Saturday, October 1, 2011

How not to compare Children

One of the first things a skating pro will tell you is "don't compare children." And you sit in the stands and watch all the kids, determined not to compare, when suddenly the thought flits across your mind, "Well, that kid is doing the footflip. What's wrong with mine?" And then your eyes are flitting back and forth between Other Kid and Your Kid, you're getting more and more frustrated because Other Kid has a Coach with a less sterling rap than yours, so why on earth isn't Your Kid mopping the ice with Other Kid?

And then the kids come off the ice, you're frustrated at the skating, Your Kid is probably tired and frustrated, and suddenly the words, "You need to work on those footflips," fall out of your mouth. Then it's over. Suddenly Your Kid is mad at you and the morning may not be salvageable. You find yourself waking at 3am, thinking, "Oh God I was comparing kids!" And you feel like a felon.

It's hard, because there's always going to be some kid younger, better, faster than yours, and they're usually accompanied by a mom who won't shut up about them. On and on they ramble, talking about Other Kid's lessons and coaching and how they started at six months and they just love getting up at 4am to skate. You really don't want to admit to how you cram some cheese toast down Your Kid's throat and follow that with a funnel of highly sweetened coffee just to get them moving at seven, so you just let them go on while you feel worse and worse and worse.

So, what can you do about this?

My new parenting book admonishes me to "give up all expectations of perfection, and appreciate every effort, no matter how small." I've also made it a general rule to allow no negativity at the rink. So, I've stopped expecting Stitch to skate like Kurt Browning, and I've let him skate like Stitch. Extension free, kinda jerky, and often like an Egyptian. I've been watching for areas of improvement and focusing on those, letting the mistakes go entirely.

And it's working. Stitch actually did some pretty good extensions this morning, and when Coach Snape made him do the footwork sequence "a thousand times" while the other kids worked on backwards pivots, he did not complain. He took it in stride. When I asked him about it, he actually joked about it.  I couldn't have been more pleased.

But what about those Other Kids? The seemingly perfect ones? Even the not so perfect ones that just think they're Da Bomb? Ready?

Congratulate them.

Yup. I told a few kids, "Hey, good job put there. You looked good." And I meant it. The positive vibe nixed out anything else, the Other Kid felt good, their parents were nice, and Stitch often got a complement, too. Everyone felt better.

Sometimes you will have to put on those mental blinders when the five year old does a backwards haircutter spiral. It gets annoying when the same people who insist that age doesn't matter will start to gush over a tot learning waltz jumps. Shut that part of your brain up when it says, "Just a little more coaching, your kid could do that too!" Just smile and watch your kid. Last week they couldn't do that footflip without wheeling backwards. This week they did it and stayed steady.



  1. Excellent post!

    I'll add that no matter how great a skater is on the ice at whatever age, they also do have their tough days (sometimes weeks or even years) and they all hit plateaus at some point. I just read Scott Hamilton's biography and AFTER he won National and World championships, he said he had practices where he's get on the ice, bomb jumps, and convince himself that he was never going to land a jump again.

    Just a thought to hold on those days when we are struggling to feel positive. :-) Everyone has doubts. Everyone is in need of a compliment now and again.

    And I don't care what anyone says, NO ONE is a morning person when it means getting up on a regular basis and doing some sort of exercise in the cold. Some people are just better fibbers. ;-) That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

  2. I think a lot of the competitiveness arises in the moms eager to show off their trophy kids, not in the kids themselves. The kids just want to have fun!

    Another lesson at the rink is to not get sucked into that "everyone loses" conversation, the one about Princess going to Regionals at seven and wow, is your kid still stuck on half flip? *sympathetic giggle* Oh well, it will come to him.

    I hate those conversations.