Hearts all over Chicago broke when Bears kicker Cody Parkey’s field goal attempt hit both the upright and the cross bar, eliminating the team from the NFL playoffs. The “double doink” was a brutal end to the season. We’re always looking for the silver lining and, in this case, the missed field goal offers valuable teachable moments for parents.
We sought expert advice on how to talk with kids about what happened from Kortney Peagram, Ph.D., psychologist and founder of Bulldog Solution, which specializes in middle school anti-bullying and social-emotional programs and assemblies at schools around the Chicago area and beyond.
You often don’t know the whole story
Initially, viewers believed that Parkey just missed the kick. They vented their frustration directly at him alone. However, the replay shows that Philadelphia Eagle Treyvon Hester tipped the ball, altering its trajectory. Today, the NFL recorded it as a blocked kick.
The changing story is something parents can use to illustrate that things aren’t always as they first appear, and there can be multiple views and perspectives, literally in this case and figuratively in others.
“It’s important for us to teach our kids to take a step back before responding. When kids get emotionally charged in a situation, tell them to walk away. Responding immediately often means doing so without knowing all the facts,” Peagram says.
An opportunity to explore empathy
Peagram says the fact that there are often multiple sides to a story makes empathy critical. To foster empathy, she recommends parents ask kids open-ended questions.
Questions to ask include:
How do you think Parkey felt after that kick? How did you feel when you saw it? How do you feel now knowing that it was blocked?Is it fair that Parkey had the whole game on his shoulders for one kick? Did any other Bears make mistakes in the prior four quarters of the game? How would you want your teammates to treat you in that situation?
How do you think Hester felt not getting credit right away for his block?
How to handle mistakes and negative reactions
As Epictetus said, “It’s not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters.”
It’s true, but it’s possible that kids may relate a bit better to Parkey than they do the Greek philosopher.
Peagram says that Parkey’s reaction is a great example of how to handle adversity. He took full responsibility for his actions and did not place blame on others. Peagram notes that he did not fire back but did not stand down, either. That’s a tough but important line for kids to learn to walk.
“We need to teach our kids to be socially bold like Parkey was. The combination of taking responsibility but not bowing down is a great example,” Peagram says. “This is a great learning opportunity for parents to talk about grit and resilience.”
Parkey acknowledged that he did the best he could. Remind kids that’s all they can do, too. Sometimes the outcome is what you hoped for, sometimes it is not. That’s life.
Remember people love and support each other despite imperfections
Human beings are, by definition, imperfect. Try as we might, we will never be mistake-free in our lives. Kids can learn that they, too, will make mistakes, and they will still be lovable.
Peagram notes that Parkey’s post-game comments about tomorrow being another day and that he was happy to return home to his wife and dog who are especially important to highlight to kids. She notes that a marked increase in stress and anxiety in middle and high school students is in part because kids “can be obsessed over how they and their performance are perceived.”
“Kids often don’t understand that tomorrow is a chance to start over, and they don’t always understand that parents love them unconditionally. It’s a chance to say that people love you unconditionally, and stress the importance of that for everyone, from NFL kickers to themselves,” she explains.
She notes that it’s also a chance to stress the importance of being a supportive friend, teammate and family member. Highlight teammates who supported Parkey and other athletes like Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant, who tweeted in support of him. Says Peagram, “Standing up for your loved ones is really important.”
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