Parents living through their child

Some Parents Live Out Dreams Through Their Children, Study Confirms

WEDNESDAY, June 19, 2013 — Noel Huelsenbeck is a parent who likes to coach his children and encourage them to follow their dreams – although some of those dreams, he admits, are his.

A San Diego dad of three who is currently helping his daughter build her own organic clothing company, Huelsenbeck is also trying to instill his love of sports into his sons, who are 4 and 7 years old. His eldest son was the youngest kid on the Little League team this year and did not want to play most games. “In this case, I had to push him,” Huelsenbeck said. “It’s tricky, because too much pushing and you can push him away from a sport. But not enough and he might quit something he might have loved had he stuck with it. They may not enjoy it short term, but to help them learn a sport over the long term, I’m opting for pushing them a bit.”

A new, first-of-its-kind study in PLOS ONE today discusses sports dads, stage moms, and confirms a popular psychological theory — parents live vicariously through the achievements of their children and in fact desire their children to fulfill their own unrealized ambitions.

Huelsenbeck admits that part of his motivation is that he wants his boys to perform better than he ever could in competitions. “I played baseball, basketball, and football, however I wanted to be a professional surfer, and while I competed as an amateur I never succeeded in breaking through the higher ranks,” he said. “So the overbearing part isn’t like outright aggression, it’s more a subtle push to have them embrace the sport that has defined my life, and hopefully succeed where I failed”

The study was headed by Eddie Brummelman, PhD, of Utrecht University, Netherlands and involved 73 parents (89 percent mothers) of children aged 8 to 15. Researchers said that the more a father or mother sees the child as part of themselves, the more likely they are to want the child to succeed in making the parent’s dreams come true.

“Some parents see their children as extensions of themselves, rather than as separate people with their own hopes and dreams,” according to Brad Bushman, PhD, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University. “This might put pressure on children to try to live up to their parents’ unfulfilled ambitions, rather than pursuing their own ambitions. However, there is no research evidence on this topic yet. The next step in our research program is to test that hypothesis.”

“As for surfing,” added Huelsenbeck, “I’m going to keep leading them to the water… and push them.”

Bushman explained that in basking in the glory of their children, parents may be able to release some of their own feelings of regret and disappointment that they couldn’t achieve these same goals. “They might be living vicariously through their children,” he said.

A Return on the Investment

Parents in the study group where asked to complete a scale designed to measure how much they saw their children as part of themselves – the range was “completely separate to nearly the same.” Next participants were randomly separated into two groups: Group one was composed of parents asked to list two ambitions they had not been able to achieve in their lives and to describe why those ambitions were important. The other group did similar exercises, but focused on an acquaintance’s ambitions rather than their own.

Parents were asked to reflect on their own lost goals (as compared to those of acquaintances) and shared many unfulfilled dreams – being a professional tennis player, writing a novel, and having a successful business among them. Researchers found that parents who reflected more on their own lost dreams were most like to want their children to fulfill these goals, if they also identified strongly with the idea that their child was a part of themselves.

Richard Horowitz, a parenting and family coach and author of Family Centered Parenting, said that it is natural that some parents want to see a return on the investment of time that goes into raising children. “A child’s accomplishments can easily become a straightforward validation of their parenting,” Horowitz said. “Furthermore, there are parents who attempt to overcome their own failures by internalizing the success of their children. A recent survey that I conducted on high school coaches revealed that athlete ‘wanabees’ were the most difficult parents to deal with. These are the parents who are vicariously living through their children to enhance their self-worth.”

We all know about the classic stage mother who pushes her kids into music or dance lessons, beauty pageants, modeling, acting, or even a reality show as she tries to fill her own unfulfilled dreams through her child. And of course, the father who maneuvers his son into sports and attempts to propel him to a level he himself could never reach. We see examples of parents who might be pushing their kids in famous families from the Kardashians to the Kennedys. Although the study may confirm how stage moms and sports dads may come to be, experts says that parents have to have boundaries because some of these desires to live through their children can get out of hand.

“There was a father whose path toward athletic stardom was cut short in a car crash,” said Fran Walfish, Psy.D, child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, sharing the story of a former client. “He had pushed, pressed, and over-controlled his son’s future by implementing a rigid regimen in sports. It was a disaster because the son collapsed under the intense pressure and became depressed. The boy emerged out of childhood into adolescence never feeling good enough. The father’s drive for achievement and perfection in the son pushed the son over the emotional edge. In this case, the son did not rebel….he tried his best to live up to the father’s expectations which were simply too high and impossible to meet. Some kids rebel and fight against the parent’s vicarious living.”

