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'Sideline' Rage Triggers Mirror Those of Angry Drivers

Parents who rant at kids' sporting events let ego get in the way, study says

MONDAY, July 7 (HealthDay News) -- People who are prone to road rage are also more likely to rant and rave while watching their children play sports, says a U.S. study.

Ego defensiveness, one of the triggers of road rage, also causes "sideline rage," said researcher Jay Goldstein, a kinesiology doctoral student at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

He observed parents at youth soccer games in suburban Washington, D.C., and concluded that parents become angry when there's an apparent challenge to their ego.

"When they perceived something that happened during the game to be personally directed at them or their child, they got angry. That's consistent with findings on road rage," Goldstein said in a prepared statement.

He also found that control-oriented parents were far more likely to take something personally and explode than autonomy-oriented parents, who take greater responsibility for their own behavior.

"In general, control-oriented people are the kind who try to 'keep up with the Joneses.' They have a harder time controlling their reactions. They more quickly become one of 'those' parents than the parents who are able to separate their ego from their kids and events on the field," Goldstein said.

But even autonomy-controlled parents can get angry due to ego-defensiveness.

"While they're more able to control it, once they react to the psychological trigger, the train has already left the station," Goldstein said.

The study was published in the June issue of Applied Social Psychology.

Goldstein offered some tips to help parents keep their cool if they feel their anger rising while watching their children play sports:

  • Controlled deep breathing exercises -- inhale for four seconds and exhale for eight seconds.
  • Suck on a lollipop. It will keep your mouth busy and remind you that you're there for your child.
  • Visualize a relaxing experience, such as floating on water.
  • Do yoga-like stretching exercises.
  • Replace angry thoughts with rational thoughts, such as "This is my child's game, not mine," or "Mistakes are opportunities to learn."
  • Don't say the first thing that pops into your head. Count to 10 and think about possible responses.
  • If you didn't see the game, first ask your child "How did you play?" rather than "Did you win?"
  • Praise your child's efforts. Then, maybe, comment on the results.
  • Use harmless humor -- not harsh or sarcastic humor -- to defuse angry feelings.

More information

The Nemours Foundation explains how parents can teach children about sportsmanship.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Maryland, College Park, news release, June 17, 2008

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