Managing sports day overwhelm for adopted children

Managing sport day overwhelm: children running against each other on a field with trees in the distance and blue sky
Photo by Yanapi Senaud on Unsplash

As we move towards summer (hopefully at some point soon the weather will catch up!), it can be a stressful time for our children as sports day looms. Traditionally, this is an opportunity to have fun and show our parents how skilled we are at balancing an egg on a spoon whilst running. Or get to the finish line being tied to someone else’s leg.

Whatever the types of races or activities sports day entails, it’s often something that, for some children, becomes about winning. The fun aspect isn’t there for them. It’s just about beating everyone else to the finish line. And if that doesn’t happen, it can be stressful.

For adopted children, their early life experiences and things like developmental delay and attachment issues often mean they struggle to take part in events like sports day in a fun way. For them, not winning is something that’s out of their control and can reinforce a negative self-image and low self-esteem.

It can also trigger challenging behaviour that schools and teachers are not always equipped to handle well.

The benefits of taking part in sports

It’s a difficult balance because in general, taking part in sport has a number of benefits for children. It helps build self-esteem, inspire teamwork, create leadership skills, and encourage healthy habits that children will hopefully take into adulthood. Taking part in sports can also help to support good mental health, develop better concentration and social skills, and help children to feel part of a community.

So, what’s the answer?

As with most things relating to parenting and children, there isn’t a simple answer as every child is different.

I asked some adopters for tips about how they help their children manage sports day and here’s what they said:

Managing sports day overwhelm: tips from adopters

“My son’s school gave him special helper jobs to do so that he felt involved.”

“Our agency runs its own sports day for all children connected to them to give them experience in a safe space with understanding adults.”

“Mine struggle with not winning at home but in the school setting, they have coped ok with it. Ask your child’s teacher whether extra help can be put in place to support your child.”

“Play games at home and don’t let them win all of the time so that they learn to manage losing. Show you are a gracious loser too.”

“If it’s too distressing for them, keep them at home on the day.”

Communication is key

Have conversations with your child’s teacher so that you can come up with a plan together. Children usually want to feel part of what’s going on in school, so creating an environment that will help them do that is vital – not taking part can sometimes be more distressing for them than the stress of joining in.

Talk to your child and see if you can find out what’s worrying them. They might suggest something that will help. For example, wearing ear defenders or taking part with their best friend beside them, or you if that’s what they need. This won’t always be helpful as sometimes children don’t know what’s upsetting or worrying them, but it might throw up something you hadn’t thought of.

Sports day overwhelm - group of children racing against each other balancing books on their heads
Photo by HT Chong on Unsplash

Head to the parenting section to read more articles with tips and advice to help you support your children.


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