It’s my chicken!

This is a quick story about parenting, and about positive self-talk.

Several months ago, our youngest daughter joined a local soccer rec league. It’s her first experience playing soccer outside of the occasional game in gym class. We’re not a rabid soccer family; my wife never played, I played a year in high school, and our oldest daughter played for a few seasons when she was little, much to her displeasure.

Now, being her first time and all, our youngest had pretty much no clue what to do, or what was going on in general. There’s a ball; there’s a goal. there’s lots of other girls; some of them are standing around, some of them are chasing the ball like crazy people. Some dude has a whistle. A bunch of parents are on the sidelines; most are quiet and staring at their gizmos (it’s practice, after all), and some are yelling weird things.

After the first practice, she was hooked and wanted to practice at home every night. “Dad,” she’d say after dinner, “let’s go kick.” So we’d go out in the yard and practice. That’s when I yelled(ish) something weird:

“It’s your chicken! Don’t let me steal your chicken!”

WTF, her eyes said

“Yell it with me. It’s MY chicken! Say it! Say, ‘It’s my chicken!'”

More WTF.

We do not own chickens.

I explained to her that, hey, there’s this movie, Rocky, and in the movie Rocky, who is a boxer, has to get lightning fast on his feet otherwise he’s going to get his butt kicked, so he chases a chicken around because chickens are fast and hard to catch apparently. And he fails at it, and then finally he catches the chicken. So, imagine that ball is the chicken. It’s yours, no one else’s. You don’t let anyone on that other team take your chicken away from you.

Imagine you’re 8 and hearing this.

I tried to do the same thing with my oldest daughter, back when she first started, except I told her to pretend the ball was her guinea pig. In hindsight, not smart. What kid wants to kick their own guinea pig?

So this chicken, it becomes… a thing. With my wife, me, both daughters. It cracks us up. Eldest is yelling at youngest to get her chicken. We’re at games, yelling from the sidelines, “it’s your chicken!”

We don’t really get invited to parties. Not sure why.

The season ended a few weeks ago, but we still practice nearly every night. And the other night, we were duking it out for the ball, and she yells “Get away from my chicken! It’s mine!”

I asked her, had she ever yelled that while she was playing.

“No,” she said. “But I think it.”

No, but I think it.

As parents — and coaches, and teachers — we’re in our children’s heads all the time. We don’t know when or how, but we’re there. The off-hand remarks that we don’t even know they heard; the things we say over and over and over and are damn sure they never hear; the things we say to them when we’re proud, happy, encouraging, loving… and angry, disappointed, tired, mentally somewhere else.

And children have remarkable memories. Yes, they’re amazingly resilient; but they hold on to things, and you never know what’s going to stick.

You can stack the cards in your children’s favor. Encourage positive self talk. When you hear them saying “I can’t do this” or “I’m not good” or “I’m stupid” or “I’m a failure,” don’t let them get away with it. Tell them “Yes you can, and I want you to say that to yourself right now. Let’s say it out loud together.” Teach them the habit of positive self talk.

Don’t just say “Sweetie, you shouldn’t say that” and brush it off. Stop and replace the negative self talk with a habit of positive self talk. You do that over and over again, relentlessly, and that habit will stick.

Yes, it’ll seem silly. Especially to them. That’s OK. Keep doing it.

Sure, as parents, our first charge is to keep our children alive. But life’s about thriving, not just surviving. They will not grow into strong, confident, resilient, kind, loving adults if they’re not first kind to themselves. Teach them how to do that, starting with the language they use to talk to themselves.

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