Anyone who has ever seen the reality TV show Tiaras and Toddler’s knows that some parents get so wrapped up in making their child as a star that they forget that their first job is mom or dad.

“It is important for the parent to constantly keep in mind that his or her primary role is that of a parent,” said David M. Reiss, MD, a psychiatrist based in California, New York, Massachusetts who has been in private practice for over 25 years. “At times, a parent being involved in the child’s career management, coaching, business affairs, etc., may be a very positive aspect of their relationship — if the decision to do so is mutual and the primary parent-child relationship boundaries are respected. But if parents treat children as business associates rather than as sons or daughters, they will often end up with “clients” (and sadly, all too frequently, disgruntled, rebellious, or even ‘train-wreck’ clients) rather than successful progeny.”

David Klow, a marriage and family therapist in the Chicago area, says the inclination to have kids fulfill dreams is natural and that wanting more for our children is healthy. “Our desire to want more for ourselves and our children is part of what has made innovation and discovery happen throughout history,” said Klow. However it is important that parents know the difference between healthy yearnings for positive growth and behaviors that put an unhealthy pressure on children.

Klow points to these warning signs that parents are focusing on their children in an unhealthy way:

· Not living our own dreams.

· Thinking too much about our children’s desires while neglecting our own.

· Losing touch with your own aspirations.

Reiss explained, “An important aspect of child development is to be able to have a positive sense of identification with parent(s)/parental figures. It is equally as important for the parent to be able to accept that identification and nourish it – but at the same time, to allow, encourage, and guide the child to become his or her own unique individual.”

“When there are mutual interests — such as involvement in sports or entertainment — that can provide a very important and positive bonding, starting in childhood and even continuing into adult life,” Reiss said. “However, risks occur when the parent intentionally or unintentionally, overtly or covertly, pressures or coerces the child to live out the parent’s unrequited dreams, rather than following the child’s own course and ambition.”

A child has to be free to follow his own calling—not the calling of his or her parents, Klow said.

The Slow-Motion Train Wreck of Parents Living Vicariously Through Their Children

Now — think about the scenarios proposed in “Trophy Kids” and substitute a different childhood-oriented activity in place of sports. In the film, one parent quips about his son something like “He doesn’t know what he wants! He thinks he wants to hang out with his friends, but what he really needs is to invest in basketball so he can have a future. He needs me to push him. He can decide what he wants once he’s an adult. If I don’t don’t keep on him now, he wont have anything to choose!” In the context of the scene, the father’s impulse comes across as incredibly controlling and unfair. We feel the implicit appeal put across by the filmmakers: “Just let him have fun! Let him do the things he likes! He’s missing out on the joy of the teen-years!”

But what if we were to insert ‘doing homework’ or ‘attending school’ in place of basketball in the same circumstance? Do we think the same way about the dad who says something like: I don’t care if she doesn’t want to go to school. Too bad if she just wants to hang out with her friends at the park and have a good time. The truth is that she doesn’t really know what she wants right now. She needs me to help her invest in her future so she has options to choose from as an adult! If she doesn’t have me insisting on being responsible with her school work now, she’ll be severely limited in her options in the future.

To my ears, the reasoning in the second paragraph isn’t that far afield from what we’d hope for from parents.

It’s not uncommon for me to have conversations with friends and fellow parents who say things like: “Man, I wish my parents would’ve pushed me harder to…” : practice this musical instrument more emphatically, reach for higher grades, learn a second language early on, etc. I am still good friends with more than one of my childhood friends who early on were pushed to their max in the sphere of academics or especially music. I distinctly remember conversations with more than one of them in which they expressed frustration or even contempt against their parents’ prodding. They too, just wanted to have fun with their friends. And yet, as adults, more than one of them use those skills today as professionals. And I’d venture to guess that each of them has, at minimum, peace with how they were encouraged to perform, if not appreciation. As children and adolescents, they didn’t have the willpower, drive, or foresight to recognize the lifelong payoff for the pain of hard work. As adults today, many see those former investments as a boon to the joy they experience in life today.

Although the examples in “Trophy Kids” might be considered extreme on the surface, they’re representative of points along a broader spectrum — and perhaps not at the furthest edges. We as parents have the prerogative to engage a little too completely, to disengage altogether, or some combination.

In my (perhaps incorrect) judgment, the ideal place lies somewhere in the middle: where parents are wise, confident, emotionally present, leaders in their kids’ lives. This requires adaptation as kids mature — it requires individual attention and empathy — it demands from the parent hard decisions at times. It’s not helpful to a kids’ growth when her parents are peers — nor when they are absent — nor when they are distant dictators.

