‘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:
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting
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
The S Word, Don’t Fix These Toddler Struggles, and What To Do About A Toddler Toy Taker on this blog
(Photo by Jude Keith Rose)
(Photo by martha_chapa95 on Flickr)
Thank you. This post gave me a lot to think about.
Great post, thank you Janet! We have been practicing sportscasting at home with 2 year old Pablo, and dad and grandma are starting to get the hang of it too! Really agree with avoiding the victim/agressor dynamics, I have been very aware of that as well. I’m thrilled to hear about a class til 3 years old, I called the RIE office but they said the classes graduate at 2…
I love the idea of avoiding judgemental language, even in the apparently objective sentence: “he took it from you”. I will double check my sportcasting now! Love,
I work as a consultant to child care providers and this is something I advocate and model a LOT. I’m so excited to have this written out so clearly to pass on as a resource to providers with whom I work.
I also wanted to mention that sportscasting has worked well for children who haven’t been brought up with RIE. Just the other day I modeled it with a couple 3-yr-olds who are accustomed to being told, directed, bossed, and rescued in their classroom… And they responded in the same way I expect from children who have grown up with this approach. They quickly solved their own conflict peacefully and began playing together with the toys they’d been in conflict over.
Thanks for another good post! My 14 month old yells a lot….when he’s frustrated or when he wants something. I have trouble deciding if I should “sportscast” his frustration and anger or put a limit on the yelling. I do some of both; if he is yelling at me that he wants something, I often ask him to ask with a nicer tone. Since he isn’t verbal yet, this involves a nicer toned grunt. FYI, yelling is not modeled in our home (except sometimes at the dog:) ). Any advice?
it really is amazing how things settle down when i respond this way… just beeing *seen* and *acknowledged* can be all he needs when things start getting dicey.
Oh, I’m so glad to hear that, Sara. xx
Thanks for this post. Your advice really helps me support my 21 month old daughter when she becomes frustrated with her toys and says “help… me.”
I’m wondering, though, about how well these tips translate to struggles between two children of different ages — for instance my 21 month old daughter and her nanny’s 4 year old son. They are at such different developmental stages and generally play together really nicely, but, especially as my daughter is getting older, she becomes more and more frustrated when he has a toy that she wants.
Is sportscasting — as long as there are no safety issues — the approach you’d recommend with children at such different developmental stages? It seems like the younger would always get the “short end” of the stick, and there would be a lot of tears and frustration. As it is, her nanny does an expert job of negotiating “sharing” between the two of them, by talking to them about who wants what, asking them to take turns, and, when things aren’t working out, directing the kids to move onto a different toy/game. She is extremely respectful of both of them as people, and seeks their input. But she directs the activities to minimize conflict, which seems at odds with your advice here. Still, I’m not clear on how your approach would work with struggles between a 2 year old and a 4 year old, or, for that matter, a 2 year old and a 1 year old.
To sum up: because most of your posts/videos are related to your RIE classes, where the children are the same age, I’m wondering if you might say a little bit more about how you see this working for babies/toddlers/children of very different ages.
Thank you for this great post. I’ve been practicing sports casting with my 10 month old boy for the last few weeks. It’s really made me pause and tune in to what he’s feeling – is he grizzling or crying because he’s tired? Hungry? Frustrated? Hurt? Teething? Never because he’s simply being manipulative and demanding attention as I’ve been told so many times! It’s also changed nappy changes and dressing from wrestling with a squirming, writhing wilder beast to a fun and enjoyable activity in which he’s now an active participant. Even his dad (who is not sports casting) has noticed the change. Thanks again.
So great to hear, Sarah. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for all of your great advice; I love reading your articles. What would you say about asking a toddler to apologize after hitting/hurting another child on purpose (out of frustration or whatever reason)? I usually have my 3 year old apologize to other children, once he is calm, if he has hit them. Is this something you recommend?
You’re welcome, Jenny! I prefer waiting for children to apologize authentically… I explain why in this post: https://www.janetlansbury.com/2009/12/youll-be-sorry/
I’ve experienced “sportscasting” while children are engaged in active play. “There he goes around the tree and here he comes back again!” It heightens and extends their joy in the moment as well as the “sportscaster’s.”
Yes, wonderful! Sportscasting in times of struggles, too. Thank you!
