The i2c Kid’s Club gratefully acknowledges and thanks Jane Elmer, an i2c Kid’s Club reader who reached out to us to contribute this original article, “Fear or Fun? Positive Use of Negative Thoughts”.
Jane Elmer is a former Deputy Headteacher, with specialisms in sport science, science and improving mental health for children. She runs her own company, Aegeria Advisory with focuses on school improvement as well as leadership and development coaching.
Fear or Fun? Positive Use of Negative Thoughts
As parents, we worry about our children: Are they healthy? Are they eating the right foods? How are they doing at school? Do they spend too much time on their phones? When our children are involved in competitive sport, these worries can increase. In fact, sometimes we can be guilty of fuelling the nerves of our children by not fully understanding what they are experiencing. Interestingly, recent research has indicated that worrying or feeling nervous, during competition or in stressful situations, may not be as bad for our youngsters as we had once thought.
During an interview with Matteo Berrettini, at the end of his US Open quarter-finals match, Berrettini talked about his nerves and feelings of worry as being ‘normal’ and how getting to your first Grand Slam quarter final was bound to be a nerve-wracking experience. It is clear that his coaching and support team have worked on this with him, but this is a far cry from the psychology advice given to athletes a few years ago, about trying to quash feeling of doubt and nervousness, seeing them as unfavourable to good performance.
In Lee David Daniels’ book, ‘Grit for Kids’, he discusses how children who demonstrate ‘grit’ are resilient; they don’t avoid situations that might cause them to feel nervous. Indeed, resilience seems to be more about facing your nerves and learning that they are normal and can, in some circumstances, help or protect us.
As a former Secondary Deputy Headteacher responsible for, amongst other things, student welfare, I spent a large proportion of my time dealing with students’ behaviour as well as their mental well-being. I found some of the most useful strategies for helping youngsters came from a Warwickshire County Council initiative referred to as ‘Protective Behaviours’. One idea discussed here is when we do things and enjoy the scary feeling or ‘buzz’ that we get. This is referred to as ‘fun to feel scared’. An example of this would be riding a rollercoaster at a theme park, sky diving or even going for a job interview; we know there is an element of risk, but it is a controlled risk, and we are doing it because we enjoy that ’buzz’ or the risk is worth the potential outcome. By teaching children the difference between this and when there is a real danger (both of which may have the same physical effects on our body), we can help them to protect themselves from making bad decisions and when to seek help.
If we apply the same principles to supporting our youngsters in a sporting or competitive context, we can help them to understand and work with theirdifficult emotions, be they worries about being judged, about being nervous or frustrated. By teaching your youngster to understand that fear is normal, that we all feel it and that it isn’t something to be scared of (more our body’s way of helping us to cope) then we normalise the feelings and make them less debilitating. When you think about it, taking part in competitive sport isn’t that dissimilar from a roller coaster; even though it sometimes scares us, we do it because we love it and the buzz is worth the fear!
Top tips for helping you to support your sporting child:
- Talk to your child about things that feel exciting but scary. Discuss whether the excitement is worth the fear.
- Discuss whether this feeling is similar to playing in competitions
- Share your own experiences of ‘taking risks’ – how did you cope with the physical feelings?
- Explain that everybody feels nerves and what that actually feels like
- Plan for your child’s next training session / match / tournament by discussing how they might feel and what they can do to help normalise their feelings
Information Referenced in This Article
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Lee David Daniels, “Grit for Kids: 16 top steps for developing Grit, Passion, Willpower, and Perseverance in kids for self-confidence and a successful life” – Get it on Amazon.co.uk
Interview with Matteo Berrettini, at the end of his US Open quarter-finals match – Watch the interview on YouTube
Warwickshire County Council initiative referred to as ‘Protective Behaviours’ – Visit the council’s site, but the initiative doesn’t appear to have a home page
Aegeria Advisory – learn more about Jane Elmer’s work
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