When your child doesn't make the cut

September 19, 1997

Your reaction can make a world of difference


Staff Writer

Corey Hamby, 10, competes for everything from flag carrying to the high jump. Sometimes she wins and sometimes she loses.

At 10, Hamby was the smallest girl trying out for flag-pole carrying for Springfield Middle School's band.

She didn't make it.

"... Because I was too small or, maybe, because on the last twirl my hand wasn't far enough down on the pole. I kinda felt upset, but I said to myself, `Well, I'll just try again next year,' " she said, noting that in a year she'll be bigger and better able to handle the long pole.

Experts say children begin learning the concepts of winning and losing early in their emotional development, which they say is fine.


Unless, of course, parents can't handle it. When parents show angst over their child's poor performance, especially when that child tried to do well, the child ends up feeling less loved.

"Parents have to tell their kids that it happens. Somewhere along the line they're going to get cut. It's not a personal thing," said William Moore, a guidance counselor at Northern Middle School.

He said the way children cope with losing is almost entirely up to the parent's response to that failure.

Garrett Hamby, Corey's 7-year-old brother, tried out for minor league baseball last year.

But because he was just under the legal age, he was forced to stay in the lower division designed for kids just learning the sport.

"I felt pretty bad. All my friends were going to the minor league because their birthdays were in May," he said.

The bright side of playing with beginners was that he had skills that the other kids didn't have.

"I got a home run. I was good," he crooned.

The Hamby youths will chatter for hours about the things they're interested in.

Corey competes in Boonsboro Junior Olympics and wants to join the gymnastics team.

Garrett got a Munchkin part in the local production of "The Wizard of Oz" and was the only boy at the recent Ag Expo to join the Shepherd Leading Contest, in which exhibitors wear a wool outfit and prepare a narration about themselves and the lamb.

Both Garrett and his sister like sports, music, theater and anything they find interesting.

Not surprisingly, behind the scenes are parents who are encouraging.

"I keep telling them to keep trying new things, go beyond what they've already done. There's no embarrassment in failure," said Amy Hamby, of Kemps Mill Road in Williamsport.

Taking it personally

But that's not the way it is in all families.

"Some parents take it personally when a child doesn't cut it, almost as an affront to themselves ... They have unmet emotional or social needs, things they didn't have. So they want these things for their children," Moore said.

Dr. Elizabeth Brown, a kinesiologist and physical education professor at University of Maryland College Park, has a label for such behavior: parents living vicariously.

She said when parents make the ego investment in their children's ability to come in first or be the best, their children interpret that as the conditions on which they will be loved.

"The fun is taken out and winning becomes the only important thing," Brown said.

Pecking order

It's also bad for coaches and teachers to outwardly favor students based on their performance because it encourages other children to like those students simply because they are good soccer players or fast swimmers. Brown said this creates a pecking order so the best kids are liked regardless of how mean they are.

Still worse, according to experts, is that in smaller communities, the social status of parents rests on their children's athletic fame.

"Parents' status in the community is elevated because of their kids' performance, and kids know that," Brown said, which leads them to build their self-esteem into their ability to perform well.

Instead, Brown and Moore say parents need to be balanced, encourage their kids to try all kinds of things so they eventually discover something at which they can excel.

And above all, parents shouldn't make their kids feel guilty for not being good at everything.

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