My wife and I routinely come back to a leadership model for parenting. As a dad, I have been blessed with the role of being a leader for each of my sons’ in life. And just as in any other leadership position, a fraction of influence is earned by title; the majority of it is earned by relationship, mutual dedication to the task, emotional investment, vision-casting, etc. I am not in control of my sons’ decisions. I am not morally responsible for how they choose to live their lives. I do, however, have the job of setting the stage for them in this: as much as possible, teaching them how to make good decisions, holding them accountable, helping them reflect on past and future decisions so as to develop their character, pointing them to the bigger Reality we live within, walking with them in ever deepening relationship. I have a responsibility to serve them well — and yet I am not ultimately responsible for how they choose to live their lives.

For those of us who tend to be a overly involved as parents, studying the difference between dictatorship and leadership would be worth our effort (and I do use ‘our’ deliberately here).

I’d love for my boys to mature into adulthood fully equipped for the problems and decisions that will come their way. I want them to become men who will make the world a better place, love well, serve fully, breathe deeply. And the present reality is that I’m not perfect, and neither are they — nor will either of us ever be! More likely than not, they will make decisions (among others) that will disappoint or upset me. More likely than not, they will face scenarios for which they are unprepared, choosing to go forward in confusion rather than clarity. More likely than not, they will make mistakes (or have successes) that limit their future options. No human being is perfect, my sons and myself notwithstanding.

I see my job as their dad to be present with them along that path. To involve and interest myself in their lives as a support and guide, while also setting them free to be what the world needs them to be: what God made them to be.

The poem on children by Kahlil Gibran comes to mind as I close this post. In it he writes,

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.


So get ready (really, you’ll need it) and go watch the film if you have not yet. Here’s the link again: Then react with me on Facebook, Twitter, or right here in the comments section below.

What do you think?
How did you react to the film yourself?
Which parent do you identify with the most?
Where do you find yourself on the spectrum I attempted to illustrate in this post?

Vicarious vs. Supportive Parents: Do You Live Through or With Your Child?

Your child is having a great season as the post-season approaches. She is worried. She asks you the question, “What if I lose?”

What is your response?

A vicarious parent would reply along the lines of, “That’s not going to happen, you’re so good” or “You shouldn’t think that way.” If you’re a parent who responds this way, you’re likely living directly through your child’s success or failure. You still mean well and love your kid, but you’ve just become too emotionally invested in the results.

These types of parents, unfortunately, lack the perspective to make rational decisions. They live and die with every play and every game. Their child is the best when he or she wins, and they are the worst when they lose. All or nothing.

  • Vicarious parents are as close as possible physically to every practice as they can attend.
  • Vicarious parents often blame others when the important outcomes do not go well.
  • Vicarious parents are the ones comparing their son or daughter to others.
  • Vicarious parents stress out quickly and easily.
  • Vicarious parents are usually the ones at the games shouting instructions.
  • Vicarious parents feel their child’s success is a reflection of themselves.
  • Vicarious parents don’t realize they are living through their child.

A supportive parent, on the other hand, answers the “What if I lose?” question a different way. They approach along the lines of, “Why do you think that?” or “Let’s walk it through…what if you do lose?” Supportive parents provide an environment that remains safe. They don’t try to solve their kids concerns. They encourage their child to think for themselves, come up with their solutions and handle their outcomes. Home is not a fan base. Athletes can rest assured that in the house, no matter how they perform, their identity is not just as an athlete. They have unconditional love and support. Lastly, these children aren’t nagged about their preparation or whether they are nervous before important performances.

  • Supportive parents attend from a distance.
  • Supportive parents ensure their son or daughter assumes responsibility, not blaming coaches or situations.
  • Supportive parents stress effort over results.
  • Supportive parents know their son or daughter’s performance is just a shadow of them, not a reflection.
  • Supportive parents make sure they aren’t over the top.
  • Supportive parents are aware of the long-term development.
  • Supportive parents don’t “should” on their kids.

Both types of parents make sacrifices and difficult decisions for their child along the journey. No one questions whether the love and support are there. Unfortunately, these vicarious or supportive labels are not mutually exclusive. We may sometimes be one type of parent with one child and another style with another. It’s possible for the pendulum to swing to both extremes and even for us to live in the middle. This is about progress, not perfection; we are going to make mistakes, but that is the point of this book. How can we help our child build mental toughness? How can we become better, more aware parents in the process?

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis. Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens.

Dr. Rob Bell is the co-author of the new book- Don’t Should on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness.

Keeping Perspective in Youth Sport

How do I avoid getting sucked into an unhealthy perspective of youth sport?

Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, Michigan State University

Youth sport is becoming more than a day at the park or the pool. It is way of life, an important fabric of many children’s upbringing and socialization into adulthood. In this way, many parents, coaches and athletes feel that the pursuit of excellence in sport is valuable and teaches many life lessons. Youth sport is also viewed as a means to develop one’s athletic talents. Many youth train diligently in the hopes of playing in an all-star game, starting in a varsity sport, being pursued by collegiate and professional scouts, or becoming a collegiate, and possibly, a professional athlete. The parent is very important in this talent development process. Yet, many parents are viewed by coaches, players, administrators and the media as obstacles that children have to overcome to be successful.

Most sport parents have good intentions and want the very best for their child including the opportunity to have fun, be safe, and be successful. The number of abusive parents is very small. Unfortunately, you see many parents doing things such as pressuring their child or forgetting that it is just a game. These parents are not bad people; they have just lost perspective. They get sucked into an unhealthy perspective of sport by the rising pressure to win and develop talent, increasing possibilities (scholarships, winning), and increasing financial, time, and effort sacrifices. It is natural to want something special to come from your child’s sport. But, you want to be careful that you do not fall into the trap of emphasizing winning or pushing skills development over all other aspects of a child’s life. Otherwise, an unhealthy perspective creeps in over time.

What happens when a parent emphasizes athletic development first, and the child’s total development second? First, the child may begin to feel the pressure to perform for the parent. At the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports we learned from interviews with elite junior tennis players that they may feel pressure well before the parent ever realizes it (results available at under current studies). Moreover, the parent may not be pressuring at all, it is only the perception of the athlete that they are being pressured. Thus, a parent must be careful not to change how they interact with the child based on his or her performances. Be happy for them when they win, but also be there for them when they lose! A junior tennis parent mentioned that she will do the same thing after a match with her child win or lose. If you’re going for ice cream after the game, go no matter the outcome or performance. The second thing that can happen when a parent loses perspective is that it negatively affects the parent-child relationship. For example, arguments about how the child is training or competing increase, the child may ignore the parent or discredit their advice, and discussions about sport become unwanted. These consequences flood over into the relationship outside of sport.

So how do you know if you have lost a healthy perspective of youth sport? Ask a coach or parent that knows you and you trust. Also, look for several warning signs:

  • Conversations at home are dominated by sport discussions. Many hours are spent reviewing and breaking down opponents. Or, you tirelessly give your child feedback on her performance.
  • You allow little time for your child to spend time with his friends; social activities are restricted.
  • Education becomes a distant second priority to competition and talent development.
  • Your child is overly nervous about competing especially when you are watching.
  • During stoppages of play your child often looks to you for approval.
  • Arguments between you and your child often are related to sport.

How do you avoid losing a healthy perspective of youth sport? First, you have to start with a healthy perspective by recognizing youth sport should develop positive characteristics in children. Thus, sport has to be viewed as important but not as an all-encompassing pursuit. Even if you and your child have elite competitive goals, the development of the child should be the priority over the development of the athlete. Moreover, you should have strong values and convictions that are not adapted for winning or competing. Deemphasize winning, rankings, and trophies and emphasize the importance of teamwork, leadership, communication, sportsmanship, and hard work.

It is also very important to facilitate balance in the child’s life by emphasizing the importance of education, social activities, and other hobbies. Allow your child to be a child and ‘hang out with friends’ or play video games. Sport should not be a 24/7 occupation. In fact, it should not be an occupation at all. In addition, check your perspective frequently. Have the “I’m becoming that parent radar” on so you can avoid reacting emotionally to the inevitable up’s and down’s of youth sport. Most importantly, love and support your child unconditionally because this is what will help you maintain a great parent-child relationship. Finally, avoid being uninvolved or afraid to push a little with fear of pressuring, do it with forethought and the child’s best interests in mind.

Parents/Coaches Guides – 13 Steps to Being a Winning Parent


Parents/Coaches Guides

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13 Steps to Being a Winning Parent

If you want your child to come out of their youth sports experience a winner (feeling good about themselves and having a healthy attitude towards sports), then they need your help! You are a vital and important part of the coach-athlete-parent team. If you do your job correctly and play your position well, then your child will learn the sport faster, perform better, really have fun and have his/her self-esteem enhanced as a result. Their sport experience will serve as a positive model for them to follow as they approache other challenges and obstacles throughout life. If you “drop the ball” or run the wrong way with it, your child will stop learning, experience performance difficulties and blocks, and begin to really hate the sport. And that’s the good news! Further, your relationship with him/her will probably suffer significantly. As a result, they will come out of this experience burdened with feelings of failure, inadequacy and low self-esteem, feelings that will generalize to other areas in their life. Your son/daughter and their coach need you on the team. They can’t win without you! The following are a list of useful facts, guidelines and strategies for you to use to make you more skilled in the youth sport game. Remember, no wins unless everyone wins. We need you on the team!



