Hypermobility and self-esteem: When kids are not good at sport

I have been asked to comment on this topic of sport in children with hypermobility and low muscle tone, who aren’t so good at sport. And let me tell you, that would be about half the hypermobile population, so don’t think your child is alone there.

Often children with hypermobility have poor coordination skills (see this post) and therefore are not very competent when it comes to sport & gross motor activities. When they are little (probably up about the age of 5) they are pretty clueless to the fact that they aren’t as competent as other children at what they are doing. With some children, this naivety may last a little longer and they remain blissfully unaware for a little while more.


But what do you do when your child starts noticing that they aren’t as good at sport as their peers?


How do you manage their self-esteem?  


This very idea was how the book My Bendy Body was born – trying to teach children & the people around them that because they have a bendy body they do have trouble with some things, but there are so many other things they can do, and which they are or can be, good at.


Obviously, therapy to work on coordination skills is one aspect of this (see point 4).


hypermobility and self-esteem


But what do you do if your child is just not getting the coordination thing?


My recommendation would be to


1. Start focussing on all the things your child is good at… Story writing (or story-telling – not as in lying, but verbally creating stories to use their imagination if writing is hard), colouring, helping in the classroom or around the house, looking after siblings, helping care for pets, reminding mummy or daddy of important things when they’re asked to…..


There must be MANY things that your child is good at. Emphasise them! Don’t even necessarily use it as a “but” statement. Start reinforcing the positives for a few weeks before you start talking about the following points.


Don’t even necessarily use it as a “but” statement. Start reinforcing the positives for a few weeks before you start talking about the following points.


2. Talk about how everyone has different things that they are good at…  That is why some people are doctors, some people are pilots, other people are firemen – because they’re really good at those things. Maybe you could use the idea that you wouldn’t take yourself or your child to a vet when they are sick because the vet is good at working with animals, you would go to a doctor who is good at helping make people better.


Or you wouldn’t want a fireman flying a plane because that’s not something they know how to do very well. Or you could use the different animals: Cheetahs are super fast at running but turtles aren’t; giraffes are tall and can reach high things but mice can only get to low things; birds can fly and other animals can’t.


It’s about teaching them that difference is OK.


It’s not better or worse, good or bad, it’s just different.


3. Remind them that EVERYONE has things they’re not good at… I used to always say to the kids I worked with that I might be good a sport, but I don’t have a very good imagination, or I’m not good at spelling, but that’s OK, because other people are. That’s their thing to be good at.


Not everyone has to be good at everything.


4. Keep encouraging them to try. Over the years I have worked with kids who made huge amounts of progress in the area of gross motor skills and coordination, but not without a LOT of practice and repetition of tasks. I spent an hour every Wednesday afternoon just working on gross motor skills with a little primary school girl. We would practice whatever they were doing at school, and I would get mum to ask what was coming next in sport/gross motor time so we could start practising before they started it at school.


She didn’t always achieve mastery of the task in the same period of time as the other kids, but she kept trying and the look of achievement on her face when she did something properly for the first time was priceless.


We also used video recordings of her doing tasks as an effective method of feedback to her – and as a reminder that she CAN do things.

hypermobility and self-esteem


5. Talk about their feelings. It’s OK for them to be sad that they don’t feel as skilled as other children at particular things. Feelings are OK. Obviously, we want to create opportunities for them to have more happy feelings than sad feelings, but either way, talking to them about their feelings is really important.


It’s one of the best gifts you can give your child – emotional intelligence & confidence in articulating how they are feeling and why. Try not to get too emotional about their emotions – remember you are the adult here, but try to see the world through their eyes for a little while and reflect that back to them.


“I can see why you might be upset about that”….


“I would be upset about that too”….


“Mummy gets sad sometimes too when XYZ happens”…


“It’s OK to feel sad about that… is there something that you can feel happy about too?”


I know all of that is easy to say but hard to do when you see your child getting upset that they “aren’t any good at it”. In fact, I’m sure that it is oftentimes heartbreaking for you.


Perhaps it’s time to start exploring other activities that your child may become more skilled at – maybe they are more suited to being competent at academic tasks, or fine motor, or creativity skills. Start exploring all the possibilities – because there has to be something – lots of somethings in fact – that your child is good at and these will help boost their self-esteem.


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