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Helping My Son Turn a “Poor Me” Attitude Into a Positive Perspective

My 10-year-old son and two friends attended a fabulous basketball camp on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The camp was over two hours long, with more than 60 kids in attendance. I watched how much fun my son was having throughout the day. There were stations with drills, and somehow, he was able to pair up with one of his friends for lessons in passing. What’s not to like for a kid who loves basketball and being with friends?

A few minutes before the session ended, there was a shooting contest. Only a few kids were chosen to compete, and my son was not one of them. The contest winners received prizes and recognition, as did a few kids chosen as “all-stars” for effort, skill and participation. Again, my son was not selected. 

My son was struggling to deal with his disappointment. 

Of course, as his mother, I would have loved to see him win an award. He absolutely loves the sport, and he is impressive at rebounding. He would have enjoyed the accolades. It would have also been fun to see either of his friends selected. But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. 

When the camp ended and we walked out, I could see how bummed he was. I love my kid’s confidence and his competitiveness, but it can also lead to dealing with disappointment and frustration

At the camp, he played a basketball game with kids he had never met, guarded them fiercely and took shots easily against them. As his mom, I was thrilled he spent the day without his iPad. All in all, the day felt wonderful. The last thing I wanted was for these awards to ruin the experience. 

How could I help my son understand that most of his day was fun and wildly productive?

I could see his wheels turning as he worked to process how he was feeling about the day. I decided to simplify it for him.

I did the math and figured out the shooting contest and awards were about 6% of the total camp. The rest of the camp, the parts that he enjoyed, were 94% of the day. Even though the kid loves math, it was hard for him to see the contests and awards as a small fraction of his day.

Isn’t that always how it always seems to go? Dwelling on a single negative experience can wipe out an otherwise good day.

My son once told me about a negative scenario that played out at recess. The way he explained it, it felt like the disagreement lasted hours, but it turns out it was only the last few minutes of recess. 

Here’s another example: My family recently went to Florida for winter break. Because of frigid temperatures, we were only able to spend time at the beach on three of our eight days. We had a fabulous trip overall, and yet when people ask me, “How was Florida?” the cold weather is the first thing I mention.

It was time for all of us to start learning how to be more positive. 

It’s my job as the parent to help my kids think more positively. The majority of the camp day was great, and Florida was a wonderful getaway even though we dressed in sweaters and found other unique activities like kissing alligators and bungee-jumping. The camp was the “final straw” encouraging me to change the narrative in my head — and help my kids do the same. 

If my son leaves a half-day camp and most of the day was great — that’s a win. If our family is able to go to Florida over winter break and enjoy time together, away from the everyday headaches, that’s also a win. We can acknowledge the aspects that disappoint us, as long as we are willing to then focus on the bigger picture. 

It starts with me and my husband. Our kids will imitate the behavior we show. They need to see us thinking positively and not hyper-focusing on the negative 6%. 

It’s not too late to set a New Year’s goal for 2023, right?

Marcy Bernstein Young

Marcy Young is both a mother and a writer, and currently working to publish her manuscript Grateful While Grieving: A Collection of Stories About Parenting Through Love and Grief.

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