When defined the right way, competition in youth sports is both good and healthy and teaches children a variety of important life skills. The word “compete” comes from the Latin words “com” and “petere” which mean together and seeking respectively. The true definition of competition is a seeking together where your opponent is your partner, not the enemy! The better he/she performs, the more chance you have of having a peak performance. Sports is about learning to deal with challenges and obstacles. Without a worthy opponent, without any challenges, sports is not so much fun. The more the challenge, the better the opportunity you have to go beyond your limits. World records are consistently broken and set at the Olympics because the best athletes in the world are “seeking together”, challenging each other to enhanced performance. Your child should never be taught to view his/her opponent as the “bad guy”, the enemy or someone to be hated and “destroyed”. Do not model this attitude! Instead, talk to/make friends with parents of your child’s opponent. Root for great performances, good plays, not just for the winner!
The ultimate goal of the sport experience is to challenge oneself and continually improve. Unfortunately, judging improvement by winning and losing is both an unfair and inaccurate measure. Winning in sports is about doing the best you can do, separate from the outcome or the play of your opponent. Children should be encouraged to compete against their own potential (i.e., Peter and Patty Potential). That is, the boys should focus on beating “Peter”, competing against themselves, while the girls challenge “Patty”. When your child has this focus and plays to better themselves instead of beating someone else, they will be more relaxed, have more fun and therefore perform better.
DON’T DEFINE SUCCESS AND FAILURE IN TERMS OF WINNING AND LOSING A corollary to TWO, one of the main purposes of the youth sports experience is skill acquisition and mastery. When a child performs to their potential and loses, it is criminal to focus on the outcome and become critical. If a child plays their very best and loses, you need to help them feel like a winner! Similarly, when a child or team performs far below their potential but wins, this is not cause to feel like a winner. Help your child make this important separation between success and failure and winning and losing. Remember, if you define success and failure in terms of winning and losing, you’re playing a losing game with your child!
Your role on the parent-coach-athlete team is as a Support player with a capital S! You need to be your child’s best fan. unconditionally! Leave the coaching and instruction to the coach. Provide encouragement, support, empathy, transportation, money, help with fund-raisers, etc., but… do not coach! Most parents that get into trouble with their children do so because they forget to remember the important position that they play. Coaching interferes with your role as supporter and fan. The last thing your child needs and wants to hear from you after a disappointing performance or loss is what they did technically or strategically wrong. Keep your role as a parent on the team separate from that as coach, and, if by necessity you actually get stuck in the almost no-win position of having to coach your child, try to maintain this separation of roles (i.e. on the deck, field or court say, “Now I’m talking to you as a coach”, at home say, “Now I’m talking to you as a parent”). Don’t parent when you coach and don’t coach at home when you’re supposed to be parenting.


It’s a time proven principle of peak performance that the more fun an athlete is having, the more they will learn and the better they will perform. Fun must be present for peak performance to happen at every level of sports from youth to world class competitor! When a child stops having fun and begins to dread practice or competition, it’s time for you as a parent to become concerned! When the sport or game becomes too serious, athletes have a tendency to burn out and become susceptible to repetitive performance problems. An easy rule of thumb: If your child is not enjoying what they are doing, nor loving the heck out of it, investigate! What is going on that’s preventing them from having fun? Is it the coaching? The pressure? Is it you?! Keep in mind that being in a highly competitive program does not mean that there is no room for fun. The child that continues to play long after the fun is going will soon become a drop out statistic.
Number FIVE leads us to a very important question! Why is your child participating in the sport? Are they doing it because they want to, for THEM, or because of YOU? When they have problems in their sport, do you talk about them as “OUR” problems, i.e., “our jump isn’t high enough”, “we’re having trouble with our flip turn” , etc. Are they playing because they don’t want to disappoint you, because they know how important the sport is to YOU? Are they playing for rewards and “bonuses” that YOU give out? Are their goals and aspirations YOURS or THEIRS? How invested are YOU in their success and failure? If they are competing to please you or for your vicarious glory, then they are in it for the wrong reasons! Further, if they stay involved for you, ultimately everyone will lose. It is quite normal and healthy to want your child to excel and be as successful as possible. But, you cannot make this happen by pressuring them with your expectations or by using guilt or bribery to keep them involved. If they have their own reasons and own goals for participating, they will be far more motivated to excel and therefore far more successful.
Do not equate your child’s self-worth and lovability with their performance. The most tragic and damaging mistake I see parents continually make is punishing a child for a bad performance by withdrawing emotionally from them. A child loses a race, strikes out or misses and easy shot on goal and the parent responds with disgust, anger and withdrawal of love and approval. CAUTION: Only use this strategy if you want to damage your child emotionally and ruin your relationship with them. When Olympic diver, Greg Louganis needed and got a perfect 10 on his last dive to overtake the Chinese diver for the gold medal, his last thought before he went was, “If I don’t make it, my mother will still love me”.
Athletes of all ages and levels perform in direct relationship to how they feel about themselves. When your child is in an athletic environment that boosts self-esteem, he/she will learn faster, enjoy themselves more and perform better under competitive pressure. One thing we all want as children and never stop wanting is to be loved and accepted, and to have our parents feel good about what we do. This is how self-esteem gets established. When your interactions with your child make them feel good about themselves, they will, in turn, learn to treat themselves this very same way. This does not mean that you have to incongruently compliment your child for a great effort after they have just performed miserably. In this situation being empathic and sensitive to his/her feelings is what’s called for. Self esteem makes the world go round. Make your child feel good about themselves and you’ve given them a gift that lasts a lifetime. Do not interact with your child in a way that assaults their self-esteem by degrading, embarrassing or humiliating them. If you continually put your child down or minimize their accomplishments not only will they learn to do this to themselves throughout their life, but they will also repeat your mistake with their children!


