Athletes are often asked and expected to perform at a high level in their sport while facing immense pressure. Take, for example, an Olympic athlete. After years of working hard toward one goal, part of their training includes handling the intense pressure of being in the spotlight. But it’s also true that people of all ages, skill levels, hobbies and professions who aren’t on a world stage feel the heat of performance pressure, too. Teaching kids constructive ways to handle pressure does wonders for performance and mental health.
When we start early, we can help kids develop the lifelong skills they need to talk themselves down when stressed, and focus on doing their best rather than aiming for perfection. Here are three ways to teach kids how to relax in the moment.
Mindfulness is a great strategy for coping with pressure, as it involves focusing on the present moment instead of our worrying thoughts. Learning to focus on our breath, and feelings in our bodies or our surroundings, can help kids “get out of their heads” and focus on the task at hand. Mindfulness is something that needs to be practiced daily in order to keep your skills fresh!
Relax your body.
Whether or not you’re an athlete, stress affects your body deeply, making your muscles tense. In a tough moment, try closing your eyes and scanning each part of your body from your toes to the top of your head. Practice diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) while focusing on relaxing areas of your body where you hold tension. Diaphragmatic breathing and muscle relaxation activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which drops our blood pressure and slows our pulse, renewing our energy supplies that were reduced during stress.
Reframe your thoughts.
In moments of intense pressure, we often catastrophize our thoughts: “I’m not good enough,” “I’ll never finish this,” “This is too hard for me.” Finding ways to make your inner voice work for instead of against you is easier than you might think. Help your child talk back to their negative thoughts by thinking of ways they have succeeded before, ways they’ve handled obstacles in the past, and reminding themselves of the hard work they’ve put in to prepare. When you first try this strategy, it might help to write positive affirmations on index cards and carry them with you.
On Our Sleeves (childrensdayton.org/onoursleeves) has created a list of conversation-starting questions to discuss pressure that we or our children feel daily. Take a look at the Pressure Conversation Starters to find a way that you and your family can have open conversations about handling pressure whenever it hits. Share how you are dealing with pressure on social media, using #OnOurSleeves, so we can see!