Alarms went off in my head when I heard my teenage daughter casually mention she wasn’t going to try out for cheerleading her sophomore year in high school. I was honestly so shocked I almost veered off the road. My girl had been cheering since kindergarten and she thrived on competition and loved to perform. One of the reasons we selected the high school she currently attends was to be a part of their grand sports tradition and spirited community.
I casually asked why she wanted to quit, despite the wrenching somersaults in my heart.
“Because I’m the worst one on the team and I bring us all down. I’m too big and I can’t tumble well and I want to quit, okay?” Tears rolled down her cheeks and I could see I would get nowhere in that moment. She folded her arms in front of her and gave me a defensive posture just daring me to disagree.
Where was all this angst coming from? And how could I break through the negative self-talk and get my daughter to believe in herself and her abilities again?
1. Understanding The Fear
I went straight to my counselor for advice and she gave me a few helpful tips. Understanding what was going on in my girl’s heart was the first step. So, after a few failed tries to broach the subject with my daughter that ended in more defensiveness and tears, I attempted one last time, checking all of my mom agendas at the door and approaching her with complete humility and acceptance.
And bam – she opened up and poured out her heart. My daughter felt insecure about her tumbling skills. She had quit her lessons months before and her weakening skills on the floor were becoming more obvious. She also had a few close friends quit the team and was fearful of being alone in a group of girls where she might not have any allies. When all of the fears compounded, it became overwhelming and she couldn’t see a way through. Quitting the team seemed the easiest way out. She had convinced herself she was so bad that she justified it as doing the team a favor.
2. Make A Plan
Once I understood her pain, I was better able to offer assurance and encouragement, although that was just a start. My kid needed a plan to combat all the negative self-talk she was berating herself with, and that meant reassurance from more than just mom to change her heart. She needed other people in her life (coaches, teachers, friends, etc.) reaffirming the positive.
After more heartfelt talks between the two of us, my daughter decided to give cheer tryouts a chance. On the advice of my counselor, I gave her permission to quit if she still wasn’t happy with her skills. It wasn’t easy for me to pull back and let her choose, but I couldn’t force her to believe in herself. Both of us were growing in this process.
The crazy thing about giving my girl freedom to fail was that it allowed her to build up the confidence she needed to fly again. We came up with a plan of attack: tumbling lessons three times a week and daily stretching for flexibility. I had no idea what the outcome would be, but she had lost her defensiveness and the negativity was dissipating.
3. Be A Cheerleader
As we sat outside the gym and prayed, I squeezed my daughter’s hand and said, “You got this!”
She weakly smiled and walked in to her tumbling lesson. I knew she was battling the voices of doubt and I fiercely prayed against the lies haunting my daughter. Sometimes, these battles with negative self-talk are more spiritual than emotional and this one was more than I could handle on my own. While I was my daughter’s number one cheerleader, I needed the Holy Spirit to comfort me as I encouraged her.
On my girl’s first run down the tumble track after a nine-month hiatus, she nailed her round off back handspring on the first try. The look she gave me was priceless. I gave her the thumbs up and wiped away the tears streaming down my face. Every time she hit her flips, I watched and waved and cheered. I sent videos and texts to the family and they responded with affirmations and delight.
On the way home, she bubbled over with joy, “I’m better than I thought. I guess I just needed to give it some extra practice.”
4. Affirm The Process, Not The Results
For the next few months, we drove three times a week to extra practices and private lessons. Day by day, her confidence grew; she even started talking about trying out for captain. The complete turn-around in her behavior was shocking but not surprising when I think about how powerful fears are and how quickly they can paralyze us if we let them.
My counselor recommended I continue to affirm her hard work and progress more than the daily ups and downs to help build her positive self-talk. When we focus on trying hard and worry less about the outcome, our subconscious doesn’t sweat the small failures because it’s all a part of the process. Every day, we talked about her 10-year journey of cheerleading and how much fun she’s had over the years doing something she loves.
The truth is, teaching my daughter to have better self-talk also taught me to let go of false expectations and the small stuff. As I nurture my girl, I also learn to treat myself better. As my daughter heads towards cheer try-outs next week, I am thrilled at the progress we have both made.