Child Caring

4-year-old wants to play soccer -- but only if he can hold dad's hand

Hi Barbara,

My son is four and a half. Last fall he joined a soccer team. He was tentative at first and then in time became more comfortable playing, but for most of the season he wouldn't play without his dad out on the field with him holding his hand.

He's about to start a new season in the spring, and he's very excited about it, but my husband and I are unsure of how to handle things this time. We've already mentioned that this season we want him to play without Daddy, and he started to get upset, and ask why.

We want him to be independent and play on his own, but worry about pushing him too much if he's just not ready to play solo. Most of all we want him to feel secure and have fun.

Should we continue to join the kids on the field or should we stand back and let him do it on his own?

Soccer Mom

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Dear Soccer mom,

Your son is wiser than you realize: Kids this age do not need organized sports . Physically and developmentally, they just aren't there yet; this is just one more thing our culture has pushed on young children. Don't get me wrong: young children need physical activity but they don't need organized, adult-led, rule-bound, competitive team sports. Your child will not suffer from not playing in a soccer league at age 4.

Present this simply as the rule: "The rule is, kids are on the field playing, and parents are on the sideline watching." Tell him if he doesn't like the rule, that's ok, he doesn't have to play with this team, it's his decision. Present this in a factual, non-judgmental way. You can even say you don't like the rule either, but rules are rules. Then organize a less structured alternative soccer game on a neighborhood playground where parents and kids kick the ball around together. That's a lot more fun for everyone, and much more age appropriate.

I suspect that the reason he got upset at the way you presented this is because it sounded -- to him -- as if dad didn't want to be with him. With a kid's magical thinking, he may have turned that into thinking he did something that made dad not want to be with him. Don't even go there. Just give him the new, true, information.