Best Parenting Tip Ever

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parentchildiconParenting is hard, because it’s complicated and full of doubt. As a result, we parents tend to try harder — because we want, quite naturally, to get involved, to fix things. We think it’s about us.

Which is why I love the approach of Rob Miller and Bruce E. Brown, who run a coaching outfit called Proactive Coaching LLC. In their quest to understand what makes a successful parent, Miller and Brown used a stunningly simple method: They asked kids what worked.  

For three decades, Miller and Brown made a habit of asking college-age athletes about the ways their parents had made a positive or negative impact. After several hundred interviews with a wide cross-section of kids, their informal survey had two insightful discoveries.

Number one: what kids hate most, by an overwhelming margin, is the conversations during the ride home after the game. You know, that quiet, strained, slightly uncomfortable time when parents ask questions, give praise, offer critiques, and generally get involved by saying things like:

Great job today. So what happened on that play?

What did your coach tell the team after the game?

Do you think the team could have hustled more? 

These types of moments, Miller and Brown point out, are well intentioned, and often contain truth, but the timing is toxic. The moments after a game are not the time for judgement or pressure and definitely not for instruction (which is the job of the coach, not the parent). In fact, many of the kids said they preferred having grandparents attend games, because they are more joyful and less pressurizing than parents.

But it’s not all bad news. Because there’s a second finding to emerge from their work, and it might be the best parenting tip I’ve ever read.

The kids reported there was one phrase spoken by parents that brought them happiness. One simple sentence that made them feel joyful, confident, and fulfilled. Just six words.

I love to watch you play.

That’s it. Six words that are the exact opposite of the uncomfortable car-ride home. Because they reframe your relationship — you stop being the watchful supervisor, and you start being a steady, supportive presence.

I love to watch you play. 

A signal that sends the simplest, most powerful signal: this is about you. I am your parent, not your coach or your judge. You make me really, really happy.

I love to watch you play. 

Try it out, like this parent did. I know I’m going to. Let me know how it goes.


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22 Responses to “Best Parenting Tip Ever”

  1. I think it was Wayne Bryan (father of the Bryan Brothers most successful doubles team in the history of tennis and still breaking records) that after a tennis match there are only 2 or maybe 3 questions you should as your kid depending on their age.

    1. Do you want gatorade or water?
    2. Where do you want to eat?
    3. Do you want to drive home or do you want me to?

    Great advice. I can’t wait to use this phrase with my daughter.

  2. Evert Pruis says:

    Dear Daniel,

    I think these six words are a universal talent booster, for kid and adult alike. Imagine your boss would tell you (often) “I love to see you work/perform/play/teach/figure skate”

    I found it truly inspiring to read your post. Thanks!

    Kind regards, Evert

  3. Betsy Danes says:

    thanks, Dan! I love to read your insights — and this is great advice. And I cannot wait to pass on to my husband!

  4. This is a beautiful essay full of wonderful advice. Thank you for writing it! It touches me deeply.

  5. Rob Fisher says:

    That’s a way for your child to feel good in the short term, but is it a way to build talent? Is that really being a good parent? As you say, parenting is complicated. “I love to see you play” is a little too one-dimensional. Shouldn’t you help the child to get better? That doesn’t mean that you have to yell at them or be hypercritical, but I think your proposal is too passive and does not foster talent.

    I also disagree with your assertion that instruction is the job of the coach, not the parent. To the coach, your child is one of 10 or 15. How is that any different than leaving your child’s education to the teachers? “I love to see your grades” wouldn’t cut it if they brought home a D on a test.

  6. Mo Wilkinson says:

    Dan, as usual, I find myself with a few minutes and read anything that comes from you. I am so guilty of exactly that…always wanting to have that conversation, get the kids to open up. I will not do that again. I always love to watch the kids, play, swim, dance…and simply put, I love them. So…good advice that I will take to heart. Thanks.

  7. Adam Catford says:

    Great advice, for the trip home (Rob Fisher I think you have missed that this advice is for a specific time after the game). There may well be a time later for discussion and reflection, which I feel should be ‘agreed upon’ not simply decided by the parent. I also imagine this applies primarily when things haven’t gone so well, as kids usually live to talk when everything went well. Great advice for what can be a tense and disconcerting time, Gatorade and fries might just be the answer (and no, fries aren’t performance enhancing I know, but they sure can be comforting).

