Care and Feeding

My Husband Is Brutally Hard on Our 8-Year-Old About Basketball

What should I do?

A dejected kid sits on a bench and holds a basketball.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband played college basketball, and he coaches my 8-year-old son’s basketball team. When I tell you that my husband loves basketball, I mean he probably loves it more than any living thing outside of our family. The problem is that he’s really rough on our son. He makes him practice outside in the cold at odd hours of the day and night, yells at him a lot, and praises him very little. My son is a very good player, and my husband says that’s because he pushes him so hard to become one. But I often find my son crying alone because he’s so beaten down emotionally. Any advice on how to approach this with my husband and son?

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—Concerned Basketball Mom

Dear Concerned,

I also played college basketball, and I currently coach my 7-year-old daughter’s youth basketball team, so I have a relatively informed opinion on this. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a hard-ass coach, even when dealing with young kids. Discipline, following rules, overcoming adversity, and teamwork are necessary life skills, and sometimes coaches have to be really firm to ensure these skills are learned. It’s no different than what we see with strict teachers, parents, etc.

But kids need to have fun and be praised for their successes too. I can be really tough on my daughter as her coach, but I also tell her when she’s doing a good job. Withholding praise is not a good thing, whether you’re a coach or a parent. How will he know if he’s doing well? What would motivate him to continue playing other than the fear of being yelled at? It’s great that your son is a good player, but I promise you he’ll end up quitting within the next five years if this continues, and then nobody wins.

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Let’s be real: Ain’t nobody getting scholarships at 8 years old, so your husband doesn’t need to push your son to limits on a daily basis. Additionally, you should ask your son if he actually enjoys playing basketball or if he’s doing it just to make his dad happy. If it’s the latter, then you need to sit down as a family and have a discussion about how your husband is driving your son away from the game he loves. Everyone benefits from positive reinforcement and a pat on the back once in a while—especially kids when interacting with their parents. Make some compromises (or demands, if you want to put your foot down) around how often your son is allowed to practice at home. Kids burn out in sports very easily, and that’s often due to the intensity surrounding them.

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Not to mention, nobody likes the “crazy youth sports dad.”

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I hate my child’s neighborhood friend. She is constantly in my house. She is stinky, rude, and disrespectful. Every single time she is here, something goes missing or gets destroyed. One recent example revolved around our gingerbread house for Christmas. She said she wanted it, and I told her no. When I moved to another room, she took it outside and smashed it. Toys, money, food, mementos have all gone missing. She’s badgered my kid to egg houses and steal, which my kid thankfully said no to. Both kids are only in second grade. I have told my child I do not care for this kid’s behavior and that they will have to only play outside, but this child keeps coming back to cause more havoc. I am at my wit’s end. I know banning a friendship only drives kids to want to be with a certain person more, but I don’t want a disrespectful kid in my house, and she does not take no for an answer. Her parents seem to be of the mindset that you should let kids run free and there is nothing to do about that. Outside of moving, how do I make this stop?

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—Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

Hate is a pretty strong word to describe how you feel about a second grader, don’t you think? I’m sure she’s annoying, but sheesh, let’s not go overboard.

First, let me say that during a pandemic, no neighborhood kids should be coming into your home at all. But here’s my advice for when we can safely socialize again: You’re the grown-up in the room, and you have to act like one. You need to lay out clear and indisputable boundaries about what playtime looks like at your house. You may think you’ve done this already, but you haven’t because you’ve allowed this behavior to continue unchecked. Tell both kids that the ground rules you set must be followed and if they’re not, the friend will no longer be allowed at your house. Additionally, share these ground rules with the kid’s parents. Who cares if they disagree with your parenting style? It’s your house, and you decide what’s acceptable and what’s not.

When the girl inevitably does something awful, then playtime is over. No buts, no negotiations, no nothing. Show her the door and tell her not to come back for a week or two weeks (whatever you determine). Your daughter may be upset with you, but you need to teach her that actions have consequences. Or as the kids are saying nowadays, “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.” Your daughter will get over it, and she’ll learn a valuable life lesson in the process.

One additional note: If the neighborhood friend’s behavior is as bad as you say it is, I’m concerned about her—it may be that something’s not right at home. You may want to pay special attention to her home environment and/or anything she tells your child. And depending on what you notice or hear, you may want to address it with the parents, if you feel comfortable doing so. At the end of the day (assuming the girl isn’t in danger or being abused), it’s not your responsibility to raise children other than your own, and if that’s what you want to focus on, that’s fine.

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If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a white father of two white boys, ages 3 and 7. As my 7-year-old gets exposed to more movies, music, and life in general, he is at some point going to become aware of the N-word—if he isn’t already. We live in an area that has a lot of people of color, and he has many friends who are children of color, including several Black children. I really want to have a conversation with him about the N-word, and I have spent quite a bit of time researching the issue and how to approach it with him (as well as my younger son) one day. In doing so, I discovered there are more perspectives on the matter than I realized, including among Black people (whose thoughts are the only ones that count in my opinion). After doing all of this reading, I’ve gone through a range of emotions, from worrying I’ll say the wrong thing to the place I’ve ended up—which is that it seems wrong to me, as a white man, to “educate” my son on the N-word.

