In this post, I’ll show you the technique of sportscasting as a parent. This is a wonderful tool to have at your disposal as it will help your children develop their confidence, problem-solving abilities, and resilience. And if that’s not enough, sportscasting can benefit the secure attachment between you and your child.
So, what’s sportscasting and how should you do it? Let’s start with a short story.
I’m a father of two kids, who are 6 and 2 years old. This 4 years gap means that they each have his or her own world of toys and activities, but like every other siblings, they can bicker sometimes over stuff.
The other day, for example, my little daughter saw her older brother playing with some magnetic tiles that he has. As he was busy constructing a spaceship, she wanted in on the fun and tried to grab some tiles. This led to him screaming at her to stop and at us that she’s not allowed to touch his stuff. And as he grabbed the tiles back from her hands, she got angry and started to cry.
What do you do in a situation like this?
I had a couple of options:
- I could have intervened and forced him to let her have some tiles.
- I could have intervened and made her leave his stuff alone.
But both these options mean that I’m choosing sides. What if I don’t want to do that? What if I want to help them figure it out for themselves?
I could, of course, do nothing. But that’s not the kind of dad I want to be. I care about what is going on. I want them to learn from their experiences. And I sure do not want anyone to get hurt.
This is where sportscasting comes into play. I could use this technique – or parental stance if you wish to call it like that. By doing so I may help my kids learn more about themselves, resolve the issue and grow up a little. Nice, eh?
What is Sportscasting?
Sportscasting is the act of narrating what is going on between children, without taking sides. Sportscasting is done in a matter-of-fact, neutral and non-judgmental manner. Exactly like a good sportscaster narrates a game without taking sides, the sportscasting parent does not take a side, but just describes what is going on in the moment.
I learned about sportscasting from Janet Lansbury, who you really should follow if you're interested in parenting.
Let’s go back to my kids and the magnetic tiles incident. Here’s how I could use sportscasting at that moment (I’ll use B and G to stand for Boy and Girl):
Me: Hey, B. You are playing with your magnetic tiles, building this awesome spaceship, and G took some of your tiles. Now you both have tiles. But I also see you’re mad.
Then, after he grabbed some tiles back from her: G, he took tiles from your hand. I see you’re angry and sad. I want to have some tiles for yourself.
And to both of them: What do you think we can do about it?
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That’s it. As you can see, I intentionally don’t take sides (ie, I’m not saying “G, these are B’s tiles, give them back to him please”). I also don’t rush into a problem-solving mode. I choose a non-judgmental stance, describe what’s going on, name their feelings and encourage them to find a solution.
Oh, and trust me that I know that as a 2-year-old, my daughter lacks the mental capabilities for solving this situation, and I’m counting on my boy to rise to the occasion. But that doesn’t really matter, because sportscasting can and works wonderfully with infants and toddlers.
Now, let be me honest – sportscasting your children's struggles and behaviors is not a magic pill. It won’t instantly solve the problem. In this example, I eventually needed to step in and help them solve the problem myself (by teaching my boy to share his tiles with his sister).
But that’s fine because an instant solution is not what we’re aiming for. What are we aiming for? Let’s have a look at the benefits of.
What are the Benefits of Sportscasting?
Describing your kid’s behavior to them is kind of like being a mirror. Thus, it has many benefits that you usually don’t see when you intervene in the situation. By sportscasting, you are helping your kids develop a strong, secure attachment to you. You are also building their confidence and teaching them to be empathetic to each other. All of these effects will help your kids deal better with struggles as they grow up and become adults.
Let’s dive into each of these benefits.
Sportscasting Build Secure Attachment
As a psychologist, I’m a big fan of attachment theory. It guides the way I think about and help my clients, and I try to uphold it as a father as well.
Children who have a secure attachment to their parents grow up to be adults who are confident in themselves and are able to trust their environment in times of need. They tend to have fewer mental health issues (as well as fewer physical health issues). They are able to develop meaningful, intimate relationships with their spouses and children. I bet you want that for your children, right?
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Secure attachment arises from the feeling that you are seen by your parents. That you exist in their heart and mind. It comes from knowing and feeling that they care about you and your interests, that they can understand your feelings and handle them.
Sportscasting your children’s behavior, struggles, and feelings is a great way to deliver those feelings to your children. When you narrate what is going on, you let them know that you are aware and present.
So many kids grow up with a feeling of loneliness, not because their parents are not physically present, but because they are not emotionally present.
Sportscasting is a way to be fully present, physically and emotionally. It’s a way to show your kids that you have their back, and you not only see and care about their feelings, you can also handle them.
Sportscasting Fosters Children’s Confidence
Being confident means feeling you can rely on your own resources and also be able to trust others. I have written before about differenct ways to fester condifence in your children, and we can definitely add sportscasting to the mix.
You see, when you sportscast your children's issues, you are taking a step back from the problem. By narrating for your children what is going on, you are giving them a chance to resolve the problem by themselves.
Sportscasting is like telling your kids “I see you, I can support you if you need it. And I trust that you can handle this”.