  8. Walter says:

    As not only a parent but a parent/coach my ride home is a little tougher LOL! When my 9 year old get’s in the car and right away asks “Dad, how do you think i played”! When my oldest (13) get’s in the car and says, “I sucked today”! It’s tough to get in that one line ive just read. Also, i think it’s important to realize that every child is different. Some need motivation, some need to be left alone. Some need positive remarks and some you can challenge. Kids are smart. They know who they preformed before we say anything. At the end of the day no matter what you say it’s important to understand and very very very few of our kids will become pro athletes, but what we say can effect what type of people they might become!

  9. Rod Roth says:

    You know what, Dan? I felt a rush of relief as I imagined myself saying those six magical words to a kid instead of struggling to be “constructive.” Bravo!

  10. AnneL says:

    Good advice not just for parents of athletes. My children are both doing performance work and since their father and I both work in the theater ourselves it is very hard to resist the “That was great but do you think you might …” after the fact performance coaching. “I love to watch you perform” is probably exactly right.

  11. Derick says:

    So as having been a player, a coach, and now a parent, I call BS on this statement and that you would rather have a grandparent at the game. Yes, I didn’t like to talk about the game so much, if I lost, but it was the best time for my dad to not only show me how to be a better player but were to be proud of my play. Along with that the game of event is still fresh in everyone’s mind. As a coach, there were no more valuable players then those who’s parents participated in the process. By that I mean show up to the games and help instruct their children. At times it takes a parents view point to show a kid that the coach has a plan and not out to “wreck a career”. Whit that said, yes, there are many times that you have parents that are over bearing, but that is not just to the child, but to the coaching staff as well. As a parent, I want take that time right then to let my girls know that they have were great and that if they would like some pointers I would be happy to give them. If you are waiting till later to talk to them about it you seem to be making it unimportant and an after thought. So, yeah, it was uncomfortable some times to talk about, but I know that there is NO OTHER praise or ADMONISHMENT that as much as dad’s. Talk to your kids, they already know you “love to watch them play”, you are there parents.

  12. Doc says:

    I’ve always found it interesting how similar training a dog and coaching a child is. We use positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment at least some of the time, often when we don’t even realize it. Stephen Sloane wrote an essay in Equus Magazine in 1995 and Suzanne Clothier (a well known dog trainer)picked up on it to use with dog training. He spoke of “Dancing With Horses” as a level you would want to achieve in your training. The first level he called the technical level in which you have a trainer/coach and a subject. You are basically teaching the needed skills and stimulus and response is a big part of the learning process. The second level is the motivational level where the coach/trainer learns what motivates the student so that they “want” to do what the teacher wants them to do. Most good and evenn great teachers & coaches reach this level and much success can be gained here. However, his third level which he calls the spiritual level is one in which the teacher/coach forgets their ego and both coach and student are on the same page and work closely as equals to gain even higher levels of achievement. They are working as a well oiled unit. He states that there is no recipe or list for being able to achieve this. It is extremely hard work and each has to find their own path but when and if you do it is like a beautiful dance between the two. Hope I haven’t done a disservice to his essay by trying to summarize it. If a parent and child ever reach this level then the parent would instinctively know when and what to talk about with his/her child. The original essay was in Equus Magazine July 1995 issue and a better summary of it than mine is near the beginning of the book Bones Would Rain From the Sky by Suzanne clothier if you are interested

  13. Margie says:

    Derek– you should not only be “their” parents, but you you should also be “there” for them without judgement. That is what he is trying to say. Calm down.

  14. Alex says:

    Yeah, when you do negative reinforcement just after the match you also punish trying and working, as the brain link trying to get scolded the motivation to play vanish.

  15. John says:

    Do these same words apply when your child gets home from school? How do you learn about their school day and what they are into? I feel like I went through all of this as a kid, but now that I am a parent I struggle to know how best to communicate with them. I could care less if they are good at something, I just want them to always try. I struggle knowing how to teach/coach that desire. Advice?

  16. Brad Wood says:

    Problem is although these college players might have hated it. They did in fact make it to college. Ask the ones that didn’t make it and maybe their parents asked them stuff like did you have fun, or I enjoyed watching you play.

