Building Big Match Temperament in Your Children
I wrote a blog about what the world would be like if it was run by a mom, and – in spite of how world domination appears to be my hidden agenda – this blog is focused on how to guide your kids into holding onto their dreams, whether that’s of being a world famous artist, tennis player or the next Pop Idol.
“I want to be an ‘axetronaut’,” said my five year old nephew once. Wisely, his mom did not correct his pronunciation, nor did she refer him to a more attainable goal.
My friend felt proud of being a stay-at-home mom when she overheard her daughter saying, “I’m going to study at university to be a mommy.” My word, if that was a degree course we’d all be professors by now.
Big dreams can be crushed with a careless word or a thoughtless comment.
How do we help make our little ones’ inner voice louder than negative voices out there, to give their dreams a fighting chance?
They need a healthy dose of big match temperament.
Big Match Temperament, or BMT to those who know, is what sets winners apart when it comes to test time. How do we build strength and commitment into our kids so they have the character to stick it to their dreams through thick and thin?
Four Ways to Foster Big Match Temperament
1. Have Family or Personal Mantra:
Have a slogan that verbally activates a ‘Can Do!’ attitude, and repeat it all the time until it becomes something your kids start using on you.
A friend of mine’s family mantra is “Van Zyl’s try hard, work hard and love God.” She says it all the time; on the way to kindergarten, while cooking food, wherever there’s an opportunity for learning. Now, whenever there is something difficult to do, the youngest will say, “Mommy, Van Zyls try hard! You can do it!”
Map out what your inner slogan is: “We work as a team” or “We never quit” or “We try harder” are great ways of articulating what you are probably already trying to teach your children.
2. Positive Affirmation for Real Success:
Instead of generalised praise (“You’re wonderful.” “You’re the best kid in the world.”) which every child knows means nothing, rather make praise targeted and deliberate:
- Jaimee is kind to her friends.
- Mark tries hard until he gets it right.
- Frieda makes colourful drawings that make the room feel brighter.
- Albert practiced and practiced until he got it right.
These things the children have actual control over, instead of vagueities like “she’s so pretty” or “what a lovely dress”.
Which leads us to my third point.
3. Deal with Failure:
In an attempt to build self-esteem (anybody else want to throw up in your mouth if you hear that term just one more time!?) we are often very soft on our kids.
Psychological Science in the Public Interest reviewed 200 kids and found that having high self-esteem didn’t cause them to do well in school or better in their career.
“Success leads to feeling good about yourself, not the other way around,” says Roy Baumeister, Ph.D., a psychologist at Florida State University.
We’ve got it all mixed up – puffing up our kids’ self-esteem actually does the opposite of what we’d hoped it to achieve.
Succeeding at something breeds good self-esteem.
We’re not afraid of the ‘F’ word (F for Failure, before you have a heart attack!) Losing can often be the catalyst to creative thinking, to trying a different approach.
Your child cannot win all the time.
I try to teach my kids that losing is part of getting better, and if they want to win next time they’d better try harder or practice more. Sometimes a bit of a kick-start is needed to activate their healthy inner competitiveness.
Which leads us to the last point:
4. Winning Character
We need to focus on the character traits that will help our children succeed – and they are not easy to get, and often not fun.
“This will grow your character,” is what my mom always used to say when I had to do something horrible or the opposite of fun. Turns out, she was right!
Let’s promise each other to not always do for our children what they are fully capable of doing themselves.
Things like taking their plate to the kitchen, making their beds, wiping up their spills, picking up their toys. For older children, feeding the family pets, picking up dog poop, doing their homework or practicing their sport / hobby even when they don’t feel like it.
These build character in a young soul desperate to be challenged and succeed:
- Hard work – they will rise to the challenge.
- Persistence – even when it’s not fun.
- Self-control / delayed gratification – earn it, or wait for it.
- Discipline – consistently applying consequences for behaviour (good or bad)
- Goal-setting – clearly display goals (star chart / toy / medal). I believe in this so strongly that I have developed a “When I Grow Up” Doll™ where underprivileged children can draw what they want to be when they grow up, and we’ll turn it into a doll for them. They can literally hold the future in their hands.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that we, as parents, need to do this for ourselves as well.
We need to have parenting goals; we need to have character to do the hard things when it comes to parenting; we need an inner mantra: “I will raise children of strong character so that they will be useful to the world one day!”
Well, I’m committing to it. At least I’m going to try. I know many of you are in the same boat as me, so I wish you well!
For the rest, my little girls will be there, beating your kids to the finish line!