- The difficult internal experiences that often arise during parenting interactions can lead to non-mindful parenting reactions
- When parenting non-mindfully you will tend to either become caught up in, or attempt to control these internal experiences.
Mindful sport parenting can be seen as the ability to respond based on your child’s best interests rather than your own or your child’s difficult internal experiences such as frustration, anxiety, and worries An Introduction to Mindful Sport Parenting. This can be challenging, particularly during your child’s competitive situations The Increased Challenges of Sport Parenting, or if personal factors increase your vulnerability to non-mindful responses Vulnerabilities to Non-Mindful Sport Parenting.
Whatever the reason, the difficult internal experiences that often arise during parent-child interactions can lead to reactions that do not support your child’s skill and well-being development. These non-mindful behaviours usually occur in the form of one or both of two specific tendencies. We call these tendencies the 2 C’s of non-mindful parenting. Let’s take a look at these a little more closely now.
Becoming caught up
First, we have a natural tendency to become caught up in normal difficult internal parenting experiences such as anxiety, frustration, sadness, memories, or worries. Being entangled like this results in responses based on these feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and urges. The stronger we experience these internal experiences, the more easily we become dominated by them. We then tend to see the situation and respond to it from the point of view of our own difficult states, rather than from the point of view of our child’s well-being. While this natural reaction has served the purpose of ensuring our human survival throughout history, it doesn’t support actions that increase your child’s well-being through sport.
For example, imagine this situation. It’s the morning of the final round of your child’s state championship golf tournament. He has put a lot of time and effort into training ball year and he is in the last group- he is leading the tournament. You know how much this means to him so you are naturally nervous for him.
When we become caught up in nerves our mind’s focus is naturally drawn onto the dangerous aspects of what we are nervous about. And so during the drive to the course you remind him of all the danger holes to look out for. Remember, don’t miss it right on 9, it’s dead over there, you say. All along not realizing that you are projecting your own worries onto him by pointing out the things you don’t want to go wrong.
It is also common to naturally, without awareness, attempt to avoid or reduce our difficult internal experiences. Since this process usually occurs at an unconscious level we usually don’t recognize when we are implementing control attempts. It often takes intentional reflection to bring our control agenda to light and come to understand these processes in ourselves.
For this reason, understanding the idea of control attempts, and especially our own control attempts, can be difficult. The concept can be hard to grasp. So it is quite usual if you don’t quite catch on to what we are talking about the first time you hear it.
So why are we including a discussion on something difficult to get a handle of? Because it is SO important. Automatic attempts to reduce and avoid difficult internal experiences, along with the natural inclination to become caught up in these experiences, are often the reasons for non-mindful parenting behaviours! So if you find yourself acting in ways that you don’t intend when parenting in sport, coming to understand how you attempt to control your internal experiences is likely vital.
Perhaps the most helpful way to get the hang of this concept is through examples. So let’s look at a couple now.
Why don’t we start with an example someone might experience at work. Imagine a sales person whose boss tells him that he needs to make more cold calls to generate clients. He becomes anxious at the thought of making the calls and his mind races forward contemplating the thought of losing his job which then brings on sadness. He gets caught up in these internal experiences and get’s the urge to leave work early to grab dinner. Without awareness, he acts on this urge. By leaving work early he is actually controlling his nerves and sadness as they are reduced in the short term. The cost of this action, however, is that he fails to actually increase sales and the difficult internal experiences will likely be back stronger tomorrow.
Let’s go back to our golf example for an example of how in the same situation you might attempt to control those nerves that you feel on the morning of your son’s final round. As mentioned, when we get nervous our thoughts tend to race and focus on what might go wrong. If on this morning you get caught up in the nerves as you naturally consider the possibility of your child performing poorly during the final round, you may then attempt to avoid these internal experiences by choosing to not go and watch. Of course the cost here is that you don’t get to see your son play.
And let’s consider the possibility of a control attempt that might be harder to identify. If, when you were a child, your parents reacted with disappointment in you when you performed poorly in sport or school, and you experienced feelings of shame as a result, because of the way our memory works, seeing your own child perform poorly would likely stir up your own memories of those interactions with your parents in the form of shame.
So if you go and watch your son’s final round and he actually does perform poorly, you may experience a sense of shame that is tied to your own past. You may then find yourself becoming angry at your son at the end of the round. While you might believe this anger is a result of his poor performance, it is more likely in this situation that your anger serves to reduce, without your awareness, your difficult childhood memories of shame.
As these examples show, parenting during difficult interactions with your child can easily become a continuous process of either becoming dominated by, or attempting to control internal experiences. In this state, despite doing the best you can at the time, you’ll likely react on automatic pilot to your own internal experiences, rather than with the self-awareness and awareness of your child that can help you make the flexible intentional choices that result in successful communications.
If you wish to develop your own ability to remain mindful and best support your child’s healthy development through sport it can be helpful to develop some skills for mindful parenting The 4A’s of Mindful Sport Parenting.