  17. Laura says:

    I have seen this a few places and tried it. It works! For those of you concerned that you’re missing an opportunity to help your child, you are wrong. It often opens a discussion. I’ve had the response, “Thanks mom…What do you like about watching me play?” So, sometimes this leads into more talk about the game and sometimes they don’t feel like it. Let your kid take the lead on that. If they are going to be great they already know what they could have done better.

  18. Bravo! I love these spirited dialogs.The key in my experience is to customize when it is acceptable to discuss the positives and negatives of a match. For example, if your child has lost and your on your way home; time is on your side. If they play again in an hour, you simply don’t have the luxury of ignoring performance issues.
    Also, I’ve found players and parents have opposing views of a match day performance. A great tip is to ask the player to complete a match log for each tournament match. Better yet, video tape one match per event for video analysis. This way you can ” love to watch em play” twice and educate the player to boot!
    Frank Giampaolo
    The Tennis Parents Bible

  19. Chris says:

    As a parent of a special needs athlete and also coach of several special needs athletes. A parent or coach saying those 6 words means alot to the athlete. I have seen too many typical athletes leave a sporting event upset or mad at theit performance, probaly because they dont hear those 6 words often enough. Special Olympians hear that from alot of people in their lives, and there is alot of happiness after competition. So for all parents this is great advise.

    I Love to watch my son Swim!

  20. Chad Stoloff says:

    This is very simple, great advice! It is easy to think we are helping the situation by giving more feedback, but when it is unsolicited from the child/athlete, they are looking for support not critiques.

  21. Jason Rix says:

    Great topic! For those worried about what to say and when. You can look at Gordon Neufeld’s work in developmental Psychology and what he calls Attachment need theory.

    The top psychological need a child needs from a parent is:

    “Unconditional positive regard”
    “An invitation to exist”
    “I love you for you not for what you do”.

    Until this need is met, a child is psychologically distracted and cannot move onto developing skill/talent….

    He (Gordon Neufeld) also advocates complementing for EFFORT because a child can have control over that….Sounds like Carol Deweck’s work in Motivational Psychology and her book Mindset…that we know from Dan’s book.

    Again Dan has written something like…

    “these talent hotbeds ALIGN with the brain’s natural mechanisms for acquiring skill”…

    The best coaches care more about the athlete as a person and the athlete feels this.

    This is the parents first and most important job….and I believe that effort flows from this…there are many who believe that when this affect need is not met it lays the seed for many avenues to get this met…sex, drugs, rockin roll, and problems such as ADD “ATTENTION” deficit, depression, low self esteem.

    Some believe that our fears fall into two categories;1) Am I enough? 2)Am I worthy of Love/Belonging?

    Gordon Neufeld it known for a saying: “Connection before Direction” I’ve heard “Connection before Correction” and even sometimes all you need is “Connection”…..

    My step dad and I had an agreement. No feed back or advice unless I asked for it. And I would only ask when I was emotionally ready to hear it. I used a piece of advice he shared with me to dominate at hockey face offs my whole playing career.

    So I believe that it’s about the timing and what the child/athlete needs. As I heard one coach say: focus on building champion kids, not championship teams.

    In closing I’d like people to think about when they don’t feel emotionally connected to their spouse/boy(girl)friend and how is your effort at work or whatever your doing? And when you feel connected? Your unstoppable aren’t you!?

    One last thing! How many stories do we hear about an athlete saying so & so believed in me? My understanding is that believe comes from a French word or words that translate into “BE LOVE” So when they get into the car can we “BE” there with them and love them for who they are. The rest will take care of it’s self.

    And one more thing;) If you want to see this expressed in an athlete. go to Youtube and look up ESPN’s Face to Face interview of Kolbe Bryant by Hanna Storm. it’s about 2 or 3 minutes in and Kolbe describes coming home and telling his dad that they wont let him score. Watch the body language, tone of voice, and how he talks about effort right afterwards. Maybe Dan can post the video? I think it’s a perfect example of a parent taking care of the affect need and effort naturally springing forth.

  22. Mums Lounge says:

    It depends the age of the child on how much constructive criticism you want to give. Look at your child do they really need to be hassled about a bad game or can it wait until the next morning.

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