If you really want your child to be as happy and as successful as possible in everything that they do, then teach them how to fail! The most successful people in and out of sports do two things differently than everyone else. First, they are more willing to take risks and therefore fail more frequently. Second, they use their failures in a positive way as a source of motivation and feedback to improve. Our society is generally negative and teaches us that failure is bad, a cause for humiliation and embarrassment, and something to be avoided at all costs. Fear of failure or humiliation causes one to be tentative and non-active. In fact, most performance blocks and poor performances are a direct result of the athlete being preoccupied with failing or messing up. You can’t learn to walk without falling ENOUGH times. Each time that you fall, your body gets valuable information on how to do it better. You can’t be successful or have peak performances if you are concerned with losing or failing. Teach your child how to view setbacks, mistakes and risk-taking positively and you’ll have given them the key to a lifetime of success. Failure is the perfect stepping stone to success.
Many parents directly or indirectly use guilt and threats as a way to “motivate” their child to perform better. Performance studies clearly indicate that while threats may provide short term results, the long term costs in terms of mental health and performance are devastating. Using fear as a motivator is probably one of the worst dynamics you could set up with your child. Threats take the fun out of performance and directly lead to your child performing terribly. Implicit in a threat, (do this or else!) is your own anxiety that YOU do not believe the child is capable. Communicating this lack of belief, even indirectly is further devastating to the child’s performance. A challenge does not entail loss or negative consequences should the athlete fail. Further, implicit in a challenge is the empowering belief, “I think that you can do it”.
When athletes choke under pressure and perform far below their potential, a very common cause of this is a focus on the outcome of the performance (i.e., win/lose, instead of the process). In any peak performance, the athlete is totally oblivious to the outcome and instead is completely absorbed in the here and now of the actual performance. An outcome focus will almost always distract and tighten up the athlete insuring a bad performance. Furthermore focusing on the outcome, which is completely out of the athlete’s control will raise their anxiety to a performance inhibiting level. So if you truly want your child to win, help get their focus away from how important the contest is and have them focus on the task at hand. Supportive parents de-emphasize winning and instead stress learning the skills and playing the game.

Supportive parents do not use other athletes that their child competes against to compare and thus evaluate their child’s progress. Comparisons are useless, inaccurate and destructive. Each child matures differently and the process of comparison ignores significant distorting effects of developmental differences. For example, two 12 year old boys may only have their age in common! One may physically have the build and perform like a 16 year old while the other, a late developer, may have the physical size and attribute of a 9 year old. Performance comparisons can prematurely turn off otherwise talented athletes on their sport. The only value of comparisons is in teaching. If one child demonstrates proper technique, that child can be used comparatively as a model only! For your child to do his/her very best, he/she needs to learn to stay within themselves. Worrying about how another athlete is doing interferes with them doing this.


The sports media in this country would like you to believe that sports and winning/losing is larger than life. The fact that it is just a game frequently gets lost in translation. This lack of perspective frequently trickles down to the youth sport level and young athletes often come away from competition with a distorted view of themselves and how they performed. Parents need to help their children develop realistic expectations about themselves, their abilities and how they played, without robbing the child of his dreams. Swimming a lifetime best time and coming in dead last is a cause for celebration, not depression. Similarly, losing the conference championships does not mean that the sun will not rise tomorrow.