Remember my example from before? When I asked my boy if he has any idea how we can resolve the problem, I was giving him a chance to come up with a solution. For example, he could offer to loan her some tiles. He could also have suggested we buy her some tiles of her own.
Whatever the solutions your kids may come up with – what actually matters is that they try to solve the problem for themselves.
You can eventually step in and help them get to the best solution – you are the bigger and wiser, after all.
Sportscasting Ends the Agressor/Victim Split
When children fight over something, there’s usually a split between an aggressor and a victim. Have you ever heard the phrase “He started it!!”? That’s exactly the split between the one who did the bad thing and the one who had the bad thing done to.
When you sportscast your children’s struggles and fights, you are not taking sides. You are just describing what is going on. This levels the playfield and cancels the split and labels of the aggressor and victim, so neither child will identify with any of those labels. This also alleviates shame, because there’s no judgment involved. And that’s a good thing because shame is a really toxic emotions you should avoid.
Sportscasting Helps Children Understand Themselves
Children – especially toddlers and preschoolers – have a hard time understanding what is going on in their emotional world. They lack the language and skills to track their emotions and name them. It’s up to us to do it for them and by doing so, they learn to recognize their feelings and name them.
Sportscasting Teaches Empathy
When you sportscast, you try to enter the hearts and minds of your children, so you can narrate it to them. By doing so, you also teach your kids to listen to each other, to care about each other, and to understand and feel what the other party feels. These are the hallmarks of empathy, which is – in my opinion – one of the most important things we should teach our children.
So, did I convince you that sportscasting is a cool and beneficial technique you should definitely start using today? Awesome! Are you wondering how you should do it? Don’t worry, I have your back. Just follow these guidelines.
Before everything, remember that you’re responsible for your kid’s physical safety. Sportscasting doesn’t mean we don’t intervene when someone could get hurt. If someone acts violently, it’s not the time to sportscast. Step in there and stop the violence immediately.
Observe First, Intervene Later
“Wise men say only fools rush in” – remember that. When you notice that something’s going on between your children, don’t rush to intervene. Take a couple of seconds to notice what’s going on. Sometimes your kids will surprise you with how they resolve their own stuff.
If matters are not resolved on their own, and you see emotions escalating, comment on what you see. “Mia, you were eating that chocolate and Jack came and took it from your plate”.
No Judgment and No Sides
Describe what you see, without judging anyone. Refrain from saying things like “that’s was a bad thing to do”, etc.
Also, don’t take sides. Even if you feel that one child is inconsiderate and should forfeit, keep to describing things as they are. This will help both kids to feel appreciated and achieve a solution on their own.
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Focus on Feelings
As you describe what your children are doing, don’t forget to focus on their feelings. “It seems like you are angry”, “Look how happy Sheila is”, etc.
This is a wonderful opportunity to teach empathy skills. With pre-schoolers and school-children, you can try asking about the feelings of other people, for example: “Look at Dan, how do you think he’s feeling right now?”
Describe What You See, Not What You Think
It’s pretty straightforward. When you observe your children, you have thoughts about what’s going on. But not every thought you have is correct (shocking! I know). As a sportscaster, stick to describing the things as you see them.
Don’t Exclude Yourself
Sometimes you will not be only the one watching, but major participants in the events. Say that you don’t allow your child to climb on the coffee table and she’s upset. Sportscasting this will include you: “You really wanted to climb that table and I grabbed you and didn’t let you do that. You are very angry with me”.
Encourage Children to Offer Solutions
After describing the situation, encourage your kids to think about a solution. Simply ask “How do you think we can solve this problem?” can go a long way.
Listen to their ideas and encourage them to offer more. Don’t judge – there are no bad ideas in brainstorming!
If You Offer Solutions, Offer More Than One
Sportscasting doesn’t mean you never intervene and never offer a solution. But when you eventually do so, try and offer more than one and see what your children will go for. In this way, you train them in decision making and give them a sense of control (but remember that you have the veto if they choose something you are not willing to uphold).
Adapt the Language to Every Child’s Age
Sportscasting can be done as early as infancy (it’s actually what we do when we pick up a crying baby and say something like “Oh honey you’re hungry, it’s time to eat”). But as your kids grow up they are more and more verbal, so adapt your language accordingly.
With preschoolers, you can add some questions to help them figure out what to do as I did with my boy when I asked: “How do you think we can resolve this problem?”
Celebrate How Great it is to Solve Problems
After you all find a solution you can agree on (maybe with your guidance), celebrate it! Show your appreciation to your children and talk about how fun it is to resolve issues together without fighting. “Yes! You did it! Isn’t it great to find solutions like that? I’m so proud of you!”
When your children are arguing, fighting or having some relational problem, try sportscasting their behavior. Instead of stepping in like a policeperson or a judge, try to observe what’s going on, describe it to them and help them achieve a solution on their own.
In this post, I have described the benefits of sportscasting your children’s struggles. Benefits like creating a secure attachment and their confidence. I also offered some guidelines on how to sportscast to success.