WHEN THE WHISTLE IS SILENT: HELPING KIDS COPE WITHOUT SPORTS
By Stephanie Evans-Wondra, L.P.C.
There is no way around it. Our kids are beginning a school year unlike any other this fall. For many of us parents, we are maxed out trying to prepare them for zoom classes, distance learning and figuring out how to balance our jobs and responsibilities while helping our children convert their bedrooms into virtual classes. Yet, there is another major change we should give some thought to as we assist our children with this most unusual September: helping them overcome the loss of fall sports.
I’m a mental health counselor, but also the wife and mother to a family that loves sports and has been participating in sports for most of our lives. I know well the impact and benefit that sports can have for both the physical and mental health of children and adults.
To help, I’d like to provide three basic strategies that parents can utilize to help their kids overcome the loss of sports and reset their thinking.
- Provide empathy
First, as parents we need to demonstrate true empathy for their situation. Yes, in the abstract it’s “just a game” but for our kids, sports provides belonging and meaning. It’s important to recognize and honor the importance that our children give to their sport or activity. Listen to their disappointment and empathize about the loss.
As you are listening to your child, it’s a good idea to ask them why their sport is important to them. Find out what they get out of it. It’s possible that through this conversation you and your child may be able to discover
y other outlets that fill that need.
Next, help your child focus on what they can control during this time of uncertainty. Getting a good night’s sleep, resting their bodies, and eating the right foods are all ways they can control their physical well-being.
- Retrain the mind and body
This leads into another key strategy to help our kids cope without sports – retraining our minds and bodies toward more positive thoughts and actions.
As human, we have a negativity bias build into our thinking. We are genetically predisposed to think that the worst will happen. This hard-wiring in our brains helped early humans survive as they had to navigate a world where many larger and faster animals were trying to eat them!
While our world is devoid of saber toothed tigers today, that pathway still exists in our brains. We have to retrain the negative path by developing more positive ones.
When it comes to overcoming sports, a good blend of mental and physical conditioning is a great idea. So, for example, if you have a cross-country runner in your family that isn’t going to be able to participate in his or her sports this fall, make sure they get outside and run on their own. This act will feed the muscle memory of running and also trod a new mental pathway of positive thoughts.
- Practice gratitude
In combating difficult situations there is often no more powerful tool than gratitude. Taking stock of what you have, instead of what you don’t, can really help a person cope with sadness.
In our family we like to do a dinnertime exercise where we all go around the table and name three things and why we are grateful for them. Each day we name a different thing. While you might be met with initial eye-rolls and groans from you kids, I highly encourage you to give this a try – especially now, when our world is so fraught with uncertainty. If someone has trouble coming up with an item, we drill down to how something ordinary like our house or yard, may induce gratitude.
So for example, a child may say that they are grateful for a new computer. Then they might expound on the fact that they computer allows them to FaceTime with friends and keep them connected during this time of social distance. In this practice, we are rewiring our brain away from negative neural pathways to more positive ones.
Additionally, this gratitude practice provides hope. If we can find things to be grateful for right now, during a global pandemic, imagine how wonderful we might feel when life returns to a more normal pattern.
Make no mistake: this fall is going to be challenging for kids and adults alike and the absence of sports is going to be tough. However, with a concerted effort to provide empathy, mental and physical retraining and gratitude, we can all help each other get through this most unusual time.