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How to talk to your kids about the playoffs in Washington

Capitals fans react to a call by officials during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Sports, in theory, are so wonderful because of their suspense. Feats unexpected and unimaginable are accomplished every single day. Postseason and championship rounds heighten the tension even more.

Then there are the professional teams in Washington, specifically its basketball and hockey franchises, which do not abide by the principle of thrilling suspense. Instead, they lure you in, what with their adorable regional pride and hopeful optimism, and then spit you out with postseason underachievement so consistent that it’s almost cliche.

Here: The Washington Post ran almost the same headline in 2016 and 2018 as the Capitals struggled to survive the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, only to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round both times.

The Wizards missed the playoffs two years ago. Now they’re teetering on the verge of elimination against the Toronto Raptors, down three games to two, in what could be another early playoff exit, yielding another round of tears from D.C.’s biggest (and most naive) sports fans: children.

Consider the following: A child born on this date in 2000 — now an 18-year-old — has never seen the Caps, Nats, Redskins or Wizards advance past the second round of the playoffs.

“Certainly as a Browns fan, I can appreciate the day-in-and-day-out sense of disappointment, but it also teaches resiliency,” said Steve Graef, a sports psychologist at Ohio State University.

Is this a dream? Capitals and Wizards have combined for six straight playoff wins

We asked him and Antonia Baum, a psychiatrist in private practice in Bethesda, how to talk to your kids about the stress (and inevitable disappointment) that comes with the postseason in D.C. It all starts with modeling good behavior as a parent or role model, they said. If the Wizards can walk off the court and go home at the end of the night, if the Capitals can shake hands with the winning team after an unsuccessful series, other adults have it in them to keep it together, too.

“A child takes their cues from the adults that mentor them in their lives,” Baum said. “If [sports] becomes overly important to the role models in their live — if they get depressed, instead of seeing humor in it or moving on — that could be an issue.”

“If you’re throwing things and putting holes in the wall because the Bills lose,” Graef said, “at some point, that’s not adult behavior.”

If children are sad or frustrated, keep your cool and ask how they’re feeling, Graef said. Giving them a chance to explain themselves is a good way to calm them down.

Ask questions about the team’s play, Baum suggested, such as: “What would you do to fix the team?” or “What could they do better next time?”

That could spark great discussion fodder at a family meal, Baum said. That, in turn, promotes problem solving and provides a place for kids to talk about their emotions.

Finally, through any conversation about rooting disappointment, remind kids to keep things in perspective. It’s not fun consistently telling a child “it’s just a game,” but that’s important, Baum said, for their long-term view of physical activity. Playing sports should be lifestyle choices because of the character traits they help build, and because of the positive health benefits of remaining active.

Rioting in the case of losses, or greasing light poles in the event of wins (looking at you, Philadelphia), teaches kids that sports are all-or-nothing activities, not pastimes they can participate in their whole lives.

“If [parents] are teaching their kids the right values about sports, it really shouldn’t matter who wins or who loses,” Baum said. “But try telling that to a fan.”

More from The Post:

No doubt: Capitals’ Braden Holtby kept his confidence amid a season of struggles

‘We’re actually quite excited about it’: Caps want their Cup quest to go through Pittsburgh

Dan Steinberg: Well, the Caps sucked me in again. I should know better, but I guess I don’t.

Capitals vs. Penguins: A landscape of pain and agony

Wizards go cold in fourth quarter, drop pivotal Game 5 to Raptors, 108-98