Best Parenting Tip Ever

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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