High Expectations with High Supports

Jul 08, 2024
By: Alexandra Murtaugh

Last week, my 9-year-old son had a soccer game that was uncharacteristically late in the evening. A few days before his game, he asked me if he could skip his game. In his last 3 years of soccer (and 9 seasons!), he’s never asked to skip a game. I asked him why and he waffled a little bit, but wouldn’t really give me an answer. In the moment, I told him unless he was sick or hurt, I wanted him to honor his commitment to his team. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something. A few hours later, I approached him and I asked if he felt anxious about the game. He immediately said yes and told me he was nervous that we’d have to drive in the dark. See, about 2 months prior, we had hit a deer while driving in the dark on a highway and hadn’t driven that far at night since. He was scared we would hit a deer again and wanted to avoid driving on the highway at night.

In this moment, I could have chosen to let him skip the game— it was only one game after all! But I decided that I could support him in meeting his team expectations and still support his anxiety. We talked through his anxiety a bit, and decided together on a plan that would help him mitigate that anxiety during the drive (he wanted to listen to some trivia and play with a puzzle/fidget while driving to and from the game.) This plan worked for him because it provided him with a way to reduce, though not entirely eliminate, his anxious feelings. And it also worked for my husband and me, because we were able to hold him to high expectations.

Almost daily I miss the mark in parenting in some way. Striking the balance between high expectations and high support is hard. The truth is, I wouldn’t have had to provide any support if I had lowered the expectations, but I often think of parenting as teaching. At some point in my children’s lives, they will not have to ask to avoid doing things that make them uncomfortable. But I want them to know that, with the right structures, support, and proactive planning, they’re capable of doing even the things that make them nervous. 

This weekend, my son has another game in the late evening. I told him about it this morning and there wasn’t a moment of hesitation or anxiety around attending this weekend’s late game. He did the thing that made him scared and now he knows he has the skills to manage it if those feelings come up again. 


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