Avoiding Defensive Conversations

Avoiding Defensive Conversations

By David Benzel

For some families the car ride home after a competition is more stressful than facing the number one ranked opponent. If you’re experiencing more combat after competitions than during them, it might be time to change your approach.

Children become defensive for one of two reasons. Let’s look at them one at a time.

When parents analyze a child’s performance by focusing on what was not done correctly, a child often hears this as criticism. If parents appear to be on the offense in this conversation, defense is the only position left open for a child. In this case, your child is just trying to protect himself from judgment.

Now here’s the other possibility and it runs a little deeper emotionally. A parent’s critique after a performance is often interpreted as disappointment. Being uncomfortable with the idea of letting you down, your child feels a need to justify a performance as if to say, “See, I did my best and you shouldn’t be disappointed in me.” The opinion that matters most to your children is what they think you think of them. That means their greatest fear is disappointing you.

The number one strategy for preventing these unpleasant exchanges is so simple, yet so challenging for most of us. Here it is: Wait to be invited into the conversation about your child’s performance.

Instead of evaluating what happened, focus your attention on basic needs like “Are you hungry or thirsty?”

Make non-judgmental comments like, “I really enjoyed watching you today.” Be patient and wait as long as it takes for your child to ask for your feedback. Be prepared for the possibility that she might only want your support and acceptance at that time.

If you’re invited in, make observations and ask open questions, which is different than making judgments and criticisms. If you work hard to keep the atmosphere fun and supportive, you’ll be invited into conversations more often. And your child will never ask to ride home with someone else — because they’d rather be with you.

Put it to Practice
Choose a quiet time several days before a competition to ask your child this question: “What’s the best thing for us to say or do after you finish competing?” Honor your child’s request!

Here are some positive phrases to use after a competition.

  • I’m proud of you when I watch you compete.
  • What was the highlight for you today?
  • I admire your effort and how you conduct yourself.
  • What did you learn today?
  • Did you enjoy yourself?

Share non-judgmental observations if you’re asked for feedback.

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David Benzel is the Founder and Executive Director of Growing Champions for Life, Inc., which provides parents and coaches with practical tools & positive strategies for helping athletes reach their full potential while enjoying the youth sport experience. David is also the author of “From Chump to Champ – How Individuals Go From Good to Great” www.growingchampionsforlife.com.