No.1 son’s school football team has reached both end of season finals. That elicited rare communication from the school sports department: a letter telling us parents where, when and, in the form of an extract from an FA publication, how to behave at the finals.
When I arrived from work at the first final, no.1 son’s school were 1-0 down and struggling to make headway against their first testing opposition of the season. Two dads, stood side-by-side, were flouting the behaviour rules. One was in jargon mode, barking at his son, “You’ve got to run them channels,” over and over again. The other was having a shouted one-sided conversation with his son: “Get forward. You’ve got four defenders, you don’t need a fifth. Move up. You’ve got to take a chance. You’re behind.” The boys kept glancing at their dads, distracted, maybe irritated.
What made this mundane example of parental touchline conduct worth mentioning was that the vocal fathers had stood themselves next to the sports-master whose letter had cautioned that spectators could “give encouragement but not shout instruction at the players”.
The following morning at no.2 son’s football practice I was running laps with my touchline pal and related this story to him. My friend admitted that he had found watching his son difficult to begin with, wanting to behave as he did when at a match. He went on to say that now, a couple of years on, he has learnt to play in the garden with his son, just letting him take shots, if that’s what his boy wants to do. But whatever it is they do, always give him encouragement. “I’ve tried everything else and it didn’t work,” he laughed.
That self-deprecating recognition struck me as one of the wisest statements of self-awareness: “I’ve tried everything else and it didn’t work”.
All too often I:
- give the kids a ten minute warning we are leaving the house, but still find them unready when we need to be out of the door;
- state sternly that everyone must take their dishes into the kitchen at the end of the meal, but have to call to them to return to a table of soiled crockery and cutlery;
- warn the children to dress warmly and then have to deal with unhappy, cold children when we’re outside.
It’s difficult to acknowledge or even recognise as a parent that advice you value, or a method that comes easily to you, is just plain ineffective. And so we repeat our favoured approach and become frustrated with our children’s response. We increase the volume and intensity of our instruction and then demand to know why our progeny won’t listen to us or reject how we want something done.
The challenge is to look dispassionately at yourself as a parent and see where things are not running smoothly. And then to frame those parts of your relationship with your children as the result of your methods not working, rather than your children being uncooperative or disrespectful. To achieve that may risk undermining your confidence, but it offers the promise of liberation from the habits that make family life grate, when it could be great.
I’ll continue to stand with my touchline pal (whose son is one of the most improved players in the age group), hoping some of his wisdom will rub off on me and I will keep my distance from the vocal dads stuck in their rut of shouting instruction across a windy field.
What are the ineffective parenting habits you have that you need to shed? Which ones have you got rid of and how did it happen?