This was Grady, at his first game. Note the body language.
During his first few practices, he would refuse certain drills, if he "didn't like them". He would come back to where I was sitting, and refuse to return to the field with his team. During his first few games, he stood still for 90% of the game, despite our yelling "Grady! Kick the ball!". Sometimes he all out laid down on the sideline, and sometimes he just walked off the field to play with Bella and Lilly. He said he didn't like soccer and wished I hadn't signed him up to play.
During the following weeks I learned a few things about my son, and about me as a parent.
-I learned that my son is shy, and feels safe with me, and that's ok. In the beginning, I viewed his return to my side as direct defiance. I instructed him to go play soccer, and he didn't. I would walk him out to the coaches, instruct him to stay there, turn around, and he would follow me. I would very calmly walk him back out. Sometimes he stayed there, sometimes he didn't. To be very honest, I was embarrassed and angry. I was embarrassed that everyone else's kid was out there playing, and mine didn't want to play or leave my side. And I was angry that he was making me look bad. But I began to realize that he was afraid and shy, and having a hard time in a new situation where he didn't know anyone, or even how to play the sport. There were times that I said "ok, you might not want to play, but we will stay here and watch". I would not coddle him, or say "let's just go home", but I did allow him to sit by my side and watch the others practice.
-I learned that it is more important to address his character and his heart, than to forcefully correct his behavior. This is a big one for me. As a parent, it is SO VERY EASY to give consequences for every little misbehavior. Perfect behavior is not the goal of parenting. Perfect behavior makes life easier for me. But that is not the goal, and that is not what is best for my children. The goal of parenting in this family, is to raise children that know Christ and follow Him with their heart, not just in their actions.
When my child stands in the middle of a soccer field and seemingly refuses to play, my instinct is to attempt to force him to do my will. I could threaten some harsh consequence in an effort to make him obey. I could drag him off the field, give him a spank, then demand that he stop crying and get out there and play.
Instead I chose to give my son a little time. I let him sit with me when he didn't know what to do, and learn by quietly watching. I never, ever, gave him the option of quitting, but I did allow him to progress on his time table, not mine. After the second game, I sat down with him, and asked him to make some goals for the soccer season. I wanted them to be HIS OWN goals in his own words, not something I was lecturing him to do. We wrote them, and here they are:
1. No hands on the ball.
2. Stay with my team.
4. Make a new friend.
5. Have a fun time.
You see, those are exactly the goals I would have told him to have. He knew it, it was already in there. He wanted to participate. He wanted to stay with his team. He was just having a hard time being brave. And I could have yelled and shouted and stomped my foot and tried to conform him to my will, and it's possible he would have performed as I wanted him to. But what does that teach him? It teaches him that mom cares more about what he does and about not looking bad in front of other people, more than she does about that fact that he is scared, and having a hard time. Instead I let him be responsible for making the changes that he actually wanted to make. I chose gentleness instead of force. I chose to pursue a relationship with him where we could work together toward his own goals. And I chose to see his timid and gentle heart instead of assuming his disobedience was an act of defiance and disrespect directed at me.
I want to parent as God is a father to me. He cares more about my heart than my behavior, although it is true that behavior is an outward expression of my heart. He allows the consequences of poor choices to happen, but is not waiting to drop the hammer down every time I make a mistake. He wants me to come to Him with my fears and my worries, and my failures and my struggles. He wants me to acknowledge that I am a big mess, but that I have goals. And that I'm trying. And that I might not get it right tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day, but that I want to get it right. And that I need His help.
I want my children to make right choices, yes. But more than that, I want them to want to make right choices. Not because they're afraid of my discipline, or because they want to please me, but because it's the right thing to do. I want them to know grace and forgiveness. I want our house to be a place of true character development. I want them to be allowed to make mistakes, and to learn from them. I want them to trust me and know that they can come to me when they've done something wrong, because while there may be a consequence, there will also be a parent that loves them, and wants to help them make a better choice next time.
It took him the rest of the season to finally "arrive", but every week he got better. He reviewed and recited his goals before every practice and every game. We encouraged him, and clapped and whooped and hollered for him, every single time he achieved those goals.
By the end of the season, he was a different soccer player. Completely different. He was ALL OVER that field. He didn't stop. Now he LOVES soccer. He had overcome his fear, and he knew it. He was proud of himself, and we are so proud of him.
When his coach gave him his trophy, he added that Grady was by far the most improved player, and the rest of the parents all agreed and clapped for him.
And guess who can't wait to play soccer next season?
That's right, my boy.