A couple of college football coaches have asked their athletes this question over the last 30 years: “What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?”
You might be surprised by the answer: “The ride home from games with my parents.”
Stuck in the car with a parent still mulling over the game, a child cannot escape. He gets asked why he missed that play. He gets asked what he can do to play better next time. He gets asked why the coach put so-and-so in or what he thinks about that call by the ref. Most kids are focused on just getting home. Many parents are not.
Those same college coaches asked their athletes a second question: “What did your parents say that made you feel great about being involved in sports?”
The answer here was simple: parents said, “I love to watch you play.”
Saying “I love to watch you….” is a 5-word statement without any strings attached. It doesn’t suggest how a child can make us happier by being even better. It doesn’t imply we’re not so happy right now as a child could make us if she just worked harder and earned more acclaim.
Saying “I love to watch you…” can’t be said without a warm smile. It’s a sentence that feels good to say and feels good to hear. It’s a gift.
So try it. After the next game look your child in the eye and say, “I love to watch you play.” Just that. See if he doesn’t light up.
After your child practices the piano, helps his little sister, or just sits in a corner reading a book - whenever you see something you want to encourage, something you want your child to do more of - don’t make any comment or give any advice. Just say “I love to watch you…” do whatever you saw. Just that.
Then spread the love around. Tell your partner, “I love to watch you play with the kids.” Tell your mother, “I love to see you and the baby having such a good time.” Stop and appreciate the wonderful people and talents around you. There’s no need to tell people how to do things better. They’re doing just fine on their own right now.
Once we appreciate our children and tell them how much we love to see them in action, we really will appreciate them more. We’ll fell less inclined to judge and correct and happier to just let them be. We’ll be able to see how wonderful our children are.
And our kids will be happier to let us watch. Our kids won’t be afraid of the ride home.