Recently my son’s basketball season was coming to an end. It was Championship Saturday! He was in the Final 4 and going to play a team that had several of his friends on it. In our city over 2000 kids play basketball in this league from k-12, most grades have 24 teams, so they usually know kids on the other teams. Emotions run high! This is true for the parents and coaches as well as the kids. We all know going in half the kids will be saddened by the outcome of each game. Many of us parents really wanted our kids to win so much our Adrenalin had us trembling! We didn’t want to see our kids be crushed. It’s so hard to see your kids be sad, especially when it’s out of our control. I was standing outside the gym, waiting for the game before us to conclude, (they were behind schedule). There is more than one gym in this school so lots of families and athletes are waiting anxiously for their games to start. While waiting I noticed a young boy (probably 5th grade) walk out of the gym as tears ran down his face. It was obvious that his team had lost and he was devastated. My heart went out to him. Then I hear his mom and I had to turn away.
His mom said to him, in a harsh voice, “Stop that crying! It’s just a game! It won’t get you into Heaven, it won’t get you into college! Just stop it! Stop crying!” My heart broke a little for him. I was angry at his mom for being so harsh and unemphatic. I wanted to give that boy the hug he needed, but I didn’t think that would go over well.
Initially I was angry and frustrated with the mom, but the more I thought about it, the more I am reminded that we all do our best and what we think is best in the moment. Maybe she thought if she gave him some perspective he wouldn’t be so sad. No, this game won’t be a big deal in the grand scheme of things. No, it won’t have an impact on his college career nor on how God sees his life. BUT right in the moment it was a HUGE deal for him. His dreams of playing on, died with that loss. It was normal and expected that he would be sad. He was disappointed, he worked so hard for this goal and he didn’t attain it. This season alone he practiced for 4 months for this championship day. He had every right to be sad. Why can’t he cry and mourn the loss? By showing him that he feelings matter and that you recognize that to him, this is a big deal, he will be more likely to come to you. mom, and confide in you. He will be more likely to seek your counsel with other issues. Those other issues might be a big deal to you and you will have wished he felt like he could come to you.
I do understand. I hate to see my kids sad and upset. I want to cheer them up right away! I’ve been known to make silly faces and dance around (to the point of injury a few times) trying to make my kids laugh when they are sad and frustrated or angry. But we also have to let them learn to have those hard feelings and work through them. (Usually I save my shenanigans for trying to get through frustrating homework or assignments that they deem as tortuous.) When they’ve lost games my boys usually wants space and ice cream! Ice cream does make almost everything better!
We complain that “kids these days” can’t cope. It starts with letting him have their emotions and teaching them how to deal with them, not stuff them down like they don’t matter. His feelings matter, all of the feelings! That boy wasn’t throwing things, stomping around, cussing, none of that, he was simply crying.
I wonder how you would have reacted if his team had won. What if he was jumping for joy, giving high-fives, or perhaps braking out in a Fort Night dance. Would have said “Stop celebrating! It’s just a game! It won’t get you into Heaven, it won’t get you into college! Just stop it! Stop celebrating!” I highly doubt it. You probably would have shared in his joy and encouraged him to be a good sport and say something encouraging to the other team.
I have seen grown men cry when their teams lose big games. I don’t think they immediately start crying because they fear it will effect their college prospects or their admission into Heaven, I think they cry because they are sad, their dream of playing on died with that loss. They are mourning their dream and that is OK. If you don’t believe me, watch the NCAA games this week, I assure you the men on the loosing teams will shed a few tears, some in public, some in private, but they will be sad. They will need time to come to terms with the outcome and that is OK!
Instead of forcing others to “get over it” and “move on” be with your sad kids, (and friends). Loss of any kind is tough. For most of our kids (the lucky ones, anyway) their experience with loss is limited to sports games or a pet. Teach them how to mourn those things so that when bigger harder losses come, they have at least, the beginning of the skills to cope. Let them know that you will be there for them, even if you don’t understand it, you can be there for them. I’ve had friends suffer loss that is unimaginable to me, but I can let them mourn, be with them, listen to them, even if I cannot completely understand what they are going through.
So please, let your kids be sad, just be with them in it, give them a hug, buy them some ice cream if you want, but please don’t force them to just “get over it.”