Teaching Kids to Value Supporting Roles
by Lara Krupicka
Millions of Americans will tune in this month to the Academy Awards to learn who earned the top prizes in the world of filmmaking. And we’ll watch to find out not only who is awarded best actor and actress, but also which talented individuals receive recognition for their supporting roles – both in front of and behind the camera. Why? Because we recognize that rarely is a movie about one person. Everyone’s part is crucial to the success of the project, even those never visible to the audience.
Of course that’s a pretty heady concept. But accepting a lesser position in support of a larger undertaking is a life skill kids can, and should, learn. And most likely it’s a skill they’ll have to practice soon. Here’s how you can facilitate their learning (and help your child weather disappointment):
Empathize With the Letdown
If your child tried out for a team or a cast and didn’t make it, they’re bound to be disappointed, even if they do land a smaller role such as team manager or chorus line. Acknowledge their sadness without criticizing those who made the decision.
You can also show empathy by sharing your own story of rejection. But consider when. Jumping in right away can make it seem like you’re minimizing your child’s experience. Test your timing by phrasing it as a question: “would you like to hear about a time when I faced a similar disappointment?”
Then coax them to move on. If your child has a melancholy personality, you may want to put a deadline on how long they can mope. Remind them they have more to do – whether focusing on something different, or putting effort into their supporting role.
Suzanne Reeves, a director for youth theater musicals urged her young cast to remember their non-chosen friends after 140 kids auditioned for a cast of 100. “I told them, ‘there are forty kids sitting at home who wish they could be where you are’,” Reeves says. “Your job may not be the lead, but you were important enough to be cast.”
Remind your child why they pursued the activity in the first place, whether for the thrill of the game, or the chance to be part of a big production. Often the effort and focus required by try-outs can function against a child after the fact. Slowly nudge them back to the initial excitement they felt. Help them recognize they still have something to contribute through their altered role.
Sue Goll appreciated all her son gained from being part of his high school’s acclaimed drum show, not the least of which was a sense of teamwork. The production required all members of the cast to alternate between being in the spotlight and working behind the scenes. She saw how he learned to value every aspect of the show, even moving equipment on and off stage.
“If kids can’t understand the important element of teamwork, of every person contributing, they will struggle in life,” she explains. “Without small roles, the big roles can’t happen.”
For a child that struggles with understanding the importance of their job, discuss what would be lacking without them. Show them where they contribute to making the prominent roles more successful.
As Reeves notes, “If we don’t have ocean creatures or sailors [in the Little Mermaid], we don’t have a show. No one wants to see a musical with only four people.”
Your child may feel like one in a crowd. And that might be the point. Whether on the sidelines cheering for their team as equipment manager or singing in the chorus, help your child to find enjoyment in the greater experience.
Showing up to do work you hadn’t expected to shows responsibility. Doing it without complaining demonstrates humility. Going above-and-beyond expectations displays leadership. Sticking with the position week in and week out exhibits commitment.
All of those characteristics come together to shape the identity of a future key player. Each time your child fulfills a duty they gain the opportunity to grow – in skills, knowledge, and character. Reflect to your child the growth you see taking place in them. Explain how the abilities and traits they’re developing will make them more successful in the future.
“It’s crucial,” says Reeves of the necessity of playing a bit part or behind-the-scenes role. She has seen over and over how the kids who embrace the lesser roles move on to assume leads. “I guarantee you that one of the sea creatures this year will be a lead in a show in 5 years,” she says.
Don’t forget, mom & dad, your attitude matters. If you can’t shake your own disappointment or if you engage in confrontations with the decision makers, your child may assume those same attitudes – now and in the future. Your supporting role in your child’s life is to model for them how to approach the good and the bad.
“It’s presumptuous to think your child deserves better,” Reeves says. But it’s also hard not to think highly of our darlings and to not to want better for them.
Instead, express your confidence in their ability to learn from every situation.
“Be patient,” Reeves suggests. “Your child will rise to the level demanded of them. It’s not about being the lead, but about being the best in whatever skill they’re pursuing.”
Do’s & Don’ts for Moms & Dads
- acknowledge the disappointment
- set high expectations for them fulfilling their role
- be an example in your own life of having a good attitude with a smaller role.
- make a minor role more important than it is for the sake of sparing your child’s feelings. Humility always takes a person further than arrogance. Be careful which you’re cultivating in your offspring.
- pity your child. Even if they are repeatedly passed over for a position, you can’t anticipate what a smaller role will teach them or bring them in the future.
- push for coaches or directors to change their decision. Trust that they know what they’re doing.
Lara Krupicka is a parenting journalist and mom of three girls. She’s been pleased to see her daughters learn the ropes through being team manager, assistant editor, and other supporting roles.