Monday, October 3, 2011

Reading the Tell Tales: Taking Cues From Your Child to Develop Success

By Jessica M. Mohler, Psy.D., CC-AASP
Clinical and Sport Psychologist
United States Naval Academy


The summer sailing season has come to an end. You may be attending your end of summer banquet or barbecue, and talking with instructors and coaches about how your child did in their summer sailing program. You may have some hopes or expectations about your child’s experience based upon your own observations or conversations you had over the summer. You may also have hopes or expectations based on a comparison between your child and another or with a sibling, but how do you really know what to expect? As discussed in my previous articles, your child’s finish around the race course or end of year regatta tells you very little about your their development. So as parents, what can we expect our child to learn from the sport of sailing? Ginsburg, Durant, and Batzell (2006) suggest six areas of development for parents to consider when trying to understand and learn about their children:



Confidence
Elementary school children build confidence through mastery. Learning the skills of sailing, how to rig a boat, tacking, and reading wind on the water are all skills that once learned, build confidence in your sailor. It is not until the beginning of middle school that children begin to understand that they have strengths and weaknesses and can understand, “I may not be the first off the line, but I am good at reading wind shifts so I will be great at crewing!”
   
Interests
Elementary school children are discovering their likes and dislikes. Exposing them to a wide range of activities is ideal, including singlehanded and doublehanded dinghies, big boats, cruising and racing. At the end of elementary school, many parents and children are making decisions about whether to continue in the sport of sailing or whether to pursue other interests. As you move towards middle school, the challenge is to find balance. The time involved in travel and racing can be demanding and not the right fit for every child. This may be the age your child tells you that he does not want to race anymore, but would like to find a boat to crew on or take day sails. 

Relationships
While the goal for elementary school aged children is finding friends and developing strong bonds, these are the relationships that may eventually provide peer pressure, both positive and negative. Just think about how much time you spend with your child during a week of sailing school, it is much less than the time they spend with their sailing friends. Developing early childhood friendships is important for healthy development, but pressure to compete at this age can cause strain in those friendships. As she or he gets older, teachers and coaches begin to have more influence, and knowing these instructors can be the key to ensuring not only a healthy, but also a skilled sailor.

Judgment
The ability for elementary children to judge their own performance accurately is limited. It is often either all good or bad and if they perform poorly, it means to them that they are a bad sailor. They are also sensitive to your beliefs. A parent’s non-verbal cues can have a significant impact on a child’s belief system, but as the child gets older, they begin to make judgments on their own. As a parent you are there to provide support and guidance to help, but the values children learned from their younger years will help them make good decisions on the water and at the regatta party.

Emotional control
Sailing is a wonderful sport in which to learn emotional control! While your elementary school aged child is learning this skill and may not have mastered it until late in elementary school, by middle school, your child can have a negative emotion and express it appropriately. A 10 year old may slam his tiller several times on the boat when he makes a mistake, but hopefully by age 15, he can quickly refocus on the task at hand even though he just became angry. Parents play a large role in the process of emotional development. Accurate assessment of your child’s needs coupled with appropriate action can prevent your child from asking themselves, “Can I talk about my bad race and get support from my dad, or will he be upset with me because of my performance?”

Sports related skills 
This is one of the most difficult areas to assess at all age ranges because of the variation in growth among children. Parents often have expectations of their children that do not take into account age related development. A child’s vision, hearing, and kinesthetic sense may not be fully developed until high school. Asking a child to anticipate wind strength and depth perception in order to have a successful close crossing on port tack or make a layline without overstanding may be unrealistic. These sensory skills are critical to successful performance in sailing and yet children may not have these skills after several years of sailing because they are too young. The goal through the elementary years is to focus on learning skills and technique while maintaining effort. Talent and maturity develop at different periods for each child and as their physical ability catches up to their learned skill, performance can quickly change. 

So you now know some key areas of development for your child, but how do you find out how they are doing, how they feel about himself as a sailor, do they like sailing, are they making friends and making good decisions with their friends, do they come to you and talk about her good races and bad, and is he developing the sailing skills he needs to get to his next level? While some parents can just ask their children these questions and have a conversation, some parents may get one word answers and feel defeated that their child would rather watch TV or talk on the phone to a friend than talk about sailing. Here are some tips on how to develop a conversation so that you can learn about your child:

1. Remember, if you want to learn about your child in a conversation, save your advice giving for another time.
2. Listen. Show you are listening by nodding your head, keeping eye contact and saying, “uh-huh, interesting, etc…”
3. Use open-ended questions. Keep asking, not telling.
4. Find a good time for your child. Some children need time after they sailed to decompress and talk with friends, but there will be a good time.
5. Use a different activity to talk about sailing. Sometimes children are more willing to talk about thoughts and feelings when they are putting together a puzzle or playing a game.
6. Enjoy the time with your child! As your child gets older, you may have less time to sit down and talk, so make it count when you have the chance.

See you on the water!

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