Monday, February 07, 2011
We've all seen it. You may even have been involved in it. I'm talking about those awkward, embarrassing moments when the apple of someone's eye decides to throw a tantrum about joining his or her teammates for practice or a game. This doesn't come with moderate reluctance. We can handle minor resistance. No this comes like a cyclone of wails, flailing limbs, and cataclysmic collapses to the ground. It has no understandable cause, doesn't appear until long after leaving the car for the walk across the field, and cannot be appeased by any kind of promise, bribe, or threat. The banshee screams pierce the air and all eyes are on parent and child because no one can stop gawking at a wreck.
These episodes erupt without warning and apparent cause. Therefore they are difficult to handle. Occasionally kids will become intimidated by the number of boisterous and unknown players screaming and running to their various teams. Coming to practice with a buddy or just letting a child sit and absorb the scene for a few minutes will be enough to stem the outburst. Even if it takes a week or two to calm the situation, familiarity and routine should eventually do the trick. Sometimes kids don't like having a comfortable activity at home interrupted by this new soccer practice. So make sure they don't start a TV program or movie that will need to be stopped in order to go to practice. Have them get into their practice gear or uniform at least 30 minutes before it's time to leave, so that soccer doesn't get associated with any last minute stress. Once dressed kids should then do an activity that they can take with them in the car and that will be there when they return to the car – a book, a hand-held game, any favorite toy. Parents can then let children have a minute or two at the parking lot to wind down with their toys before hopping out for practice.
It's important to set the ground rules at the beginning no matter how young your children are and be sure you articulate to them right from the onset of the activity. That way everyone knows what's going to happen. Then be firm with those expectations. In our house our kids were expected to complete whatever session they had signed up for. Even if one of our kids refused to attend practice, he or she had to go and either sit on the sidelines with me or, if they were being too wild, sit in the car. But they had to attend every practice/game of the session. Eventually they always ran happily out to participate. They quickly realized any activity was more fun than sitting next to mom for 45 minutes. Robbie would perpetually refuse to attend practice clear up through U-17. Although he would say, "I don't want to go" he always got in the car, he always went to practice, and he always was the last one off the field. He's also the only kid I let quit one activity before the completion of the season because of significant mitigating circumstances, so I may have opened the door for that aggrevation. Most importantly don't let the spectacle of your child's displeasure dissuade you from your course. Almost everyone has had the meltdown experience, so trust that even though we're staring, we're not judging. We're actually commiserating and saying a silent thank you that at least for today our child isn't acting out too.
I remember one particularly demonstrative young lady at a peewee soccer clinic which met Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Thursdays the girl was brought by her mother and leapt cheerfully from the car and ran straight to her group and coach. But Tuesdays her dad brought her and she got out of the car already screaming and writhing. I knew this family and I suspected what was going on. The dad was a medical specialist who left home before the kids were up and came home after they were asleep. Tuesday was his half day off, so he took his daughter to soccer. She most likely didn't want to interrupt her "daddy" time with something as unimportant as joining her team. And poor dad, who was used to people doing what he asked, found himself completely helpless in the face of her typhoon of emotion. Luckily the coach recognized the Tuesday difference in the player's behavior and invited the dad to be an "assistant" coach. The tantrums stopped, father and daughter got time together, and the team got an extra coach – win-win all around.
As Robbie proves, resistance doesn't disappear just because a child grows older. The day of registering for a U-12 soccer team can be full of excited anticipation which dissolves suddenly when the first day of practice arrives. It's usually a bit easier to cajole a 4-year-old into and out of the car than it is an 11-year-old. The former may create a public scene, but the latter will test your negotiation skills. Again, having set the ground rules before we even register our son or daughter gives us a solid base from which to enforce our expectations. Remind them that they wanted this commitment and they need to honor it. Give them a chance to explain why the change in attitude, but you should stick to your standards unless the reason is compelling. Make it clear that you won't be signing them up for any new activities until this session of soccer is over, and make it really clear that they have used up their ""get out of jail free" card, so going forward they have to meet all their commitments or there will be no more activities. If a player still absolutely refuses to go to practice then give them a chore that takes up the practice time.
We don't want our children to be perceived as quitters or whiners, so we may get too insistent when a child refuses to participate. None of us should be ashamed if our kid puts on a show, and we shouldn't rush to shut it down at any cost. Otherwise, our kids learn that if they embarrass us enough they can get whatever they want. Similarly we shouldn't force our kids because that attaches negative vibes to the activity. Instead we should stick to the rules we established and still be sympathetic. If we can discover why they are resistant, we can directly address that issue. But I suspect even the child can't explain. Therefore the best option is to calmly and regularly go to practice, give our children a chance to acclimate to the situation, and keep to a minimum our reaction to the tantrum. Given enough time and enough familiarity most children will calm down and join in. The less we acknowledge the storm, the better we can assure it blows over.