How the adults in room affect our kid’s motivational climate

Below is a recent Tweet I came across hinting at how adults can overlook how their attitudes can impact their kid’s  motivational climate.

“Parents, Teachers, and Coaches play an especially important role. Their attitudes can directly and indirectly impact the motivational climate.  Therefore, they should be mindful about how their behavior may impact an athlete’s belief.” (@SportsPsycCoach).

I thought this Tweet would be an excellent one to piggy back off from my more recent posts focusing on kid’s, negative self-talk and other communication in their motivational climate.  In this post I want to shift my attention to parents and how mindlessness or functioning below consciousness can impact our athlete’s belief and their motivational climate.

It is not uncommon for me to catch and teach parents how to reframe negative messages about their child’s performance of lack there of. I understand these parents are not being malicious, they are just not mindful or aware of their explanatory style and the consequences it could have on their child. As you read this post, I would like to  challenge you to think about your explanatory style in your child’s competitive environment, and if this attitude has an impact on their belief and motivational climate.

Your Explanatory Style & Depression

Our explanatory style is simply the way we explain the events of our lives or the way of interpreting our life’s events.  Dr. Seligman writes in his book Learned Optimism, “your explanatory style stems directly from your view of your place in the world – whether you think you are valuable and deserving or worthless and hopeless (1990). Our explanatory style simply sets us up to view life either positively, negatively or cynical. If your explanatory is negative, you may be what we call a ruminator. A person who ruminates consistently ponder over bad events.

Research also shows that depression treats our boys and girls differently. When our kids learn to handle problems through a pessimistic or cynical explanatory style lens, the consequences for our girls appears to be more harsh. Dr. Steingard reports, by mid-adolescence girls are more than twice as likely as boys to be diagnosed with a mood disorder ( The cause appears to be how our girls tend to ruminate (wallow and analyze their problems), while our boys tend to handle their problems by finding other things to do or become more active constructively or “non-constructively” (2017).

The Impact of an Negative Explanatory Style

Synonymous to the previous posts on self-talk, when you encounter everyday setbacks in your life, how you explain those events to yourself (explanatory style) determines your energy level. When we operate from a negative explanatory style, or see the glass as half empty versus half full, the more negative energy is  generated from these thoughts. Let’s us a mobile as a visual.  A system can represent anything connected to an our youths (family, team, relationships with others etc.) Picture how a mobile ( a negative system) hangs over the crib.  When the baby touches one of the toys on the mobile, the whole mobile responds to the baby’s touch and begins to move and gain momentum. Similarly, this is how a negative explanatory style infects a system.

 The view of the optimist is obviously counter to the negative explanatory style.   The optimist tends to blame setbacks on forces outside of themselves. When they experience a setback, it is seen a temporary and isolated event.

Seligman writes “your explanatory style is the word on your heart” (2006).  Our explanatory is also reactionary.  This is why mindful parenting is key. As the “adults in the room”, we not only impart our behavior and values on them; what we say about them causes them to filter this feedback through their explanatory style. Therefore, the way they interpret the parent’s feedback affects their beliefs and the motivational climate. Non-constructive feedback imparted on a child with a negative explanatory style stuns our kids growth when attempting to achieve their goals.

Something to think about: When your child encounters a set back, how does he/she respond? What is there explanatory style?

“One Can Not Communicate” Paul Watzlawick

Paul Watzlawick, one of the early pioneers in family therapy who established the interactional view that states “one cannot communicate.” This simply means that we are always communicating. At times, our body language is screaming so loudly, that we need a muffler to quiet it. Communication is all around us and we have to mindful of the messages we are sending.

A negative explanatory style and homeostasis

A negative explanatory can also prevent us from moving out of unproductive situations. As Carolyn Kaufman writes, a system therapist (such as myself) knows people are going to try and maintain homeostasis (2010). Simply, people want to make sure the world they operate in is comfortable. When I refer to homeostasis, I am talking about resisting change. This means when we operate from a negative explanatory style and low energy motivational climate, we struggle to move  forward or settle for the comfort associated with homeostasis. People will stay in toxic situations  such as jobs, relationships, and in membership with trainers and club teams because their explanatory style has influenced their decision to believe that it is easier to stay, then to move on. A number of people have been credited with “saying change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.”

How can we change?

Rahschulte writes, we don’t control all variables that make up our experiences; certain things are going to go the way we intend, and some aren’t (2017). The only thing we can control is our reaction to those variables, and this response is highly influenced by our explanatory style. As Oprah states “once we know better, we do better.” Rahschulte continues, the key to learning how to handle these inefficiencies is to develop consistency and approach each situation as an opportunity to learn (2017). 

There is a plethora of information on the Internet about how to shift your explanatory style.  Thought Medicine suggests in order to create a more optimistic explanatory style, first, we need to be aware of how we communicate with ourselves in our system. Two, we need to be proactive in challenging our inner dialogue. If you read my last post, my famous cue is, “what are we saying to ourselves?”, “what am I thinking”,  or ” I better chew on this message before I spit them out”.  As Rahschulte suggest, the only thing we can control is our reaction. We can do this by arguing with yourself through identifying information that is contrary to our current pessimistic beliefs. Finally, be mindful of how you behave in front of your kids.

Today there are too many examples of adults role modeling bad behavior as they respond to stress and anxiety. We must protect and build up our kids, and the first step is being mindful of our own behavior around them. Our kids must also be taught to be resilient, get out of toxic situations, and bounce back quickly. These values and behaviors will carry across all settings: at home, the school, the community and in competition. The goal is to first develop a glass is half full mentality. These responses are learned in our “system” by being exposed to constructive role modeling of behaviors, values and beliefs.

As always I encourage to dig further. Please reach out with any questions or concerns to generate constructive dialogue.

*Below I have included a clip of the Cleveland Browns from the HBO series Hard Knocks.  If you are familiar with the Cleveland Browns, their organization is synonymous with a negative explanatory style. Watch as Pro Bowl wide receiver tries to impart his explanatory style in efforts to change the motivational climate of the team.

******Warning the clip contains explicit language containing 30+ curse words*******

“You need to learn to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes everyday.  This is a power you can cultivate.  If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind.  That’s the only thing you should be trying to control.” Elizabeth Gilbert, author of eat, pray, love

As always, Thanks for reading,

Please like, comment, and share

Kris J. Snyder LMFT, MBA, CPT,


******Warning the clip contains explicit language containing 30+ curse words*******

“It was directed to and throughout our whole team,” Landry said. “I know that I said it in the receiver room, but it was directed to the whole team. I think that it is going to allow us to create a mindset and a culture. If we are going to change the culture, that is where it has to begin. We can’t be having favors or taking days off or stuff like that. We have to practice and put in the work to be great.” Jarvis Landry

More information on our explanatory style can be found in the book Learned Optimism by Dr. Seligman. According to Seligman, we are essentially affected by three dimensions, 1. permanence (time/always & never), is it temporary or permanent), 2. pervasiveness (space/one event effects everything), 3. specific v. universal and personalization (internal v. external/ blame other people).

References: Mood Disorders and Teenage Girls Why they are more vulnerable than boys, and what signs and symptoms you should look for Steingard MD., R. J. accessed Sunday August 6, 2018

Kaufman, Psy.D. C. (2010). The Writer’s Guide tp Psychology Fresno California

Rahschulte, T. (July 2018). There will Be Good Days and Bad Days: Learn From Both. learning-leadership-lessons-of-the-past

Seligman, M. (2006) Learned Optimism New York: New York

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *