I'm writing this because my son's team lost a game yesterday. And my kid, well...he cried. He violated the unspoken rule in basketball and he cried on the court. Blood, Sweat and Tears is real. I'll tell you what happened.
There were 1.6 seconds left in the 2nd half. The score was 17-18. They inbounded the ball to my son and he catches it, pivots around misses the shot that could've won the game. The buzzer sounds and time seemed to slow down as the opposing team cheers in celebration. My child dropped to his knees in shame, with his head in his hands. He got up seconds later with holding his jersey to cover his crying face. My heart broke for him. But this too, is part of the game.
Sports can be intensely emotional experiences. High highs and low lows. When kids suffer a loss, it's a great teaching experience in how to process negative emotions. And by process, I mean work through them. Not ignore them or diminish them.
After the loss, i overheard several adults give him the following advice, in an effort to make him feel better:
"Dont worry about it, man."
"It's ok. Don't feel bad."
"You're only 9. You're gonna miss a lot more shots. Keep your head up."
While I appreciate the sentiment.....pardon my french, but f*** that. My kid felt sad, and needed empathy. No one tried to understand where his head was. Instead, they told him to push that negative feeling deep down somewhere and stop crying.
As his mom, I needed to acknowledge his feelings. Let him know he wasn't overreacting for experiencing this emotion. On the way home, we talked. I said "Man, that sucked, huh? What about it made you so sad?" His response, "Mommy, I feel like I let my team down." This is important. He wasn't disappointed in "himself" per se. He wasn't upset that his personal point total would be less 2.
He was crying because he thought he hurt his TEAM.
And who am I to disregard this feeling? My job was to provide balance. We went through all the ways he had also helped his team during the game. Rebounds, steals, etc.
As adults, most of us feel embarrassed or ashamed to cry and we even say "sorry" when we get emotional (super healthy, right? lol) While everyone is telling my child to put this experience into some adult-like perspective, and somehow manage to "not feel bad," he actually needed to let his "mad/sad" voice be heard.
Instead of asking your child to grow up, stop crying and learn how to supress emotions, perhaps we should to listen to them. Let them know we understand that sometimes life sucks and give them useful practice in articulating negative emotions. After that, let the healing begin!