It’s one of the thorniest issues in parenting — knowing when to let (or force) a child to handle something on their own, versus when to intervene and give a helping hand.
From what I’ve seen, there are generally two approaches: one to protect and the other to develop. Of course, most of us strive to be somewhere in the middle, but I certainly come at things from the develop side. I want my children to handle as much as they can as soon as they can. The danger in this approach is that we push too hard and move too fast, asking them to take on things for which they are not ready. Nonetheless I think it’s the better approach, with the other being a helicopter-like strategy to dive in and solve all problems (real or perceived) at the first sign of difficulty.
So when my 10-year-old son Tyler told me he was frustrated by being a full time blocker (specifically, the center) on his football team, I took my usual approach.
“I get it. Have you talked to your coach?” I asked.
“No. He said he doesn’t want us asking to run the ball or play other positions,” he said.
“Well, I’m telling you it’s ok to talk to him. You have a right to express what you’d like to do. He has a right to either make it happen or not. You can’t control that, but you can make sure he knows what you want,” I said.
At the next practice, he did just that. Mike (Tyler’s coach) is a great guy and, probably more than most, understands that giving a kid the ball once in a while (even if it’s during garbage time when the game is either in the bag or hopelessly lost) can go a long way to making him want to play next year, and that can go a long way to keeping the program going.
Fast forward to the penultimate game of the season and Tyler runs over to me on the sideline.
“I’m going to get the ball tonight!” he said excitedly.
“Great. Don’t fumble it,” I said unhelpfully.
After the game, he was really upset.
“The coach told me I’d get a turn,” he said.
“You did your part buddy. You spoke up and you were told it was going to happen. It didn’t. I’m going to reach out to your coach,” I said.
Interestingly, Mike had not been running the game that night, as he was on a business trip. Though I loathe to inject myself between my children and a teacher or coach, I made the decision that this was a time to be the boy’s advocate. As I was very irritated, I decided to hold off on writing my email until the following morning. I think this cooling off period is a critical step before any irritation-generated outreach.
I wrote the following:
I hope you are having a good business trip.
In the fourth quarter last night, it seemed like kids who don’t usually get the ball were getting touches – at least four of them. It was great to see and I’m sure they loved it.
Tyler was told that he would also be getting a touch but it didn’t happen. As you can probably imagine he was quite disappointed because he had really wanted to get some runs this year. If you can get him a touch in the final game, I know it would mean a lot to him.
Having a good trip.
If there is any kid deserving of getting a touch, it’s Tyler. He’s been my most consistent blocker and bruiser. If half the O-line had his aggressiveness we would have a lot more success running the ball. I will make sure he gets his opportunity and that I put some O line help in when he does.
See you Friday.
Very pleased with this response, I read both my message and Mike’s response to Tyler. The coach’s kudos about doing the hard work of blocking made him feel good, the news that it as going to be rewarded made him feel even better.
As I work to make my children fully functioning individuals in a challenging world, I continue to reinforce the general message that you must be your own advocate. You must communicate what you want, and never find yourself out in the cold because you gave someone the excuse of being able to say, “I had no idea,” after denying you something you desperately wanted.
And finally, they need to understand the concept of controlled, reasonable but necessary escalation. I do not want my boys to go quietly into that goodnight if denied something they have a right to expect, something they have earned, or something they were promised.
I never have, and I think it has made all the difference.