As a parent you want nothing more for your child than to help them develop into a smart, independent adult. We know organized sports can go a long way in building the skills that set that foundation. But as we head into fall, during one of the most unusual years ever, what if those activities are no longer an option, or you have a child who just isn’t into sports? How can you help them develop those same skills?
Be a good coach
“One reason why sports are so successful in building confidence, mastery and problem solving is that there is a coach there,” says Kathryn Tidd, MSW, LICSW therapist at the Village Family Service Center. “They train, mentor and teach. This is where you come in, Coach!”
There are endless coaching opportunities between you and your child: plant a garden, play board games, host a family bake-off, or plan out the logistics of a lemonade enterprise. Tidd notes that the most important thing to remember, however, is to talk about it. This is your chance to offer feedback, provide encouragement and help motivate them.
“Whether it’s a business idea or sport, we allow our girls to pursue whatever speaks to their heart,” says mom of three Miranda Dietrich, who is also an author and project manager and designer at RC Homes. “Allowing those strengths in each child to shine truly makes their hearts sing. While they will still make mistakes in life, we will always be their biggest cheerleaders.”
For families with multiple children, these teachable moments also go the extra mile in the life lesson category with plenty of cooperation and compromise learning opportunities.
Problem solving ranks high on the most important skills list and rightfully so. There are many ways to solve a problem, and sometimes we just need to shift our perspective to get there. Teaching our kids fluidity and flexibility in how they approach challenges is a great way to help them flex their creative problem-solving skills. On the court, field or ice this may look like working with your team to come up with the perfect play that will dominate your competitor. Day-to-day, this can be anything from STEM games to entrepreneurial endeavors.
“Our middle child, Ainsley, decided a few months back to sell DIY lip gloss infused with essential oils and pair them with the ever popular hair scrunchies,” Dietrich says. “We worked together to develop a plan, create a budget and find a way to execute it. Even down to the product label and shipping, she was in charge. It’s teachable moments like these that have allowed our kids to really shine and evolve.”
Providing guidance as your child takes ownership over executing an idea is a rewarding experience. It’s an opportunity to really see those minds working and growing. It also builds their confidence and confirms that they indeed have all they need to figure things out — a good coach and their growing brains.
“One of my favorite things about my work is the challenge to think creatively; there is always more than one way to accomplish something,” Tidd says. “That is the beauty of seeing people and their environment in a holistic way.”
Parents also come away from these moments with enhanced skills as well. After all, you’re practicing your coaching abilities and this is one area that really tests them.
“This stuff is hard!” Tidd says. “As parents we often overthink things, but the reality is you literally need one thing to connect and teach your kids: parent-child communication skills.”
While group activities may look a little different this year, there still may be some local opportunities your kids can take part in.
“School-based clubs such as student council, band/orchestra, debate, yearbook or kindness initiatives are all great options,” Tidd says.
She also noted how teachers have a profound ability to boost kid’s skills by providing positive praise, helping kids work through conflict and teaching them new educational concepts. While the school year may not look the same as others past, their teacher will still hold a pivotal role in nurturing their abilities.
There are opportunities beyond the classroom too, including local and online classes such as art and music. YouTube can also be a great resource here. Volunteering not only helps those in our community, it also helps kids learn that their actions can have an impact on others.
“Any chance we get we are constantly sharing about how to give back and help others. We are currently working on planning our sixth annual lemonade stand,” Dietrich says. “We donate 50% of the profits to a local charity. This year we have chosen Down Home. We’re happy to see our kids learning what it means to have a servant heart.”
Do what feels right
Every child is different. When it comes to building their skillset, what may work for one kid may not work for the next. So it’s important to remember that there may be some trial and error. How else are they supposed to know what their jam is? The important thing to remember is to communicate.
“Validate their worries, fears, or uncertainty and help them understand the ‘why’ behind these activities — a confident, resilient and smiling kid,” Tidd says. “The goal is to build mastery, so start with attainable, reasonable goals and expectations.”
For example, kids who are quiet may be more drawn to participating in a book club or online program. Motivation level is also an important consideration. If they have low follow through and motivation, for example, pick an activity with a short-term commitment. This can include things like a one-time class or a two-day camp.
“It’s really important to just include them in these decisions,” Tidd says.
Being patient and keeping your child’s differences in mind will help ensure they know they can rely on you to help them figure it out. It will also help them stay engaged long term.
“Every child, regardless of mental health or developmental differences, has the capacity and need for these skills,” Tidd says. “Without them, risk for mental health conditions increase and they risk falling behind with those developmental milestones which can create problems with self-esteem, worth and hopefulness for the future.”
Use your resources
In addition to exploring what’s available in your community, Tidd recommends a few other resources that can help both kids and parents.
“I highly recommend the Big Life Journal. There are kid, teen and even adult versions available,” Tidd says. “These books are interactive, which is great in helping your kids recognize their awesomeness,” Tidd says.
Tidd also recommends “The Whole-Brain Child” by Dr. Dan Seigel, which is a great resource for parents who want to learn about development and the brain. “Your Fantastic Elastic Brain,” by JoAnn Deak PhD helps kids learn and understand how the brain grows and works. In addition, educational shows that focus on social-emotional development such as Daniel Tiger and Sesame Street model those same skills we are talking about, and usually include jingles to help your kids remember.
“The most important factor needed to instill these life needs in your children is your relationship with them,” Tidd says. “Go get em, Coach.”