Is your child having a performance difficulty? Get in touch with me below:

As parents, we all want the best for our children. It’s much easier to celebrate their victories than let them make mistakes and learn from them.

But that’s what life is — a series of setbacks that turn into stepping stones for the next opportunity.

Too often, parents lack the patience young athletes need them to show. That takes time, and the big game is coming up this week.

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So they push their kids – sometimes unknowingly – toward a perfection most can’t achieve. Then when the disappointments come, the devastation on parents’ faces leaves kids feeling like failures.

Nearly 75 percent of children who play organized sports quit by age 13. Most of that is because of burnout. Playing sports isn’t fun anymore for them.

Steve Henson of offered five signs to help parents take a step back and re-examine their relationships with their kids and sports:

1. Overemphasizing sports at the expense of sportsmanship: One lesson football teaches is the importance of playing at an even keel, win or lose. Parents who are demonstrative in showing displeasure during a game send the wrong message. Encouragement is crucial, especially when things aren’t going well on the field.

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2. Having different goals than the child: Children and teens generally want to have fun, enjoy time with their friends, improve their skills and win. Parents who are solely focused on college scholarships and making the all-star team need to adjust their perspective.

3. Treating a child differently after a loss than a win: All parents love their children the same regardless of the outcome of a game. Yet behavior often conveys something else. The sheer disappointment on the faces of some parents after a loss can make young athletes question whether their value as people is tied to playing time or winning.

4. Undermining the coach: Young athletes need a single instructional voice during games. That voice has to be the coach. Kids who listen to their parents yelling instructions from the stands, or even glancing at their parents for approval from the field, are distracted and can’t perform at a peak level. Second-guessing the coach on the ride home is just as bad.

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5. Taking credit for child’s success: This is a sure sign the parent is living through the child. “We worked on that move for weeks in the driveway,” or “They did it just like I showed them.” It’s OK to be proud of your child’s accomplishments, but remember, it’s not you out on that field.

This is an updated version of a blog that originally published May 22, 2015.

The warning signs: Are you living vicariously through your children?

His son had two volunteer coaches there, but that didn’t matter. He was determined to coach him separately.

“Get ready. He’s coming. Brace yourself.”

“Move fast now. Hands up. Stay alert. Come on!”

It was non-stop.

And guess what happened next?

A lad from the opposing team (my son’s team) kicked the ball right past him. Goal! Right into the back of the net.

The tears were instant, and all I wanted to say to that father of the goalie was, “Just. Leave. Him. Alone. Let him play himself.”

That poor nine-year-old was devastated and let in a further two goals in the last 10 minutes of the game.

It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed such parenting behaviour. I’m sure if you are a parent to a child who plays sport, or has an after-school or weekend activity, you’ve seen it countless times: parents who are overly-invested in their child’s success, wanting to see their child achieve in sports, music, academics, you name it. It can take the form of both high praise and sharp criticism.

So I pose this question: are pushy parents who go to great lengths to make their children succeed attempting to make up for their own failed dreams? Do these parents feel as though they didn’t achieve what they wanted in their own life and now, on some level, feel like failures? Are these parents trying to fulfil their own goals by turning their children into winners?

What’s so tragic about this behaviour is that children feel like they’ve got to perform. They’ve got to win! Surely that’s not healthy?

Kids need to gain ownership of their participation in the sport or activity they’re involved in. They need to feel that it is their thing. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to your children gaining that ownership of their activity occurs when you commandeer that ownership to meet your own needs.

For instance, there are a number of warning signs to look out for and to judge whether you are putting your own needs ahead of those of your kids.

Sports may actually become more important to you than to your kids. This overzealous interest on your part, instead of promoting their participation, undermines their interest by taking away ‘their’ ownership of ‘their’ sport.

Ask yourself have you entered the “we” zone? Have you began talking about your children’s participation in terms of how “we” did? For example, “We had a great game today”, or “We qualified for the final”.

Ask yourself, are you more nervous before competitions than your kids are? Are you more excited when they succeed, and more disappointed when they don’t? Are you more concerned with results, points and rankings than the benefits of their participation? If the results of your darling’s competitions take precedence over the fun and life lessons learned, then it might be time to check yourself.

Sports are seductive. Yet fame and fortune resulting from your kids’ athletic success or music, for example, only comes if they have the talent and determination to reach that level and, most importantly, if the opportunity gives rise.

The odds of your child becoming the next Pelé, Usain Bolt or Ed Sheeran are also infinitely small. I’m not saying that your children shouldn’t dream big (if they don’t aim for the stars, they may not even get to the top of the hill), but that shouldn’t be your entire focus as parents.

