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How to Talk to Kids about Traumatic Events and Natural Disasters with Karen Young

School shootings, traumatic weather events, local fires and acts of terror– When the world is struck with a catastrophic event, it is natural to want to shield our children from the effects of it. We want to keep their innocence in tact- allowing them to grow up carefree and unfettered—feeling safe and calm wherever they go. We might wonder, if we just don’t talk about it- could our children remain in their happy little bubble for the time being?

The problem is—we live in a world where children receive messages about traumatic events from many different avenues- it’s not just the news that we can easily turn off—or even the 24/7 access to the internet that provides a play by play as negative stories develop. It’s also that different families have different rules about such access- with multiple kids of various ages in their homes who are permitted to have more access- so that might mean you send your blithely innocent child to school, ignorant of the scary events that might have occurred, only to have them bombarded with the news from a more informed (perhaps not accurately so) child on the bus—or from a group of kids in class.

Knowing that something has happened but not having anyone to explain it in age-appropriate terms and how it relates to our specific children can be frightening to anyone. We all need context, assurance and our own concerns addressed by someone we trust—our kids actually need information to feel safe and– as a parent or educator who knows the child, you are the perfect person to have this conversation with them. I’ve talked about this on national TV shows and in written press but I thought it was important to talk about it on my podcast—especially through the lens of anxiety as many kids have trouble dealing with such large-scale events.

My next guest tells us that since you know your child best, “it’s important to manage the conversation (Or, shall we say, tailor it) based on who they are, what they already know, and what it means for them.”

Karen Young has been on our podcast before- talking about anxiety. In fact, her podcast episode is in the top 5 most downloaded episodes of How to Talk to Kids about Anything, of all time. She is back today to discuss with me how we can talk to kids about traumatic world events. Karen has worked as a psychologist in private practice and in educational settings. She founded the popular website, Hey Sigmund, which attracts millions of readers each year. Karen is a sought-after speaker, both at home in Australia and internationally. She is the author of ‘Hey Warrior’, a book for kids to help them understand anxiety and find their ‘brave’. The book has now been translated into a number of languages.

How to Talk to Kids about Sports, Athletics and the Love of the Game with John O’Sullivan

Why do children play sports? According to a study by researchers at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethical Education, it’s to (#1) have fun, then—do something that are good at, improve skills, get exercise, be part of a team and enjoy the excitement of competition. But looking out at many sports fields or at many athletic events- sometimes, if we are being truthful, it looks like we are missing the mark. There are coaches screaming and parents gritting their teeth, fans yelling at referees and teammates shunning other teammates over missed goals or botched moves. What happened to the carefree freedom and fun that sports and athletic engagement once gave us? It’s no wonder so many kids drop out of sports by the age of 13. And if we are really to ask ourselves how we can develop strong athletes who thrive at peak performance- do we really think this is the way? My next guest has some other ideas that can really help us.

John O’Sullivan started the Changing the Game Project in 2012 after two decades as a soccer player- collegiate and professional- and a coach on the youth, high school, college and professional level.  He is the author of the #1 bestselling books Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids and Is it Wise to Specialize? John’s work has been featured in The Huffington Post, CNN.com, Outside Magazine, ESPN.com, Soccer America and numerous other publications. John is an internationally known speaker for coaches, parents and youth sports organizations, and has spoken for TEDx, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, US Lacrosse, IMG Academy, and at numerous other events throughout the US, Canada, Asia and Europe. He has a popular podcast for coaches called Way of the Champions and has even consulted with the US Olympic Committee.

Pros and Cons of Children in Sports: Dr. Robyn Silverman on The Today Show

The Today Show brought me on today to kick off a series on children and sports along side football player, Greg Jennings!

What are some of the benefits that children gain from playing sports?

There are so many reasons why sports are great for kids, from the obvious physical reasons to learning social skills to lowering the probability of engaging in risky behavior like drug abuse. But one of my favorite benefits of sports and one I love to present about to children and adults—is that sports can help develop character and grit in children—teaching them to set goals, go after them, overcome barriers and showing them that if these kids dig deep, they have what it takes to achieve those goals.

There are so many pressures placed on the parents and the kids. If you want your child to be the best, you need to get the private coaches or you need to have them practice five days per week. At what point is enough, enough?

First, I think one of the key phrases we need to illuminate here is “if YOU want your child to be the best.” Children have to be as invested (or more) in their particular sport as their parents are or “enough is enough” is going to come way too quickly. Sports are about the children and the team, rather than the parents’ goals.

That aside, a good parent often knows when their child has had too much. When your child’s grades are plummeting, they always seem exhausted, overwhelmed, agitated and physically unwell, they have no time for friends, family or the other things they love, it is likely time to help them re-evaluate their priorities and what they truly want to do. We want our children to learn grit, character and the keys to success, but we don’t want to compromise their long-term mental or physical health.

What are some of the sacrifices families may need to discuss when children are involved with sports?

Sports can provide so many wonderful learning and health opportunities from physical strength, flexibility and endurance to mental strength, powerful character and lowered risky behavior.  Sports can be wonderful for children!

However, especially as the child grows and becomes more competitive in sports or involved in certain sports, time, money and energy will be allocated to this particular sport for this particular child.  That means the time, money and energy will not be allocated elsewhere.  Some sacrifices may be unstructured playtime, down time, extra homework time, sleep and other activities that your child also wishes s/he’d be allowed to do.  Lay them out on the table with all those who will be impacted in the family (the driver, the parent who has to wake up or travel with the child, the parent paying, the child) and decide if the sacrifices are worth it before you move forward.

How can children balance their schedule?

Competitive sports can get intense.  And while our children are todayshow_march2014b-300x225involved in sports, we also want them to stay on top of their academics, spend time with friends and family, relax and engage in other activities that they love.  But our children can’t do everything.  Some options to think about are (1) Limit the number of competitive sports to one (or maybe two if they are seasonal) per year, (2) Consider recreational sports instead of competitive ones or do a combination of each, (3) Schedule in breaks during the week or during the year when the pressure is off and the children can just be children.

How do we know if children are in sports for the right reasons?

Why are your children in sports?  There are clearly many benefits, however, we want to make sure our children are involved in sports in which they love and they want to participate.

As parents it’s vital that we don’t;

(1) Live vicariously through our children.  The question is, are they doing it for themselves or are they doing it for you?

(2) Merge with our children. Meaning, don’t allow the sport to become more important to you than to the child.  When we take over their responsibilities, attend every practice and game, talk about the sport all the time, coach them and say things like “we had a great practice today” and “we have a game on Saturday.”

(3) Wig out. If your moods depend on your children winning or losing or you find yourself screaming at the children or the coaches during the games, you may need to take a step back.

For all the parents out there, what is the most important thing to keep in perspective?

Our children aren’t all going to be Olympians and world class athletes.  And that’s OK! Remember that sports are supposed to be fun and teach kids about life and themselves—they’re not all about fame, fortune and winning.