As parents, we want to encourage our children to strive for success but how do we prepare them to be as gracious in defeat as in victory?
It’s hard to know where to start when we want to teach our children to value their team and respect their opposition.
But, KindyROO child development expert, Dr Jane Williams tells Babyology, just as with all basic life skills such as walking and talking, children start to develop their sports ability and sportsmanship in the first five years of life.
She shares with us five ways to raise a child who is a good sport.
1. Start young
Dr Williams says start early because it is the “foundational neurological structures” that make an enormous difference to how well a child will do.
“Those first five years are absolutely key and the sooner you get baby mobile, the sooner those motor pathways that drive later ability are developed and practiced,” she says.
“Nothing is separate from anything else, the brain actually wires for all of it before children actually start playing.”
2. Trial and error
Children learn good sportsmanship through trial and error learning; by not always getting it right and finding a way to do it differently. Dr Williams says it’s about children learning to cope with not getting it right and regulating their own emotions. She says children also need to learn to cope with others not getting it right because that’s what good sportsmanship is all about. For parents, she says, it’s where we learn to say, ‘okay, job well done, better luck next time’.
Encourage children to to do it for themselves, rather than for awards or accolades. Dr Williams says again it’s about trial and error as children practice motor skills and engage with other people. From playing at the park on the swings or joining in some sort of activity like a game of cards, those interactions all help children learn to be good sports and play with others.
4. Allow exploration
Give children the opportunity to explore. Dr Williams says exploration is really key to a child’s emotional development, which ecourages good sportsmanship and skill development. She says we must be careful not to overprotect our children, and instead, strike a balance between supervising them and letting them discover the world.
5. Lead by example
Dr Williams says mentoring is very important and we need to lead by example.
“If we want our children to be good sports, we need to be good sports,” she says.