Poor motivations for gaming – No 1. Not wanting to deal with negative emotions

In my post Gaming – How to put kids in control I wrote about the research we carried out: our four sons kept a journal of their motivations to game, their emotions before and while gaming each time they started to play a computer game. Observing themselves this way they concluded:

  • Gaming is most fun if they play with friends, and
  • Gaming does not feel good if they start it to forget negative emotions or to postpone a task.

They thought that they would be in control of their gaming if they would always start playing for the expectation that it would be fun. When they are not in control, they start playing for one of these reasons:

  • suppress negative emotions,
  • postpone a task or
  • pass the time.

In this post I will discuss the first of the reasons, i.e. not willing to deal with negative emotions.

When your teen decides to play a computer game instead of processing a negative emotion, he suppresses that emotion, leaving it unprocessed. Unprocessed emotions lead to stress. So what does it mean to process an emotion? How does one know whether an emotion has been processed? We think very often that we have dealt with an emotion and still it keeps coming back. Again, I did some research and found some useful information.

Here is how we process an emotion:

  1. Turn toward your emotions with acceptance: become aware of the emotion and identify where you sense it in your body
  2. Identify and label your emotion: “This is anger” or “This is anxiety”
  3. Accept your emotions: don’t deny the emotion. Acknowledge and accept that it is there.
  4. Realize the impermanence of your emotions: even if the emotion feels overwhelming, remember that it will pass.
  5. Inquire and investigate: ask yourself: what triggered me? Why am I feeling this way?
  6. Let go of the need to control your emotions: be open to the outcome of your emotions and what unfolds.

source: https://www.gottman.com/blog/6stepstomindfullydealwithdifficultemotions/

So this is when you can submit to your emotion and act on it. However, it’s not always possible. For example, I don’t think I want my 15 year old son to beat me up or scream into my face when he’s angry at me. So how do you process emotions that urge you to do something that is not acceptable? You change those emotions:

Processing emotions


The most important step for teens is to understand that processing their emotions is just as important as physical exercise. They have to find time for it: when lying in bed alone with their thoughts and emotions, or sitting on the backseat of the car, or walking to school.


Teen tennis cognitive distortion

After our game the other day, where Noe already at the beginning got angry and which ended with me screaming at him, I sent him a text asking him if he knew what cognitive distortion means and how it is connected with tennis. He was playing the piano next to me, before that, doing something on his mobile phone, before that, drinking coffee, and before that, eating… Those are important activities, and I did not have the courage to ask for his attention.

He got the answer within a minute: googled the definition up and could make the connection immediately:tennis trophy

After a few bad shots I thought that I was playing very poorly and that it would stay like that for the rest of the game.

Did you think about the possibility of chasing that thought away?

I don’t know, I was angry.

(Does that mean that he got angry before he realized what was going on? That is something to talk more about.)

Would you have chosen to be angry if you had known where it was leading?


How strong was this no on a scale of 10? – Can he give me an honest answer, without thinking about my feelings? I hope that. That is where two circumstances get in the way: I’m his mother and I was also the one suffering from his tantrum.

8 – I think this is about an honest answer.

So, why would you choose anger as opposed to staying calm?

Because it takes less effort.

I get that, completely. I’ve been through this.

That is enough to digest for now, but I will certainly go on with this conversation later. I have a lot of questions, but I want to ask them the right way. And I want to open my mind for anything he says. I wonder if he would be more motivated to play if he could get rid of the cognitive distortion concerning his game. And if he will want to decide to learn to choose the right mindset.

What if he won’t???

I will just have to accept his decision. It would not be the end of the world, it would just mean that he would take longer to learn to deal with those negative ideas. Unless he stops playing completely because of all those frustrations. That would be tough for me to accept. The whole family plays: it is our favorite thing to do together.

Thank you Your Mindset Coach for the recent post, it was perfect timing for me!

15 Common Cognitive Distortions

Tennis tantrums

I made a huge discovery this morning. It was my first attempt to use some coaching skills and what I found out was simply mind blowing!

It was a beautiful morning, sun shine, tennis whether. Noe and I decided to play tennis. You’ll recognise this if you often play tennis or any other ball sport with your teen child:

Noe misses a few shots in the beginning. He starts to make annoyed calls. I keep on feeding him balls. We don’t even count points, just play balls to each other. In his fustrated stress, he gets out of balance by the shots, turns to quickly, his shots get all worse and worse. He gets even more annoyed.

I’m trying to make up my mind: should I give him some advice how to calm down or how to make better shots? Should I stop and say we’ll go on when you’ve calmed down? Shall I just walk away and say we’ll play another time?

Giving advice when he is so upset will not help. Probably one of the two other options could help. But it’s a beautiful day to play and I don’t want to waste it.

As I’m struggling what to do, I feel tension overwhelming me, until I burst out and start shouting and screaming threats I should know I won’t keep:

That’s it, I won’t ever play with you again. Never!

Noe suddenly becomes calm:

Sorry, Saca, I have spoiled it for you. It won’t ever happen again.

I’m already done, said what I said, no turning back. He is begging me making me promises and so finally I agree that we play a few minutes longer.

We are riding home, silently digesting our disappointment. I’m calm now, and desparately look for a cue how to find a better way to “discipline” him to sportive behaviour than quitting the game each time he gets in his negative mood. I’m secretely dreading that if I do this, he would quit tennis completely. He likes tennis, but I’m not sure his dedication is strong enough to survive painful lessons I would have to give him. There has to be another way! Think, think, think – how could coaching help? Ok, let’s start looking for the right questions:

How did you feel when you thought you were playing very poorly?

I was angry and couldn’t stop being angry.

What were you thinking?

I wanted to play better, but I couldn’t.

Ok, there’s nothing new in that. Now, what else can I ask? I’m stuck. Fortunately he’s giving me a clue:

Sometimes if I get angry, I start playing better.

Oh, I could explain why right now, but let’s keep this for later. For now I need to ask questions rather than give answers.

So, what would have happened if you had tried to stay calm and concentrate on your technic?

It doesn’t usually help. 

Has it ever helped? Can you think of an instance when it did help?

Yes, I think it did help once or twice.

I’m stuck again. What more should I ask? Fortunately he’s again giving me something to go on:

If I stay calm, I feel defeated. I lost a fight against you. I know I shouldn’t be feeling this way.

I’m stunned. A fight against me? All I want is to help him play better! Where is the fight? Where is the conflict?

The expectation is to stay calm and if I keep calm, I’m just doing what you and everyone wants me to do.

That was enough of coaching for the day. But I feel that we could go still deeper. Why does he start the game full negative emotions? What spoils the joy of playing for him even before getting warm in the game? And why does he want to win against me?

But to finish the discussion, I give him something to chew on: I explain to him how anger helps his game, and – how it doesn’t help.