The Secrets to Successfully Sportscasting My Children’s Squabbles

Lucy and Penny sportscasting

Sportscasting is one of those RIE terms that is thrown out there a lot! When your children are fighting – sportscast. When they are showing frustration because they can not complete a task – sportscast.  When they express their displeasure at being prevented from doing something – sportscast. It seems like sportscasting should be the answer to most of our daily struggles with our children. So after reading about this methodology as I sailed through my initial RIE parenting journey 12 months ago, I thought I would give it a crack. I had read somewhere that it was just like commentating on a sports match so I went with that and off I went to test it out on my squabbling children.

‘Penny, you had the giraffe and Lucy took it from you. Lucy, Penny’s crying because you took her giraffe. It’s not nice to take things from other people.’ So I add-libbed a little and projected some of my own opinions in there – what sports commentator doesn’t? I had some success with this initially. I think the girls were surprised by my change in tact in not demanding the toys be returned so I thought yep, I got it. But after a period of time (not too long) these scuffles between the girls started escalating. I continued sportscasting like crazy but Lucy (then about 22 months old) seemed to be taking her jealous rage up a notch and started including some physical contact into the mix. Where was I going wrong? I couldn’t understand why Lucy was being so rough towards her sister and so insistent on taking toys she really wasn’t interested in. So, I turned to the person who had steered me down this RIE path and guided me through her wisdom – Janet Lansbury. Janet offers a phone consultation service for a small fee which both my husband and I agreed was well worth it to put us back on the right track.

After speaking with Janet for quite some time and running through several scenarios with her, she picked up on my use of sportscasting as the potential problem. It wasn’t the sportscasting that was the issue but the words and tone I was using. If I was to analyse my previous example:

‘Penny, you had the giraffe and Lucy took it. Lucy, Penny’s crying because you took her giraffe. It’s not nice to take things from other people.’

By saying ‘Lucy took it’ it implies a victim and a perpetrator. Lucy therefore feels I am taking sides hence, increasing her jealousy towards her sister. By adding ‘It’s not nice to take things from people’ I am inducing guilt and making Lucy feel bad about herself thereby weakening her relationship with me.

Janet pointed out that it is vital I remain neutral in these altercations. There are no victims or perpetrators only two children behaving in a developmentally appropriate way and needing some support to help guide them through. So in the giraffe example I should say ‘Penny had the giraffe. Now Lucy has the giraffe. Penny, I see you are upset. ‘ And then wait! Allow the children time to process and determine the next course of action. Janet recently informed me ‘the difference with the RIE approach is that we don’t dictate, suggest, teach or enforce “turns”. We really do trust the children to figure these things out for themselves (at your children’s age, especially). We would totally be there to prevent hitting, pushing, pinching, biting, but would be fine with a child pulling something out of another child’s hands…’

Often, when I remain a completely neutral and unbiased sportscaster, Lucy will return the giraffe of her own accord. If she doesn’t,however, I might add: ‘Lucy, when you’ve finished with that giraffe would you mind giving it to Penny’. In this type of sportscasting, it is important also to keep my voice even and matter of fact. I often have to remind myself to remove the emotion out of my voice especially if the altercation is rather heated and evokes my own feelings on the matter.

Here are several other real life examples of sportscasting that has occurred in our house over the past few days.

Example one: Taking turns

I was washing up the breakfast dishes whilst the girls were playing in the play room. I heard both girls start screaming so I downed dish brush and headed in to see what was happening. When I got in there Penny was in the low hammock swing and Lucy was climbing in on top of her. This is what transpired:

Me: ‘I didn’t see what happened here but you both seem upset. It looks like you both want the swing. [To Lucy] Lucy, you would like a turn on the swing? [To Penny] Penny, you haven’t finished swinging yet. You don’t like feeling squashed under Lucy. Lucy, I’m going to help you hop off Penny.’

Of course this didn’t come out as one long blurt. I paused for long enough after each statement for the girls to process what I was saying. Lucy then started happily pushing Penny on the swing for about 30 seconds before trying to climb back in the swing on top of Penny. Penny screamed.

Lucy: ‘Penny, can I have a turn?’

Me: ‘Lucy, I hear you asking for a turn on the swing. Penny, you’re not quite finished yet.’

Lucy hopped back, moved away from the swing and began playing with a doll.

Penny used her feet on the floor to push herself for a little while longer (maybe two minutes) before climbing out and leaving the room.

Lucy climbed in the swing and began pushing herself.

I returned to the dishes.

Example two: Taking toys

I was changing Penny’s nappy on her change table. There is a bed that backs onto the change table that Lucy had climbed on to help me. Penny had picked up a little dog-shaped felt piece from the change table caddy and was looking at it. Lucy, standing next to her, took it from her. Penny immediately began crying in protest.

Me: ‘Penny you had that felt dog, now Lucy has it.’ You seem upset.’

Lucy: Hands back the dog with a pleasant ‘here you go!’ Then sits in a washing basket on the bed moving right over to one side and calling to Penny, ‘Here Penny, I made a spot for you.

