy it brings my little ones when they get some hardware after a season of t-ball or gymnastics, where no scores were ever recorded. However, I can also nod along with naysayers that oppose the ceremony of shiny medals simply for attending a game or practice. Especially as kids get older, I think dealing with loss and leaving with nothing can teach children a lot about grit.
My bigger issue than participation trophies, is treats for everything. And I mean EVERYTHING! Our kids get buried in treats, and I am just as guilty of bringing extra snacks and passing them out as rewards as anyone else. But as my children grow up, I am trying to get better at this (I don’t always succeed, but parenting is a work in progress for me!). I understand it is fun to open a juice box and throw back some Oreos after a long night of soccer, but it also makes me cringe because I want my children to be there for the activity. I want the game time experience and the interaction of play to be the focus, and not the treats afterwards. I want to discuss how the event went for them, and not have it all glossed over as “fine” because they got a hit of candy afterwards. It sounds simple to downplay or do away with treats as an award, but the struggle is very real.
Another area of life that can be difficult, but is also capable of teaching life lessons is the obstacle of auditioning. I never wanted to audition for anything as a kid or teenager, and ultimately missed out on quite a few activities due to failing to leave my comfort zone. While nervous butterflies can make for uneasiness, they can also lead to great opportunities (or the acceptance of let downs). I wrote about the positive experience my daughters had while trying out for (and making) “The Sound of Music”, but even with all of the positives there were anxieties. Giggle fits on the stage, nerves about not performing well, and second-guessing one’s ability were a few of the brief (but still haunting) moments.
Recently my oldest tried out for honor choir, and it was a task that had her a bit frazzled. We do not yet have the results, but either way life lessons were introduced. These auditions involved solos being recorded and scrutinized with only a fraction of students earning a spot. My daughter was willing to try-out, and I pushed for it because whether she makes it or not, I feel the audition process makes her stronger personally and more confident. Plus if she gets rejected, there is a gritty lesson to be learned regarding accepting the final results and having to try again next year.
Sometimes to show our kids grit we need to encourage (or gently shove) them out of their comfort zone, even if it makes us as parents equally uncomfortable. We unfortunately cannot protect them from all things, but we can do our best to prepare them for difficult situations.
What life lessons (if any) do you push on your children? How do you teach grit and toughness? We want to know, so please leave a comment or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!