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Just Let Them Play: Letting Our Kids be Kids in a Perfection-Driven World

It's no secret that my family isn't very sports-minded. We tend to focus heavily on the arts, and therein lies the majority of how we choose to spend our time. Professionally, I'm a writer, and by true grace and spiritual gift, I'm not too bad of a singer. My dad is Deacon, overseeing worship arts, a Minister of Music for decades, and even taught history after college. My husband is a professional musician, and my mother-in-law is a historian/librarian, also a teacher, and musically gifted. We have several artists in the family, almost all of whom are also musically inclined. My mom and sister have always been more sports-minded and active through gymnastics, etc. I like watching sports, such as baseball, and even some football, but have never played a sport in my thirty-five years of existence. 

My son, eight years old, always wants to play a sport and then decides he doesn't want to play, after all. This is primarily why we have never gone so far as to sign him up for a team. We tried one week of soccer camp, and he quickly determined that it just wasn't quite a good fit for him.

We check out games when they come on TV (go Yankees, and keep pounding, Panthers!), I mostly become excited about putting together yummy snack trays, rather than watching the actual games. I'm trying to be better about learning more about how the games are played and encouraging B to watch them with me, so he has a better sense of what he might expect if he does one day decide to play a team sport.

Let's Play!

Just last weekend, B decided that he wanted to participate in his school's annual Dodgeball Tourney. I was floored when he asked me to sign him up to play. After triple checking with him that he was sure he wanted to play, I signed him up to join the 2nd-grade team. When tourney day came, he was so excited to wear his cool t-shirt (made by one of the awesome moms from the 2nd-grade class) and play with his friends. I was so proud of him for wanting to play in the first place and was excited and nervous to watch him step into something that was clearly outside of his comfort zone.

Once the game started, there was a lot of cheering, and while we cheered for the 2nd graders, and for our son, I started noticing that my dad was becoming a little irritated. I quickly realized why... you see, a lot of the team parents were sitting around us, shouting play by play commands at the kids. I finally heard my dad blurt out, 'Just let them play!'

The 2nd-graders played a great game, and they looked like they had a ton of fun. We went out for dinner to celebrate (not a win, but the fact that B actually played on a team), and when I asked B if he had fun, he said, 'Yeah, but everyone was shouting at us and telling us what to do. I just wanted to play and have fun.'

That hurt my heart to hear those words. Some of the kids were so distracted by parents shouting at them during the game that when they turned toward the parent from the court, an opposing team member took their shot to take them out with a dodgeball.

Why are we so obsessed with winning?

Why are we as a society so obsessed with winning? I don't get it. I'm all for team building, teamwork, working hard to perfect a skill, and working toward a common goal, but why do we have to be so focused on being top dog all the time? Why can't we let our kids play and have fun anymore? Why do we have to ruin experiences for others by shouting commands from the sidelines?

I see part of my role as a parent as being an encourager and motivator in all that my kids do. Did they make a mistake on a test or during a sports game? Woops. Okay, well, let's talk about it, work through emotions, and then calmly find a way to work toward improvement. No one is perfect, and we sure as heck shouldn't be expecting perfection from our kids 100% of the time.

I'm not suggesting that I don't slip and want my child to strive for greatness, because I do. I am super guilty of checking over papers that come home from school and going back and working through any missed questions or problems with my son. My husband recently asked me why I was obsessing over the fact that B missed one question on a test, asking him how that happened, and going back over the information to make sure he didn't miss it if it came up again. 'Don't be that parent,' he said. And he was right- but it took him pointing it out to me for me to realize what I was doing. B loves to learn and I don't ever want that to change, so I have had to learn to back off a bit, and readjust the way I approach situations when it comes to his education and performance as a student.

My point is this- while routine, teamwork, building confidence and working on perfecting skills are all important, we have to remember that our kids are kids. There's no need for us to pile on the pressure of perfection at such a young age. As a perfectionist myself, I can tell you that there is a lot of anxiety and stress that comes along with the personality trait, and our kids don't need to be experiencing it. It can affect their sleep, their eating habits, and the way they're able to function and handle life from day to day.

I don't think there's a single adult out there who can stand up and say, 'I don't have issues. I'm as good as gold.' We all have issues... I have tons of issues, but I don't need to transfer my issues to my child. No one should. They are not equipped to handle as children some of the things that we struggle to handle as adults.

How to make a change?

Well, my friend, it may have to start with you. Like I said, I've been there/am there now, and am having to find new ways to help my child work toward improvement without losing sight of the fact that my kid is a kid. Maybe this type of behavior doesn't come from you but from a perfection-driven spouse or family member. It might be time to sit down and without being accusatory, have a heart to heart with this person. Open and honest communication is key in any relationship, so don't be afraid to speak your mind and work toward changing the situation. If the blame game starts to come into play, just take a pause, and remind yourself and anyone who might be involved in the conversation that this isn't about them or you, it's about (child's name), and what's best for them.

This type of change doesn't and won't happen overnight, so don't expect to see immediate changes and results. This is just one of those things that I still have to remind myself of, and you might have to do that, as well.

Our kids are people. They have opinions, emotions, and they're still learning so much about themselves and the world- mostly through us (parents, caregivers, family members, teachers). Let's agree to be the very best role models we can be for them. If your kids are mirroring behavior that is less than desirable, ask yourself first if they're mirroring you.

How do you deal or help your kids deal with the pressure of perfectionism? Let's chat about it in the comment thread or over on MBP social media.


  1. I want to teach my son the importance of friendship, having fun and just exploring imagination! I wish I could have him play sports. His special needs keeps us limited!

  2. I agree. No one is perfect, we all have issues and you should teach your child to embrace the way they are. This is a great post! Thanks for sharing :)


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