Our children need to experience teamwork within the family to help them know they have something to offer—first to the family, then to others. The family is their first team experience. What are they learning on your team?
Some people tolerate a sizeable amount of sibling rivalry in the house, but kids do not learn much from “fighting it out” on their own. Be a good coach and tell them to play nice. Be a referee and blow the whistle on the one who fouls. If you discover that you called it wrong, say you’re sorry, but don’t overdo it. Even referees make errors and the game still goes on. When you’re on the same team, you simply must get along and cooperate with co-players. When kids know that fighting is not an option, they tend to let go of their complaints and actually start having fun together. (This is not a promise, unfortunately; some kids are more stubborn than others!)
Another popular practice is to allow the youngest in the family to get away with cheating in order to win a game, but this promotes the very opposite character traits we want to develop in our children. Parents and older kids can play games in such a way that the youngest benefits, but this is different than allowing the little one to cheat. Cheating should end the game; it’s as simple as that. Don’t excuse it as cute, because cute doesn’t go very far in the real world. The same goes for “fibs” that kids tell to avoid being disciplined. Nip that one in the bud fast. Little lies grow up to be big lies that can be hugely destructive to a family, community, and even country, as we all have witnessed too often.
On a positive note, parents teach teamwork to their kids without even realizing it when they dole out chores. Delegating chores drives home the point that everyone has an important role to play. Age-appropriate chores do not take away from a child. Rather, they enhance a child’s sense of belonging and self-esteem. Give your kids a few chores and responsibilities, communicating that they are needed to keep family operations running smoothly, whether that means putting dinner on the table or getting to school on time. Admittedly, it can take a lot of parental energy to teach and oversee chores, but know that your efforts will pay off when your children get older and can actually do their own laundry or make dinner for you once in a while.
Lastly, to be a family team, you want to establish the practice of being there for each other. If your girl has a piano recital, for example, brother should not be excused from attending just because he’s disinterested. Parents, try to be there for each other, too, and model this way of caring. When I ran in a local race, my husband showed up with the kids to cheer me along. When my husband’s art is in a show, the whole family attends the opening.
This habit of being a contributing, supportive member of the family can extend beyond it, and, in fact, that’s its ultimate purpose. When you observe traits of good sportsmanship in your children—honesty, hard work, and the ability to cooperate with and support each other—lavish them with praise. These are the traits that will assure your child becomes someone who cares about the whole team, not just him or herself.
While we want our kids to know that they are the apple of our eye and the joy of our life, we also need to communicate that they are part of something bigger. They are part of a family, community, and world. Funny how this big picture is taught through little lessons about playing nice and being there!