‘Sportscasting’ (or ‘broadcasting’) is the term infant specialist Magda Gerber coined to describe the nonjudgmental, “just the facts” verbalization of events she advised parents to use to support infants and toddlers as they struggle to develop new skills.
Sportscasters don’t judge, fix, shame, or blame. They just keep children safe, observe and state what they see, affording children the open space they need to continue struggling until they either solve the problem or decide to let go and move on to something else:
“You’re working very hard on fitting that puzzle piece. You seem frustrated.”
“Savannah, you had the bear and now Ally has it. You both want to hold it. Savannah is trying to get it back… Ally, I won’t let you hit.”
“You’re trying to climb back down from that step. I will keep you safe. I won’t let you fall.”
5 Benefits of Sportscasting
1. When we do less, children think and learn more
Surprisingly, these mini-commentaries are often all our children need to persevere with challenging tasks and resolve conflicts with siblings and peers. When more help is needed, we can transition into ‘interview’ mode by calmly asking open-ended questions like: “You both want that ball. What can you do?”
If struggles continue and feelings escalate, we might parse out a suggestion or two, like, “Did you notice there’s another ball in that basket?” Or, “you might try placing just one foot down off that step first.”
If the struggle is about physical play between two (or more) children and one of the children seems concerned, we can check-in by asking, “is that okay with you?” and if the child indicates that it’s not, we might suggest, “you can say ‘no’ and move away” (and then we gently stop the action if necessary).
Less is always more.
RIE Parent/Toddler Guidance Classes typically end at around age two, but one of the classes I facilitate has chosen to remain together through the children’s third year, so I’ve had the unique opportunity to practice sportscasting with preschoolers. Since these children are more verbal than the under-two’s, I’ve been able to hone my “interview” skills and been stunned by how well this approach still works. (Granted, these children are RIE-advantaged by having become accustomed to solving problems with minimal intervention.)
When the children are struggling over a toy, I sportscast and then ask:
“Laura, what were you planning to do with that car?”
“I want to roll it down the ramp.”
“Jake, you look upset. What do you want to do with the car?”
He demonstrates that he wants to roll the car up the wall.
“Oh, Jake wants to roll the car on the wall. Hmmm… What can you two do?”
To my amazement, asking these three-year-olds to consider and express their desires is often all they’ve needed to resolve the struggle. The children end up deciding to either do the activities together, take turns and watch each other, or let go and move on to something else, all by themselves.
The temptation to lead, direct or solve problems can be great, but if we can control these impulses, children will learn much more and build confidence.
2. Trust empowers
Sportscasting is our most minimal intervention tool and the most empowering, because it communicates trust and belief in our children. By sportscasting we are essentially saying, “I’m here and I support you, but feel confident that you can handle this situation”. Sportscasters are not afraid of their children’s age-appropriate feelings of loss, frustration, disappointment and anger. They patiently acknowledge those, too:
“You are still so disappointed about that tower you were building. It’s really upsetting to have it fall down.”
We let whatever happens happen, and rather than creating for our children an unnecessary dependence on adults to fix situations for them, we foster resilience and self-confidence.
3. Reminds us not to judge or take sides
Sportscasting keeps our natural tendencies to judge or project in check. This is critical, because whenever we judge a child and/or her behavior we create shame, guilt and distance, which hinders our connection, undermines learning and self-confidence.
I’m so sensitive to projecting a problem where there isn’t one or shaming children that I don’t even like using the word ‘took’. For me, there’s a subtle, but important difference between, “You had that and now Tommy has it” and “Tommy took that from you”.
Children often define ‘play’, ’fun’ and ‘problems’ quite differently than adults do. I’ll never forget the one time I tried to stick up for my son when he was on the receiving end of (what seemed to me) a relentless, over-the-top verbal blasting from his older sister and having him point me to the door to “stay out of it”. He’s no masochist, so I can only assume he was enjoying himself.
By sportscasting, we confirm our acceptance of the situation as is, which helps us to keep our eyes and minds open.
4. Encourages children not to identify as aggressors or victims
One of the biggest problems with responses that over-protect, shame or take sides is that the children involved can get stuck in the victim/aggressor roles we unwittingly assign them. Aggressors believe they are bad and mean. Victims feel weak and powerless. Both believe they are dependent on adults to intervene and solve their problems for them.
5. Provides children a clearer understanding of situations, teaches language, social and emotional intelligence
By sportscasting we facilitate experiential learning, which is education at its best, most meaningful and profound.
Sportscasting is not enough when there are:
- Safety issues – always our first priority
- Disruptive or destructive patterns of behavior. Children need gentle, firm reminders to not keep removing every toy from another child’s hands, etc.
- Children focused on a project should have their work protected if possible. But if we don’t arrive in time to prevent a child from dismantling another child’s project, we should still sportscast and interview.
Like all of the best child care practices, sportscasting works because it is about trusting our child’s innate abilities…and staying attentive and supportive, but otherwise out of the way so she’ll be empowered to use them.
I share more about sportscasting, socialization, and the power of minimal interventions in my book:
Just about everything by Teacher Tom
Falling – A Lesson in Friendship, Forgiveness, and Moving On by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby
5 Reasons To Love Conflict by Emily Plank, Abundant Life Children
(Photo by martha_chapa95 on Flickr)