(Photo via in pastel, Flickr Creative Commons)
When I first started this blog as a new mother, I wrote a few posts about my journey in bilingual parenting and learning the language of mothering, which for me is Spanish, my second language. Now, some three years later, I am learning a new, different kind, of language: sportscasting.
Sportscasting, or narrating, is a RIE concept developed by its founder, Magda Gerber.
In the same way that a sports announcer is trained to give an impartial, non-judgmental analysis of a tennis match or football game, parents are encouraged to sportscast, or describe, what they see when interacting with their children. Narrate, not judge. Reflect back for a child, rather than suggest or direct.
To give you a clearer idea of what sportscasting looks like in our home, I’d like to share when and why I sportscast.
Sibling interactions –
E. has recently shown great interest in playing with her baby brother, J., in his yes space. So, I will accompany her and sit on the sidelines observing their interactions and remaining available to keep both children safe. I do my best to remain silent, allowing E. and J. to form their own relationship and play dynamic. If, however, I notice that one child is becoming frustrated or that there is a breakdown of communication, I will sportscast, instead of direct their interaction.
For example, E. places a toy in J.’s hand and says, “Here, take this toy!” J. chooses not to grasp the toy and turns his head away. If E. continues to force the toy into his hand, I might say, “It looks like he doesn’t want to hold the toy. He turned his head away” instead of “Stop putting the toy in his hand.” In this way, through my sportscasting, I help E. to notice her brother’s reaction and thus reflect on the best next step.
Observing my children’s play –
Careful to not hijack my children’s play by inserting my own agenda (i.e., “Why don’t you play with your dolls?” or, “Can you make me cup of coffee with your kitchen?”), I will again sit on the sidelines of E.’s yes space and observe her play. If she decides to invite me to play with her, then our interaction might look like this:
E: I’m going to have a picnic. Do you want to come?
Me: You’re going to have a picnic. Okay.
(She hands me a pretend apple.)
Me: Thank you.
E.: My doll is sick. I’m the doctor. I’m going to take her to the hospital.
Me: Yeah, your doll is sick. You’re going to take her to the hospital
By narrating – in E.’s own words – her play I both show her that I am fully present and observant and that I respect her choice of how to play. Often I’m just silent, but for those times that I sense she wants more of a verbal response from me, sportscasting helps me to keep my own agenda in check while also acknowledging her and her play.
To help my children process their emotions –
If J. starts crying in his yes space I will sportscast before taking action. For example, “Hi, J. I see that you’re crying. I’m here listening. Why are you crying?” I will then pause and observe his body language. If I see him begin to suck his thumb, I might respond, “I see you’re sucking your thumb. I wonder if you’re hungry.” Or, if he is frustrated in trying to reach for a toy, I might acknowledge his frustration by saying, “You look frustrated, J. I can see that you want that toy. You’re grunting and crying a bit. I’m here to support you while you try.” By responding this way, the message I send to J. is “I trust you and your abilities to work this out. I am watching. I am here, supporting you.”
Or, if E. gets angry that I have to leave her yes space to cook dinner, and she spends that time yelling and kicking and screaming, upon my return, I will acknowledge her reaction and sportscast. “Wow, E.! You did not like it that I left your room to make dinner. You were really angry with me. I heard you crying and kicking and screaming. You were calling my name really loudly.” Instead of pitying her, which views her as a victim, and instead of demeaning her feelings (“It’s okay. I was just cooking dinner. It’s not necessary to cry so much.”), I sportscast her experience to show her that I noticed what happened and that I care; to give her words to her emotions; and, most importantly, to convey to her that I’m fully okay with her big feelings, even intense anger at me.
Toddler conflicts –
Ah, the joys of toddler friendships! I love watching E. interact with her toddler buddies at the park. Sportscasting has helped us both maneuver the sometimes messy – but, beautiful – social interactions in public. I think parents often find themselves having to choose between two extremes: hovering over their children (“helicopter parenting”) or just letting them figure it all out alone (“free range parenting”). Thankfully, RIE has helped me find a middle, no better, ground.
So, for example, I notice that E. and a friend start fighting over the only shovel on the playground. I will calmly walk over (toddler toy-taking isn’t a crisis, remember!) and begin sportscasting. “Hi, guys. I see you both really want that shovel. E. was holding it and you, N., took it from her. E. is crying now. N. is using it now.” Instead of forcing E. to share, or demanding that N. return the shovel, both of which send the message that I am uncomfortable with conflict and that a quick adult solution is the answer, I offer verbal encouragement. I have been floored at the amount of times my sportscasting in these cases will result in one child returning the toy (with a hug!) of their own accord or the “offended party” just shrugging it off and finding something else to do. In those cases when one child continues to cry, I will again sportscast. “E. you’re really sad that N. took that toy from you. I am here for you.”
In place of praise for an accomplishment –
Because I want to foster and protect my children’s intrinsic motivation and desire to learn, I refrain from using language that praises their outward actions and accomplishments. Instead, I use sportscasting to help them process what they’re learning and to show them that I see and care about their efforts.
- E. puts on her shoes for the first time. “You put on your shoes by yourself” instead of “Good job!”
- E. helps me pick up her room. “Thank you” instead of “you’re such a good helper.”
- E. shares her snack with a friend who forgot his. “You shared your crackers with N. because he didn’t have a snack today” instead of “That was so nice of you! What a good sharer!”
- E. uses the toilet instead of her diaper. “You just used the toilet. Let me help you clean up” instead of “Good job using the toilet!”
- E. draw a picture and shows it to me. “I see you used three colors: red, orange, and purple. Tell me what you drew. You spent a lot of time making it” instead of “Good job!”
In each of the examples above, sportscasting not only sends E. the message that I was fully paying attention to her and that I care about what she’s doing, but it also represents a more authentic and meaningful way to communicate than 10,000 “Good jobs!” ever could.
In conclusion, my family has benefited greatly from using sportscasting. For me and my husband, it has become another tool in our RIE parenting toolbox that we use on a daily basis to support and guide our children in a loving, non-shaming, way. Our children have benefitted also because it has given them the space to practice being creative problem solvers.
But, what I most love about sportscasting is that it demonstrates to our children that we see them. If you think about it, one of the most frequently heard requests made by children to their parents is, “Dad! Look at me!” or “Mom, watch this.” By mirroring back what our child says or does, instead of evaluating or judging or directing, we show her that we see her, truly see her, and that what we see matters to us.
Interested in learning more about sportscasting? Check out these helpful articles:
Anything by blogger and preschool teacher extraordinaire, Teacher Tom!