I made a parenting mistake yesterday. Little Guy was at soccer, and I could tell he was upset. He wasn't running after the ball, and was pretty much on the field just getting in the way. He started talking angrily to every kid who paused near him. So I finally pulled him out.
I talked to him about the fact that he had to play the game instead of stand around and be angry. He was upset because the scrimmage was unequally yoked: the coach had put three excellent players on one half, and his group had only one good one. I said, in what I hoped was a emphatic but kind way, "Yes, that's not fair. And you can't do anything about it right now. What you can do is play your hardest."
All I succeeded in doing was make him feel I was yelling at him. Not good.
I hate it when my kid's the only one on the field who doesn't cope well. I hate it when there's not enough time, in the moment, to figure out what to do or say. And I especially hate it when whatever I'm doing clearly backfires, and I'm left feeling like a parental failure. So I've been trying to figure out what I coulda-shoulda done differently yesterday.
Finally it dawned on me this morning -- duh! -- that I made the classic mistake of focusing on Little Guy's behavior instead of his feelings. My problem was that he wasn't doing what he was supposed to, and behaving poorly. His problem was that he felt inadequate. And I dealt with my problem instead of his. I zoomed past his feelings, and went straight for the fact that he was giving up.
What probably would have worked is a conversation like this:
Me: You look like you're pretty upset.
Him: Yeah, the other team has all the good players except one!
Me: That must feel bad.
Him: Yeah, they have all the good guys.
Me: I bet you would like to be a good soccer player.
Me: I see those good guys running around like crazy, going after that ball.
Him: Yeah, they're fast. I want to play defense.
Me: Defense doesn't have to run around as much.
Me: It's not a full game, so everyone's playing offense and defense. It's scary to have to be as fast as those really good guys.
Me: Do you think you're ready to go give it another try now?
On the plus side, on the way home yesterday I asked Little Guy if he wanted to be a good soccer player, and he said yes. We talked about what that takes, and how much practice is involved, and the importance of not giving up. So we have a plan now, a plan to make progress, and that is good. And next time -- because surely there will be a next time -- maybe I'll do better, too.