Parents’ unruly sports behavior can affect children’s mental heath

SAN ANTONIO – As the weather turns nicer and the spring and summer sporting season is upon us, it’s important for parents to remember that “it’s just a game.”

And while a child’s sporting event can be a fun opportunity to cheer on the kids and mingle, things can go wrong in a hurry if parents choose to be overly competitive.

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“When parents are aggressive or over-the-top, kids can also feel ashamed or embarrassed,” Dr. Lauren Havel, assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital said via a press release.

Havel said children may start to doubt their abilities and question their parent’s faith in them if they are unable to meet unrealistic expectations. They can also question whether their parent is proud of them, regardless of what they may or may not have accomplished.

“The idea of focusing on process rather than outcome is really important to developing a growth mindset in kids. A growth mindset means believing that talent is developed through work and dedication. It’s not about scoring the goal, but improving their process of getting toward the outcome they want. This is important for kids not just in athletics, but in school and their personal lives,” Havel said.

A parent’s poor behavior like using cuss words or hostility reiterates to children that they are acceptable ways to deal with frustration or solve issues, according to the Baylor College of Medicine.

Havel said kids learn how to interact with others based on watching the important adults in their lives. When parents try to coach over the coach or demonstrate disrespect toward the coach, officials, the opposing team or other parents, kids may model that behavior, the press release states. They might not develop a healthy respect for competition or be able to tolerate things that may not be fair.

Havel suggests parents should focus on the fun and have an uplifting, playful attitude at their child’s sporting events. They should cheer for their child as well as their team and opponent to help show respectful behavior and sportsmanship. Emphasize the process instead of the outcome and praise the child for their effort and hustle rather than dwelling on a bad play.

The press release says if a child seems saddened, upset or frustrated, validate their feelings and acknowledge that feeling, following up with reasonable encouragement.

“When parents set unrealistic expectations or push too hard, kids can develop performance anxiety. These tips are ways to help kids not only avoid patterns of behavior and self-esteem issues that can be problematic in the short term, but future anxiety disorders as well,” Havel said.

Tips for Parents to avoid getting headed in midst of child’s game:

  • Focus on the child and their motivation rather than your own motivations as a parent.
  • Think about why they play the game and what they love about it.
  • If you feel you are not able to manage your behavior, walk away and take a lap around the field or get a snack from the concessions stand to remove yourself from the situation.
  • A parent with concerns with a coach or official should not address that issue in front of their child or other children, but instead do so privately after the game or through an official channel.

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