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Five Tips to Communicate Better with Your Child

By Minnesota Hockey, 02/20/18, 12:00PM CST

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“Constantly tell kids what to do and how to do it, that can really hinder a child’s passion. Kids need to figure it out on their own.”

In addition to getting tuned out, by not coaching kids 24-7, they are able to learn about the game on their own.

“How was the game?”

One little phrase that can say so much.

Talking with your child about hockey can be tough. You try to say the right thing which, unfortunately for parents, can often be the wrong thing.

As parents we want the best for our children, and we want to be a part of their life and take part in conversations that will open them up and help them in any way possible. And when it comes to sports, we want to make sure they are developing, having fun and doing their best.

So how do you do that? And more importantly, how can you be sure what you are saying is heard and making an impact?

“If you want your words to be effective, you want them to take the positives from the game, not the negatives,” said USA Hockey Coaching Education Director, and father of three, Mark Tabrum. “Children interpret things lots of different ways, so I think we have to be very careful with how we say things and how we interact with them.”

Here are Tabrum’s tips to effectively communicate with your child, along with a few examples of what you say versus what they might hear.

What you say: “So, what was up with that game?”
What they hear: “Were you good enough? How many mistakes did you make?”

No, you certainly didn’t say all that or mean to imply that you were setting up to criticize them. But how you phrase things is key.

“It’s all how you ask questions of your child,” Tabrum said. “We’ve all heard of the car rides home where the parents are all over the child because they didn’t do this or they didn’t do that. They’re lecturing, coaching in the car and the child is crying in the car. I think it’s how you phrase the questions and the environment you put together.

“I know when I used to ride home with my kids, you can read if they’re in a good mood or bad mood after a game. If they were in a good mood, I would ask an open-ended question like ‘what did you think today’ or ‘how’d the game go? How’d you play?’; Let them talk about it and then when it’s over with it’s over with. If they ask my opinion, I’d give it to them, but if they didn’t, I let them talk about the game. If they didn’t want to, I think you have to respect that too.”

Let them dictate the conversation

If your son or daughter wants to talk about the game, they will. Tabrum said he sees so many parents who are trying to live out their sports dreams through their kids, thus forcing conversations that maybe they don’t actually want to have.

“The question becomes, are you having the discussion about the game because you want to have the discussion or because they want to have the discussion?” said Tabrum. “As parents you still have to parent your child, but when it comes to sports, you have to find a happy medium of allowing the child to enjoy the sport like we did as children.”

This is especially true when it comes to the younger players at the 8U, 10U and even 12U levels.

“Why not just say, where do you want to go have lunch or where do you want to eat?” Tabrum said. “I’m sure they have no interest in talking about the practice or game at a young age. I think it’s when they get older, they develop a passion for it and then you ask those open-ended questions and talk about it.”

What you say: “You should have shot on that one play instead of passing low, and what was going on with your third shift? You could have done so much better.”
What they hear: “Wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk.”

You’re simply trying to help them improve, and there is nothing wrong with that, but like the teacher in Charlie Brown, when you harp and get too critical on kids, they’re likely to simply tune you out.

“There’s a point where they tune you out when you’re telling them what to do all the time,” Tabrum said. “You have to keep the conversation light and fun so the child develops a passion to play the game so that when you do tell them, they are listening.

“Especially in a game, if after every shift you’re saying ‘do this’ or ‘do that,’ eventually they’re going to tune you out. It’s easy to say things in a negative tone, but if you talk in a positive way, they might open their ears and listen as opposed to really telling them what they’re doing wrong, they will tune you out pretty quick.”

Sometimes silence is best

In addition to getting tuned out, by not coaching kids 24-7, they are able to learn about the game on their own.

"When the Brotens were playing in Roseau, Minnesota, do you think somebody was telling them what to do all the time? My guess is probably not,” explains Tabrum. “You can name any big Minnesota player and odds are they didn’t have parents telling them what to do all the time. They were figuring out the game themselves. When they were playing out on the pond, they were figuring out how to create two-on-ones and how to win one-on-one battles.

“Constantly tell kids what to do and how to do it, that can really hinder a child’s passion. Kids need to figure it out on their own.”

What you say: “I love you. I’m proud of you. I hope you had fun.”
What they hear: “I love you. I’m proud of you. I hope you had fun.”

Those three things are rarely misinterpreted and are always a-OK to say to your kiddo in hockey or otherwise. Tabrum does advise not to say those things after every shift so the words don’t lose their luster, but reminds parents that at the end of the day, what you say to your kids and how does matter.

“Kids hang on to your every word. Remember that.”

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Minnesota Hockey, an affiliate of USA Hockey, is the governing body of youth and amateur hockey in Minnesota and the premier developer of hockey players in the state.

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