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A couple of college football coaches have asked their athletes this question over the last 30 years: “What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?” 

You might be surprised by the answer: “The ride home from games with my parents.” 

Stuck in the car with a parent still mulling over the game, a child cannot escape. He gets asked why he missed that play. He gets asked what he can do to play better next time. He gets asked why the coach put so-and-so in or what he thinks about that call by the ref. Most kids are focused on just getting home. Many parents are not.

Those same college coaches asked their athletes a second question: “What did your parents say that made you feel great about being involved in sports?” 

The answer here was simple: parents said, “I love to watch you play.”

Saying “I love to watch you….” is a 5-word statement without any strings attached. It doesn’t suggest how a child can make us happier by being even better. It doesn’t imply we’re not so happy right now as a child could make us if she just worked harder and earned more acclaim.

Saying “I love to watch you…” can’t be said without a warm smile. It’s a sentence that feels good to say and feels good to hear. It’s a gift.

So try it. After the next game look your child in the eye and say, “I love to watch you play.” Just that. See if he doesn’t light up.

After your child practices the piano, helps his little sister, or just sits in a corner reading a book –  whenever you see something you want to encourage, something you want your child to do more of –  don’t make any comment or give any advice. Just say “I love to watch you…” do whatever you saw. Just that.

Then spread the love around. Tell your partner, “I love to watch you play with the kids.” Tell your mother, “I love to see you and the baby having such a good time.” Stop and appreciate the wonderful people and talents around you. There’s no need to tell people how to do things better. They’re doing just fine on their own right now.

Once we appreciate our children and tell them how much we love to see them in action, we really will appreciate them more. We’ll fell less inclined to judge and correct and happier to just let them be. We’ll be able to see how wonderful our children are.

And our kids will be happier to let us watch. Our kids won’t be afraid of the ride home.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

You love your kids. You have high expectations for them. But sometimes those expectations get in the way. What children need are great expectations, for who they are right now and what they aspire to be.

No one doubts that having high standards is important. It certainly is. Kids whose parents expect them to do well tend to come through with flying colors. In fact, the most reliable “test” for giftedness is not a test at all. It’s parental nomination. If you think your child is “gifted” she will act like a “gifted child” – and you will act like a gifted child’s parent.

And that’s the secret: acting like your child is already marvelous instead of acting as if you have to make him marvelous. It’s easy to be negative. It’s easy to be judgmental. It’s harder to believe in your child and to let him know you believe in him.

Stop and think. Assuming you think you have a “good” kid, how often do you tell your child positive things about himself? Some researchers say that “good kids” hear only six negative comments out of every 10. That’s just about half-and-half, negative and positive. Doesn’t your child deserve better than that?

And more challenging kids? They are lucky to hear anything good about themselves at all. The same researchers point out that kids who have the most problems tend to hear only negative comments from their parents and teachers. You know you get what you talk about. When children hear only discouraging comments, they achieve discouraging outcomes.

So what does your child – your fabulous-even-though-sometimes-challenging-child – need to hear from you? Let’s consider four things:

•    When she does something right, she needs to be told what she did right and how happy that makes you. Praise should not be tarnished by any “buts.” Resist the temptation to qualify your congratulations.

•    When she does something wrong, she needs to be told what she did right and how happen that makes you. And then she should be guided to see how she could do even better next time.

•    Every day, she needs to know that you think she’s wonderful and full of potential. She never needs to know that she’s acting like a baby or that you’re disappointed in her.

•    Every day, she needs to be guided in the essential skills for success: how to control her impulses, how to wait for a reward, how to think about others’ point-of-view, and how to “use her words” to communicate her feelings. Every child needs these skills first. Every child can profit from practicing these skills.

Guiding your child to happiness, friendship and success depends on first believing she already deserves these things and that these things are within her grasp. Having great expectations for your child is the first step to making your dreams come true.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.