The girls then happily played in the washing basket for several minutes whilst I tidied the area.

Example three: Struggling over the same toy

Lucy was clippy clopping around the house on her hobby horse. After a while she put it down and moved to a different room to play with the blocks. Penny came across the horse lying on the ground and picked it up and began riding it around the lounge room. Lucy came back into the room and saw Penny with the horse.

Lucy: Noooo! That’s my horse and begins to try to pull the horse away from Penny.

Penny: Screams and holds on to the horse for dear life.

In this situation I have to move quickly but calmly to where the altercation is occurring. It is important that I can use my physical presence to block any acts of aggression or to ensure this struggle doesn’t end in pain for the children.

So with my hands poised at the ready I state between the shouts of protest: ‘You both want the horse. Lucy, you were riding this horse earlier now Penny is riding it.”

Lucy and Penny continue to struggle with the horse before Lucy yanks it away from Penny and moves away.

I then support Penny who is crying ‘You really wanted that horse. You’re upset.’

Lucy then runs past and goes and gets the other hobby horse from the cupboard and gives it to Penny.

Both girls clippy clopped around the house for a few more minutes before moving onto something else.

In this final scenario type, I find it particularly tempting to step in and stop the struggle as I worry that one of the girls might get pulled over especially when there is a bit of a strength difference between them but when I queried this with Janet she stated ‘When we put limits on the amount of struggle we allow, it sort of defeats the whole purpose…and actually encourages the children to push that limit.’ So I have had to learn to trust the children to sort through these themselves whilst being close by to prevent them from getting hurt.

So here are my secrets to successful sportscasting.

1. Stay calm (unruffled)

2. Choose your words carefully. State facts without opinion

3. There are no victims or perpetrators

4. Keep your tone unbiased and unemotional

5. Allow pauses for processing

6. Keep it simple/ brief and allow the children to conclude naturally themselves

For more information on this topic you might like to read:

5 Benefits of Sportscasting Your Child’s Struggles ~ Janet Lansbury

Your Self-Confident Baby (Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach)

The S Word – Toddlers Learning to Share ~ Janet Lansbury

Could NOT Forcing a Toddler to Share Help With Sharing Conflicts? ~ Peaceful Parents Confident Kids

About Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Hi, my name is Kate. I have been a Physical Education/ Maths teacher for 12 years and am currently taking some time out to be a Mum. I have two beautiful girls aged 2 and 1 (13 month age gap). I have learned that there is so much more to parenting than 'going with your instincts' and treasure all the rewards my children present to me everyday. I have a passion for sports and have recently discovered an addiction to sewing. Thank you for taking some time out to read my ramblings :)
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19 Responses to The Secrets to Successfully Sportscasting My Children’s Squabbles

  1. eross says:

    Thank you for this post! I am mom to a 3.5 yr old and a 21 month old, and have very recently come across Janet Lansbury’s website. I’m reading it every spare moment I have, but I’m finding myself a little lost amidst all this new information in a short amount of time. This post has very specific advice and very specific scenarios about an issue we face daily in our home. While I do my best to absorb RIE philosophy and put it into action, I appreciate something like this- straight to the point! Thank you again! Elizabeth


  2. Jenny says:

    I am really curious about the RIE philosophy of not intervening when one child takes a toy away from another. What about if one child is older and stronger? The younger of the two is pre-verbal, smaller, and not as strong. I don’t want the younger one to get pushed around, and he cannot stand up for himself yet. Would you really continue to permit the older one to grab toys from the younger without intervening?


    • Hi Jenny, this was something I too have struggled with. When my sharing issues began my youngest was about 10 or 11 months and my oldest just turned 2. I found it very difficult to get past the inequity between the struggles. Even now, the battles are one sided and my eldest normally always comes off best.
      There are two things that I rely on to keep me from intervening. The first is that young children (especially under 1 year) don’t have a concept of fairness, justice or even sharing. it is developmentally appropriate for them to take toys and have toys taken from them as a part of their play and social development. Even if they become upset from the act, they are learning to deal with loss as well as the beginnings of conflict resolution.
      The second thing is that, the more I step back and allow these uneven altercations to run their course, the more I am seeing the oldest learn her own concept of fairness and without feeling pressured will often return the toy once she realises the youngest is upset and really would like it through effective sportscasting.
      Just today, Penny was playing with a little figurine (which does happen to be Lucy’s) when Lucy spotted it and made a screaming beeline for it. Penny tried to defend it but was no match for her determined (much stronger sister). I sportscasted throughout the ordeal which resulted in Penny crying and Lucy running out of the room with the toy. Within 15 secs of me saying something like “Penny, you really wanted that toy. You are upset”. Lucy came running up the hallway, back into the room with it exclaiming ‘you can have it back now, Penny.’
      I am not sure what ages your children are but give it time and trust that they have their own inherent goodness that will ultimately prevail. I have attached a link to another article I wrote a while ago. Best of luck with and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like any further information.


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