Patricia Ramírez

Sports and health psychologist

"Disciplined people exercise willpower, which is really important if you want to be successful in your professional life."

Ms. Ramirez thinks we have to improve they way we communicate with teenagers and offers advice on how to do this.

I think there's no such thing as an unmotivated student, it's just that we have to try to find ways to unlock their motivation, which is why I think it's important for young people to have fun by doing sports. When people start to enjoy themselves and become more interested in sport, they also start to get more involved and engaged in it. That's why I think physical education should be given the status it deserves, as I believe it's just as important as mathematics and languages. There's scientific data to demonstrate the benefits of sport. It teachers different values such as cooperation, communication and discipline and helps students to learn to concentrate and pay attention, which are skills they need in order to study. It also encourages them to become more disciplined and determined. The benefits are numerous, which is why we have to try to make it motivating by holding mini competitions that are not overly competitive and by providing spaces where people can practice sports (especially girls). From the age of fourteen or fifteen, teenage girls start to abandon sports more than boys of the same age. We have to encourage boys to go to watch matches the girls are playing in and promote participation.

I think it's important to convey to parents the idea that sport can't be used as a punishment. Often, if a child gets a poor grade, their parents might say to them, "Now you can't play soccer." However, if you do this, you're depriving them of a part of their lives that's as important as sleep. If you ban your child from playing soccer, they're missing out on an opportunity to relate to other kids of the same age, practice values and above all, perform an activity that's strengthening their cognitive functions. I'm not saying you can't chastise your children, just that you should look for other ways to do it and should never use sport as a punishment.

We must teach children how important it is to make an effort. Nowadays, lots of parents overprotect their children and don't ask things of them so they don't get frustrated. However, the message this sends to kids is: “Don't worry about it, be as irresponsible as you like as someone else will be there to deal with the consequences." To be successful, you have to make an effort at work, in your relationship with your partner, your living arrangements and everything else. Making an effort is a basic requirement. That's why we also have to teach kids that pleasure comes after duty. They must be taught the value of respect. Children should learn about respect both at school and at home, as, in order to form healthy relationships, you need to be respectful. They also have to learn about discipline, and this means having schedules, order and routines. Without discipline, you can't obtain your objectives. In order to be successful in your professional life, you have to be able to exercise self-control and willpower.

Let's not kid ourselves, punishments definitely work. However, the collateral damage caused by punishing a child is immense. This is because when you punish a child, they become fearful and they no longer trust you because they're scared you'll punish them again. I don't recommend handing out punishments. There are other techniques you can use that are much more effective. One of these is to reinforce certain behavior. This means paying attention to anything your child does well so you can praise them and boost their confidence. Anything you say has to be based on values, such as: "I hope you're proud of how much time you spent studying; look at the results you got. Above all, it's you who should be proud of the work you've done, not me just because I'm your mom." Reinforcing the way a child feels about themselves is a good way to instill change, but there are other techniques you can use too. There's another one called overcorrection, which is basically where you ask your child to repeat what they did in an inappropriate way, but to correct it. So, if your child slammed a door in anger, instead of running after them and saying: "We don't slam doors here," you go to their room and say: "Please can you come out and close the door properly?" You use a conversational tone, and when they've done what you asked you thank them. That's why how we behave as parents is so important. Children learn by watching, so we need to give them visual material and information via TV series, Internet content and our own behavior that they can copy. Children learn through observation from when they are very small, so, if you have no other choice, rather than using the word "punishment", I prefer the term "consequence". Children have to learn that the decisions they make have consequences, so, for example, if they don't study in the afternoons, they can't use their cell phones, because they can't use the time they've spent not studying to use technology.

Find out more about Patricia Ramírez

Patricia Ramírez is a sports and health psychologist and has a Master's Degree in Clinical and Health Psychology. She has written a number of books, including "Cuenta contigo" (Count on yourself), Por qué ellos sueñan con ser futbolistas y ellas princesas" (Why boys dream of being footballers and girls dream of being princesses) and "Si salieras a vivir…" (If you went out and lived), and has worked with football teams such as Real Betis, Mallorca and Granada, as well as with other elite sports men and women. Ms. Ramirez is one of the most influential psychologists on social networks in Spain.
At what age can children start to become autonomous?

Some children can tidy away their toys when they're about one and half, while others don't start doing this until they're two and a half. However, at this age they can still do things, even though you might have to help them. When they're two, you can say to them: "Let's tidy away your toys," then you can take their hand to put the blocks back in the box. This is how you can teach them they have obligations, depending on their age and what the child needs, because some children can tie their shoelaces when they're five years old, while others still can't do it when they're twelve. In order to get things done well and quickly, many parents say, "Let me do it". However, by preventing your child from learning to do things for themselves you're overprotecting them instead of encouraging them to become autonomous. What you need to do is to help them be more adventurous. Often, a child might want to do something by themselves, but their parents don't let them because they don't think they'll be able to do it. Rather than letting them do what they want by themselves, it's a good idea to start getting them to do minor tasks to encourage collaboration throughout the household and to make sure everyone takes responsibility for their own things.

"In order to communicate better with your children, try asking them if they actually want your advice, rather than just giving it anyway. This is a good way to spark their interest."

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