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Q: How would you handle a nine-year-old boy who is an incredibly talented baseball player but has a bad attitude? He can't stand to make a mistake, strike out, pop up or throw balls instead of strikes. When he does, he gets really angry, sometimes slamming the bat, or helmet, and when he is pitching, throwing the ball against the backstop. We have tried everything to make him understand that having a good attitude is just as important as having talent. The coach has benched him, we have punished him. I feel helpless because it doesn't seem to matter to him, he doesn't even try to hold his temper.
Once angry he doesn't listen to the coach when he tries to correct him or encourage him, he pushes him and his teamates away.
Some people believe he'll grow out of this, but I have seen men behave this way and I don't want my son to act in this way.
A: Fear and unrealistic expectations regarding his athletic performance are ruining your son's ability to enjoy sports and to improve his considerable athletic and social skills. You do not mention whether he displays similar tantrum-like behavior when he is disappointed in other non-baseball-related endeavors. He may be influenced over time to learn better impulse control and not to expect perfection from himself but I would not take this passive attitude toward this problem.
Your son is showing that he can't control himself, even after he is reprimanded in public, benched, and punished by you. I would suggest that your punishment on top of his being benched and reprimanded by his coach is overkill. Punishment doesn't work as a form of discipline (teaching) -logical and natural consequences do and he is receiving those from his coach and his fellow teammates.
I am concerned that his uncontrollable anger and disappointment with himself may lead to depression if this becomes his way of dealing with everyday life. His internal pressure on himself to be perfect and his expectation that he should get what he wants sets him up for repeated disappointments and possible depression. The best resource that I can recommend for you regarding your addressing his pessimism and lack of resilience is Martin Seligman's "The Optimistic Child". This book gives you an understanding of how kids become pessimistic, overwhelmed, and hopeless and gives you concrete suggestions on how to turn those negative, self-defeating attitudes and unrealistic expectations around. You also may benefit from reading "The Difficult Child", by Stanley Turecki.
It may help your son if a high school athlete, college athlete or professional athlete that he respects spoke him to with empathy and encouragement. This athlete may be able to say things to him and influence him in a manner unavailable to you or any youth sport coaches. If he continues to sabotage himself and get more and more mired in his self-defeating rages, I would consider some professional counseling by a therapist whom he could relate to. Give me an update in a while if you'd like.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.