Life today is so very demanding. Be careful that you are not in danger of pushing your kids harder and harder, even when they may not be prepared for the increased demands. Their development can’t be rushed; the necessary time and effort has to be put in and your children have to be allowed to develop at their own pace, or like the little nine-year-old goalkeeper, it could all end in tears.

Kids who become victims of a vicarious parent can end up not only playing below their abilities because of the anxiety they experience, but end up disliking the sport or activity entirely, and then what was it all for?

Ask yourself are you pushing your child to play a sport or an instrument even when the child doesn’t really want to anymore. Be honest about this for a minute. Is your child playing only to please you? He may say he wants to play just because he knows that’s what you want.

Look for signs that he is/is not passionate about his activity: does he choose to play when he doesn’t have to? Does he dread practices, games or performances? Does he not ever want to talk about the activity? What do the answers tell you?

Also know that kids are often intimidated to tell their parents they are being pushed too hard, so just because they haven’t said anything doesn’t mean you’re not doing it.

It’s so important to positive parent from the sidelines by modelling supportive behaviour – cheer and be supportive, rather than yelling and humiliating kids from the audience.

At the end of the day, we have to remember that this whole parenting lark is not about us, but about passing on a legacy of character and integrity, of hard work and good responses to what life throws at us. So that they will one day do the same.

Olivia Willis is the co-founder of, an Irish family website with information for parents, things to do, daily blogs, reviews and expert family advice

Irish Independent

How parents’ unfulfilled dreams can affect their children

Hey dads, have you ever forced your son to play a sport even if he didn’t want to? Moms, have you ever pushed your daughter towards a certain activity whether she had any interest in it or not?

If the answer is yes, then you’re certainly not alone, because there are plenty of parents who want their kids to try new things.

Of course there are some parents who just want to expose their children to new ideas, but there are other parents who use their kids to make up for their own unfulfilled dreams.

In a new study conducted by a team of Dutch researchers and Brad Bushman, a communication and psychology professor at Ohio State University, it was found that a lot of children get pushed into activities, because their parents have trouble seeing them as individuals.

“Some parents see their children as extensions of themselves, rather than as separate people with their own hopes and dreams,” said Bushman. “These parents may be most likely to want their children to achieve the dreams that they themselves have not achieved.”

Way too pushy

Although some may not be surprised by these findings, Bushman says this particular study was the first to examine why some parents are way too pushy.

First, researchers gathered 73 parents who had at least one child between the ages of 8 and 15. It just so happened that 89% of the participants were mothers, researchers said.

From there, the researchers surveyed the parents to see how much they saw their children as individuals. The parents had to choose from a scale that determined if they saw their children as mere extensions of themselves or as separate beings.

Then, one group of participants had to list two ambitions they tried to fulfill in their life but never did. And the second group was told to list an unfulfilled ambition of someone they knew.

The parents then had to answer a series of questions so researchers could gauge how many of those unfulfilled dreams had to do with pushing their child into an activity.

One of the statements the parents had to answer was, “I hope my child will reach goals that I wasn’t able to reach.”

At the conclusion of the study, researchers learned the parents who focused on their own unfulfilled ambitions — as opposed to focusing on the ambitions of someone they knew — were more likely to want their kids to follow the same dreams they did.

Most of the parents who thought this way were unable to see their kids as individuals, researchers said.

Feelings of regret

Bushman says a big reason that some parents push their kids into certain activities is because it helps them deal with their own feelings of regret.

“Parents then may bask in the reflected glory of their children, and lose some of the feelings of regret and disappointment that they couldn’t achieve these same goals,” he said. “They might be living vicariously through their children.”

Dr. Madeline Levine, a psychologist and author of “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success,” says some parents use their children to provide meaning in their own lives. In addition, she says some parents become so obsessed with an unfulfilled dream that they pass that obsession onto their child.

“The cost of this relentless drive to perform at unrealistically high levels is a generation of kids who resemble nothing so much as trauma victims,” wrote Levine.

“They become preoccupied with events that have passed, obsessing endlessly on a possible wrong answer or missed opportunity. They are anxious and depressed and often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Sleep is difficult and they walk around in a fog of exhaustion. Other kids simply fold their cards and refuse to play.”

In addition, Levine says that parents should simply encourage things like creativity, diligence, eagerness and self-efficacy.

Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., agrees and says parents shouldn’t put their kids in too many activities, because children need their own time and space to figure out what they like.

“Middle-class children in America are so overscheduled that they have almost no ‘nothing time,’ “said Ehrensaft in a published interview.

“They have no time to call on their own resources and be creative. Creativity is making something out of nothing, and it takes time for that to happen. “

“In our efforts to produce Renaissance children who are competitive in all areas, we squelch creativity,” she says.

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