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As a white man, I feel like my thoughts on the matter don’t … matter. Yet, obviously, I am not going to ask my Black neighbors and friends to educate my son on it. I’ve considered showing him some videos of Black people discussing the word, but that doesn’t seem right either. I have concluded that the best thing for me to do is just shut up and let him learn on his own, though I do worry that in time he will say the word while not understanding why he should never do so.

What do you think about doing nothing? Am I missing another option? Apologies for coming across as a white “victim” here. I realize my issue here pales in comparison with the daily struggles that people of color and specifically Black Americans face on a daily basis. But I would appreciate any advice. Thanks.

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—N-Word Education

Dear NWE,

Hi! Black man here. I appreciate that you’re being proactive with this. There are some things in life that are appropriate for him to find out on his own, like that eating gas station sushi is never a good idea. Topics like sex and race are two of many that you should discuss with your child regularly before he gets dangerous information elsewhere.

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First off, the N-word was freely used for centuries to dehumanize Black people when they were enslaved, beaten, raped, and killed by white people. Even with the rise of overt racism over the past four years, you still won’t see many white people use that word around Black people (and if they do, let me just say that it won’t be received kindly). By the way, I have no idea who these Black voices are who say that it’s OK for white people to say that word, but I’m thankful you’re smart enough to ignore them.

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There is a sizable section of Black people who want to take the power that white people placed on the word and reclaim it as their own, either as a term of endearment like a greeting or even as an insult. I’m not one of those Black people, and the only time I’ll utter that word is when I’m teaching people how awful it is. However, I have absolutely no issue with Black people who say it.

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In terms of talking to your son, it really comes down to this: Black people have every right to say that word whenever and however they deem it appropriate, but under no circumstances should your son (or any white person) ever say it for the reasons I laid out earlier. I think you should talk to your son about the word. Introduce him to a brief history of it just as I have, by saying it’s a term that was used for centuries to dehumanize Black people when they were enslaved, beaten, and killed by white people. This can also lead to a larger conversation about race and racism that will prepare him for what he will inevitably witness in his world going forward. I don’t see any downside to this. If more white kids we taught earlier on in life about these things, America’s racism problem wouldn’t be as awful as it is right now.

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And no, asking that question doesn’t make you a white victim. It makes you a concerned dad who wants the best for his son, and I respect that.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 18-month-old recently decided she’s interested in dolls. I took her to pick one out, and she picked a little Black baby doll. We, as I’m sure you can guess by my specifying the doll’s race, are white. The potential problem here is that she might be naming it “Night.” (It’s tough to tell whether she’s just telling the doll that it’s nighttime or she’s calling it by name—but I’m pretty sure she’s named the doll Night.) She really loves the baby’s dark skin and strokes its hands and cheeks often. I could see her using night as a descriptor, especially because we explain the concept of “night” as “when it’s dark,” and one of the books we got to talk to her about race (All Kinds of People) explains how some people are “dark,” alongside a picture of a Black child.

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My question is, is this racist or offensive? If so, how do I convince her to stop? She is exceptionally stubborn and shockingly observant, so I have difficulty dissuading her from things she’s decided on, even with positive reinforcement. And she’s so small I know that explaining why we shouldn’t call the baby “Night” isn’t really an option right now. I have been referring to the baby as “Baby” for now, but she’s started, I think, correcting me by shouting “Night!” as she goes to get the baby. So how do I handle this? Or am I overthinking it?

—Is Night All Right?

Dear Is Night All Right,

Your daughter is 18 months old, so I wouldn’t be too concerned that she’s developing racist tendencies.

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In fact, I think her naming the baby Night could be positive. I talk a lot in my book What’s the Difference? about how it’s healthy for kids to recognize differences in skin color and celebrate those differences. The people who walk around pretending to be “colorblind” with regard to race are the ones I worry about because they ignore what makes Black people special and unique. There really isn’t much for you to do here, other than to monitor her behavior and ensure she doesn’t equate dark skin with being bad—which doesn’t seem to be the case, since she likes the doll so much.

The fact that you wrote in to ask this question proves to me you’re going to raise your little girl to be anti-racist. We need more parents like you in this country, believe me.

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[To read Jamilah Lemieux’s answer to this question, click here.]

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I’ve been married for about five years, and I find myself raising not only a child but also a husband. I have a lot of affection for him and often tell myself how lucky I am to have found a man who is patient and understanding, and he is also a great father. But over the years I have lost a lot of respect for him and have recently come to realize that I don’t love him at all. What should I do?

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