Magic Words #3: ‘I love to watch you play’

Trying to Swim

Photo credit: DeaPeaJay, Flickr

At the risk of cheating in this series by pretty much stealing everyone else’s magic word… here’s the next instalment. Six words you should say today, from Rachel Macy Stafford in the Huffington Post:

Very rarely does one sentence have immediate impact on me.

Very rarely does one sentence change the way I interact with my family.

But this one did. It was not from Henry Thoreau or some renowned child psychologist. It was invaluable feedback from children themselves. And if I’ve learned anything on my Hands Free journey, it is that children are the true experts when it comes to grasping what really matters in life.

Here are the words that changed it all:

“… college athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response: ‘I love to watch you play.'”

Could I really just say, “I love to watch you play,” and leave it at that? And if I did, would my children stand there clueless at the next sporting event or musical performance because I had failed to provide all the extra details the time before?

Well, I would soon find out. As luck would have it, my then-8-year-old daughter had a swim meet the day after I read the article.

Her first event was the 25-yard freestyle. At the sound of the buzzer, my daughter exploded off the blocks and effortlessly streamlined beneath the water for an excruciating amount of time. Her sturdy arms, acting as propellers, emerged from the water driving her body forward at lightning speed. She hadn’t even made it halfway down the lane when I reached up to wipe away the one small tear that formed in the corner of my eye.

Since my older daughter began swimming competitively several years ago, I have always had this same response to her first strokes in the first heat: I cry and turn away so no one sees my blubbering reaction.

I cry not because she’s going to come in first.

I cry not because she’s a future Olympian or scholarship recipient.

I cry because she’s healthy; she’s strong; she’s capable.

And I cry because I love to watch her swim.

Oh my. Those six words… I love to watch her swim.

I had always felt that way — tearing up at every meet, but I hadn’t said it in so many words… or should I say, in so few words.

After the meet, my daughter and I stood in the locker room together, just the two of us. I wrapped a warm, dry towel around her shivering shoulders. And then I looked into her eyes and said, “I love to watch you swim. You glide so gracefully; you amaze me. I just love to watch you swim.”

Okay, so it wasn’t quite six words, but it was a huge reduction in what I normally would have said. And there was a reaction — a new reaction to my end of the swim meet “pep talk.”

My daughter slowly leaned into me, resting her damp head against my chest for several seconds, and expelled a heavy sigh. And in doing so, I swear I could read her mind:

The pressure’s off. She just loves to watch me swim; that is all.

I knew I was onto something.

[Read the rest of the article at the Huffington Post.]

I love this. Six easy words to solve the problem that I do worry about, of showing encouragement and engagement without communicating too much expectation, too much you-are-what-you-achieve.

What do you think? Add to the repertoire?

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12 comments on “Magic Words #3: ‘I love to watch you play’”

  1. Rachel Reply

    I’ve started to use this much more frequently with our kids. It’s amazing how satisfiying they seem to find hearing these words. They communicate “I know you” and “I enjoy you” – two things we never “grow out of” needing to hear (or maybe that’s just me!)

  2. Angela Reply

    Oh brilliant. Brilliant brilliant! I am starting to draft a piece (in my head!) on praise and this is just wonderful. This sentence is what it all hinges on:
    The pressure’s off. She just loves to watch me swim; that is all.

  3. Frank Reply

    Do you think that one would work to encourage independent play? As in I just love to watch you play (while I’m sitting on the couch with my cup of tea)

  4. Suse Reply

    Ha. Just realised how often my dad used to say that to me. And now I teach sport for a living.
    Thanks Dad. And thanks Thali for pointing out his awesomeness.

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