Problem: Your Child Seems to Have Been Bumped Down on the Sports Rung.
Stay OUT If... He doesn't appear to be bothered by the situation. "Paul is not very competitive, but I am," admits Rachel Black of Medway, MA, whose 11-year-old son recently joined a swim team. "When he got moved to the slower 'learning lane,' I kept worrying that he was going to be sad about it. But in reality, I'm the one who's sad -- he's fine with it, and I love that about him."
Butt In If... He's crying "foul" or getting no playing time at all. Grade-school sports are supposed to teach skills by giving everyone a shot -- not just the stars. A child with an eye on a top spot should be encouraged to earn it. "Help him talk to the coach and ask, 'What do I have to do to get to play that position?'" says Chaplin.
Don't hesitate to speak up yourself if you really feel the coach is being unfair. "It was hard to bring up, but since we did, the coach has been playing most of the kids a fair amount and given our son recognition that has boosted his confidence," says Angie Tollefson of O'Fallon, MO, who became concerned when her 9-year-old started spending most of his soccer games on the bench. "The coach said that he honestly didn't realize our son was missing out."
Problem: The Siblings are Squabbling... Again.
Stay OUT If... You feel the need to defend the "wronged" child. Frequently taking the side of her youngest child, Willa, often led to hard feelings on the part of her oldest, Emma, recalls Andrea Lehman of Trenton, NJ. Lehman eventually learned that it's better for nonphysical battles to be worked out by the kids, even if the "negotiations" are hard to bear. Even those younger, seemingly defenseless siblings need to at least try to stand up for themselves. One child ratting out the other may mean the tiff is getting too big for them to handle on their own. Even then, you don't have to referee. Sometimes, says Lehman, a calm "I think you two are very capable of solving this" can be just the encouragement they need.
Butt In If... The conflict escalates, physically or to the point of screaming or crying. There should be a zero- tolerance rule for pushing, hitting, bad words -- even if your younger guy is bullying the older one. "My mantra is, 'You may not call names, and you may not scream,'" says Lehman. "When it gets to the point that the neighbors are hearing every word, I play the Mom card."
"It's perfectly fine to say, 'You know what, this is not okay. That's not what we want to do in this family, and I'm calling a time-out. You guys go to your separate corners,'" says Chaplin. But, he adds, regroup later when everyone has cooled off to talk about how the situation got out of control and how they could better handle it next time.