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Reality Check: How to Handle a Screaming Coach

Q. My 5-year-old son, Evan, has just joined a soccer team, and the coach is a screamer. Evan is afraid of him and doesn't want to play anymore. Should I talk to the coach or let my son deal with life's harsh realities?


A. I, too, am at the point with my 6-year-old where, as sticky situations arise, I stop and question my inclination to rescue her. Sometimes she can cope on her own. Arguments with playmates, I usually stay out of. But when a kid as young as 5 has a problem with a grown-up who wields power and authority, the match is hardly fair, and I think it makes sense to intervene.

My friend Leslie had to step in when she realized her daughter, Sam, had an "old meanie" for a school aide in her kindergarten class. Mrs. Pitelli (names have been changed to protect the innocent) "was a battle-ax who screeched at the kids," says Leslie. "She said stuff like, 'John, don't go on that slide! You fell off it last time! You're stupid to try it again!'" Sam came home crying one day, saying she hated lunchtime. It turned out that charm-school grad Pitelli had been criticizing Sam in front of the other kids because she didn't eat much of her lunch. Leslie sent a note to Mrs. Pitelli asking her not to comment on Sam's lunch ever again. Mrs. Pitelli called, defensive and not quite contrite, but although she remained a battle-ax, she didn't direct it at Sam anymore.

In Evan's situation, you might start by asking a couple of team parents to join you in having a talk with the coach -- perhaps including league organizers as well -- to let him know the screaming is scaring the kids and that if it continues he won't have much of a team left, advises Marguerite Kelly, author of The Mother's Almanac Goes to School, and a mother of four and grandmother of eight. In terms of teaching about life's harsh realities, this is an opportunity to send an important message: We don't have the power to force people to change, but most of the time we do have the right to take ourselves out from under their thumb.

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