Watching your child compete: The agony and ecstasy of Aly Raisman's parents

Lean to the left, lean to the right, squirm, cringe, cheer: For the parents of Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, watching her compete is a full-body experience.
Lean to the left, lean to the right, squirm, cringe, cheer: For the parents of Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, watching her compete is a full-body / Today

As they watched their daughter compete at the Olympic Games, the animated, anxious parents of gymnast Aly Raisman were quite a sight - they squirmed, they grimaced, they swayed from side to side as if to guide her through her routine.

In near-unison, parents Ricky and Lynn Raisman seemed to will their teenager to “stick it” -  her landing off the uneven bars, that is - and her proud dad rose to his feet and pumped his fist at the end. That's when the couple finally seemed to breathe again.

Watch the video from NBC Olympics

While there’s no bigger stage than one decorated with the Olympic rings, any parent who has rooted for a child to make the goal, nail the pirouette or strike out the batter can relate to the anxiety of watching a child compete. Commenters on sites like Gawker and Buzzfeed are debating whether the Raismans are awesome, crazy, or some combination of the two. But many TODAY Moms said they totally relate. 

“It’s IMPOSSIBLE to sit quiet and just watch,” Melinda Hunt, whose nephew runs track, wrote on the TODAY Moms Facebook page. “Sometimes I think we think that if we yell a bit louder, cheer harder, and coach him from the sidelines that it’ll somehow make him run faster in the track!!”

“You know they’ve worked so hard to get to the BIG moment, you just want them to be victorious!!!” she added.

Lydia Arnesen Seabron knows the feeling too. “Absolutely, it’s very hard to sit still and even harder not to yell instructions,” she wrote on the Facebook page.

Watching your son or daughter in a competition or game can be both joyful and difficult, says psychiatrist and TODAY contributor Dr. Gail Saltz.

After so much preparation, sending your kids out to perform, whether it’s on the playing field or even taking the SATs, isn’t easy for parents. After all of the support you’ve provided, there’s nothing left to do but watch and cheer.

“You may have driven them to all the practices and done everything you can do as a parent, but in that moment ... you can’t compete,” Saltz said. “It’s not your competition, so you’re helpless at that moment.

“It’s very hard,” she said. “You’re sitting there with tremendous anxiety on behalf of your child and you can’t do anything.”

What the Raismans displayed appeared to be a combination of excitement and anxiety, Saltz said, an unconscious reaction to watching their child in such a high-stakes competition.

“You could almost see the physical ‘I want to be able to be doing it for her,’” Saltz said of the parents’ movements.

While getting nervous may be normal, it's not necessarily healthy for your child to see. Saltz recommends not sharing those jitters with your little athletes before the game because that just adds to the pressure they may be already feeling. “It will burden them,” she said. “Being overly anxious will undo not only you, but your child too.”

If you get nervous during the games, she recommends talking with reasonable parents who are not overly involved, so you don’t feel alone. You can exercise before your child's competition to blow off steam, or shake off game-time worries by doing some deep breathing from the stands.

While some people poked fun at the Raismans’ seemingly eccentric behavior, others saw only good.

“I wish that when I was growing up that my parents had that degree of interest in what I was doing,” Sonya Kuykendall wrote on the TODAY Moms Facebook page. “I think it’s very precious.”

Watch video from NBC Olympics: Aly Raisman's parents react

Go for the parenting gold with these TODAY Moms stories:

Why we love Jennifer Garner's "mom" bathing suit

Future Olympians? Your cute kids play summer sports

Meet the Disney guard who makes little princesses' dreams come true