Ask A Psychologist: How Can I Keep My Kids’ Temper in Check?

Sometimes, emotions can get the better of kids while playing a sport. How can parents help keep a child’s temper in check?

Dear Edgar,

My 8-year-old son has shown interest in football. To support this endeavour, we enrolled him in a club where he can train with a good coach and play with other kids. While he likes the sport, I noticed that he easily gets frustrated when he does not make a goal or when his team loses. Even during practice games, when it gets too tense, he vents out his anger whether on the field or in the bench. I’m concerned that this attitude gets in the way of his performance, and if this continues, his coach and teammates may not want for him to play. I don’t want that to happen because I know his heart is in the game. How do I encourage my son to be patient in football, especially when he’s already on the field? What can I do or say so that he can keep his temper in check while playing?

- Claire*, 38

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Dear Claire,

Getting angry in sport may lead to your child being left out of the team, or worst still, negate his overall positive experiences in sport. He is also likely to drop out of sport because his anger makes it no longer fun to participate any longer.

To help him manage his anger, there are a few things that could be done:

1. De-emphasise results or outcomes of competitions

Emphasise the fun or social element of the game instead of being outcome or result driven. However, having said that, we should still expect him to give his best effort. Help your son understand that winning isn’t everything.

2. Identify when you son gets angry

Find the situations or “triggers” that cause him to get frustrated or angry. These are times when it causes him to shift into “dangerous territory.” Knowing when they happen can help us find ways to assist him to constructively handle his anger during those critical moments. 

3. Find out what is he saying to himself when he gets angry

Help your son identify his self-talk or thoughts associated with his feelings of frustration or anger -- e.g., “I’m so stupid,”  “What’s wrong with you! You #%@$!” These thoughts may often aggravate the situation and make him even more frustrated or angry. Self-awareness is the key here.

4. Use positive affirmations to mentally prepare for anger-provoking situations
You can help you son to listen to a pre-recorded script of positive affirmations, or speak to him in similar ways; e.g.,

  • “I forgive myself for missing a shot or pass”

  • “I think positively in training and competition”

  • “I am cool and calm in things go wrong”  

  • “No matter what happens, I’m still a lovable and capable person”

  • “I am a good team player”

  • “I let go of what other people think of me”

  • “I love competition”

ABOUT THE PSYCHOLOGIST

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Edgar Tham is a sport & performance psychologist with SportPsych Consulting, and an associate faculty in psychology and sports/PE at SIM University. He is also the co-author of Mental Toughness Strategies of the World's Greatest Athletes, and was the travelling team psychologist to national team athletes competing at the SEA Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Olympic Games and more.

Tham uses the lessons learned from champion elite sport athletes as a metaphor for teaching the principles of peak performance under pressure and stress.

For more practical tips and inspirational ideas on sport and performance psychology, visit www.sportpsychconsulting.com or like them on Facebook here.

*Names are changed to protect anonymity

actualyse.com’s Ask a Psychologist column is an avenue where readers could send in their burning questions about parenting, marriage and children’s education woes. All questions sent to us are looked into and answered by a licensed clinical psychologist to provide parents sound professional advice.

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