This term is new to me, but I remember being a new parent awash in a flood of advice. Out of all I read and heard, it was through observing seasoned parents (the ones I admired) that I modeled my own reactions to kids. They didn’t hover. They didn’t fuss. And now I know the term for what else they were doing: sportscasting!
Sharing, of course.
I have been reading some of your articles and am interesting in RIE. I have two questions.
1) Would you still sportscast for your child/situation around other kids/parents that don’t follow the RIE way?
2) How does a child learn how to share or take turns if we don’t show them, model it for them, or suggest it to them? Do kids really come up with this solution on their own? (my son is very young so I have yet to see this in person, but assume you have!!)
my question is similar to erin’s above. my 14 month old is getting more and more assertive with her 3 year old sister and i’m not sure when to step in during conflicts. i have been trying to stay as hands off as possible- there is rarely danger of anyone getting injured and i keep my comments as neutral as i can “play with gentle hands please”.
however i am starting to struggle with behavior that i don’t think is appropriate. my 3 year old grabbing her little sister by the neck of her shirt for example. do i step in and say “we don’t grab people by their clothes” (this is what i would say if she was hanging on my shirt) or do i stay quiet and let the two of them work it out on their own?
i feel like this is still the beginning of their playful interaction and i want to set the right tone- help them get off to the best relationship possible. any advice?
As always a wonderful post Janet! Our 3 1/2 year old really, really, REALLY struggles with waiting for anything. I wonder if sportscasting what he’s doing and appears to be feeling and thinking would help, or if it would make the problem worse. What we see is constantly repeating what he wants relentlessly. We do acknowledge what he is saying without judgement, but it makes no difference. He continues repeating and repeating and it gets more and more intense… thoughts on whether sportscasting would help?
Hi Janet, Thanks again for another insightful post! I was hoping for some guidance in how to better support my (just turned) 2 year old daughter. She often plays with a 3 year old boy. She adores him and finds him fascinating, follows him and watches while he busily plays with toys and is very focussed on his personal games which at present, he wants to remain solo. Often she will pick up a toy but as soon as he notices, he crossly takes it from her, telling her off. I generally don’t interrupt their interaction if I can see she is still just interested by his reaction and normally has no problem giving him the toy, almost like she sees the whole exchange as a game in itself, however lately she is showing signs of distress and I attempt to sportscast but generally it’s all over by the end of my sentence and she is left looking overthrown and deflated while he’s moving on from one thing to the next. Is there more I could be doing for her? The age gap between them means he is often dominant.
Hi I have a few question about my 4 and 1/2 years old twin girls who have just started school. I Feel drained and helpless as they do not listen to me. They fight and hell at each and argue sometimes. I need advise on how to get them ready for school without getting frustrated and how to cope when they are not listening to me. They seem to run around the house jump on furniture the sofas jump on the bed. When they good the play well together are are good friends. I recently have episodes when picking them up from school at 3pm they kick off and start behaving badly and cannot seem to get home with out telling them off about the way they are behaving. They do not want to walk home after school they expect a snack after school when I pick them up. How can children leave a parent feeling helpless or is they anything I am doing wrong. The other twins kicks of everyday in class with teacher but they leave her to calm down on quiet time. she spat at the teacher on the first day of school on the floor. I need more positive parenting as I am always feeing what is the next thing they will do scream down the shop and run or yell at me in public with a big NO which they do most times. I feel people do look at me and say it must be hard work and i feel embarrassed at times to have children just do not behave in public. I will appreciate advise so I can help my little girls . Thank you
Thank you for the article. I’m struggling to find a way to support my 5-yr old boy who has a hard time with children’s that are more prone to joking and teasing than he is. Recently, my 3.5-yr old nephew was visiting and got a kick at calling my son a baby or telling him that his favorite color was something other than the color my son named as his favorite. Of course, as soon as he saw it upset my son, he thought it was a funny game and would keep on. I tried intervening by reminding both boys “we don’t call names” or point out that it was silly to get upset when someone says your favorite color is something other than your favorite. (After all, who knows you better than yourself!) Unfortunately, none of this made a difference and I couldn’t find a way to help him overcome it.
I’ve noticed the same thing happens with my son and one of his closest friends, who usually gets a laugh at finding something that will upset my son. In those cases I’ve told him to try not to let in that something bothers him and they probably won’t keep on because it won’t be funny. This is probably horrible advice, I’m just at a loss as what to do.
I’ve always appreciated your wisdom and am hoping you might have some good insight to share in this case.