By Rachel Goldman
As parents, we all know what a great feeling it is to see our children smiling, laughing, and slightly flushed from being physically active — whether that’s at the playground, on a soccer field, or just chasing fireflies in a yard. Being active does not only mean organized sports. Some kids will crave the structure and camaraderie they feel from being on a team, while others might prefer a more solitary pursuit. Either way, kids need time to be active, carefree, and adventurous.
If you see your child isn’t enjoying a sports class experience, the fix could be as simple as trying a different instructor or location, or getting a buddy to go with your child and making it a play date. If your child doesn’t gravitate toward the more common, soccer and baseball-type sports, think about what they like to do and find something that fits their personality. Keep in mind it might be different from what you loved to do when you were a child, and it may not be what you hoped they would want to do at all.
1. Sports are games, and games should be FUN
Playing games should be fun. For children, sports should not be about winning and losing. This can be difficult to convey to a child, especially when they see us caring about the outcome of a football game, a basketball game, or a tennis match. Healthy competition can be great, but children are typically results-oriented, and when they do not score a goal or run the fastest they can become easily discouraged. As parents it is our job to focus on the experience, the accomplishment of their participation, how hard he or she tried, and how well the team worked together — not winning or losing. Our children want to know we are proud of them regardless of the outcome. It is important to take a step back and ensure that our children’s involvement in a sport is not about our own ego, but about their enjoyment of the game.
2. Pay attention to what your kids like to do
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to fitness for adults. Why should we think it would be any different for kids? There are almost as many options in NYC for our kids to be active, as there are for adults. When the choices include Hip Hop Yoga, Capoeira, Rock Climbing, or CrossFit for Kids, finding an activity that allows your child to be physically active might be as simple as paying attention to what your child likes to do. If your child loves going to the playground, make sure to build time into your schedule to take them. If they refuse to play soccer in the park, but instead want to climb every rock they see, look into where rock climbing is offered. And if they turn any household item, from feather duster to empty paper towel roll, into a Star Wars-style ‘light saber’ — it may be time to check out a fencing class. Pay attention to what your kids like to do and give them a similar outlet. They will be more likely to want to participate in something they are already interested in doing.
3. Listen when your child says, “I don’t like this”
We’ve all had moments with our children when they have refused to do something that, once they finally did try it, they enjoyed. Getting your kids to be active or play a sport should not be a fight. Remember, sports are games and games should be fun. If it’s a fight before you even get out the door to go to the activity, nobody is having fun. When my daughter was 2, we signed her up for ballet. For a year she loved it, looked forward to her class each week, but then something changed. It became a fight to get her to go. I knew she still loved to dance, that much was evident by the dance parties she had in our living room. Several months after we threw in the towel on ballet I asked her why she stopped liking her class. She told me that she wanted to dance to music she heard at home. So when I heard about a hip hop class in our neighborhood, I quickly signed her up. Now she looks forward to going to the class every week — and busting a move to “Let It Go.”
4. Take advantage of free trial classes
In New York, there’s so much competition for your business, and kids are big business. When it comes to kid classes, including sports, most facilities offer a free trial class. Take advantage of this. Parents don’t want to shell out $500 or more for a class their kid is going to hate. You would not be happy if you bought your son a full package of basketball classes, thinking he would love it since he spends hours playing on the little hoop in your apartment, only to discover that the noise of all those bouncing balls echoing around the gymnasium sends him running, crying, from the room, covering his ears. Try out a class first. On your way home, ask your child if he liked the class. If he says yes, ask him if he would like to do it again. If you get another yes, you might just have the next LeBron James on your hands. Well… maybe not. But even if you don’t, at least you know your kid is having fun with the sport he’s playing — and that is the most important thing after all.
Rachel Goldman, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Psychoanalyst on the Upper East Side in New York City. She has a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work from Fordham University, and also holds a 4-year Post-Masters Certificate in Adult Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy from the National Institute for the Psychotherapies. In her practice she works with Individuals and Couples.
Find Rachel at www.rachelgoldmanlcsw.com