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Helping Your Kids Handle Pressure

Helping Your Kids Handle Pressure

Providing an SAT tutor, tennis and music lessons, or a trip to Europe to broaden cultural awareness are all frequent parental efforts to give their kids a life advantage. But none of these can compare to giving them the skills that will help them perform under pressure — it will give them the ultimate edge that will continually help them to advance themselves in life.

The fact is, most kids crumble under pressure — they perform below their capabilities when they want to do their best. I learned this truth while researching my latest NY Times Best Seller, Performing Under Pressure.

Whether it’s taking the SATs, auditioning for a school play, trying out for the tennis team, or having to play their guitar at a family gathering, pressure is likely to worsen your kid’s performance. Memory, attention, judgment, decision making, psychomotor skills are all downgraded when they are in a pressure moment— a situation in which they have something at stake and the outcome is dependent on their performance.

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And if your kids are in grade school or high school, their pressure moments are only going to increase. The APA Monitor, the flagship publication of the American Psychological Association recently reported that today’s college students are under more pressure today than ever before, to the point that university counseling centers are being overwhelmed by students seeking help.

Being able to handle pressure give your son or daughter life’s ultimate edge because it allows them to perform closest to their abilities, thus increasing their chances of success. Doing your best is no guarantee of success but for sure, if your kids can’t do their best in a pressure moment, they are disadvantaged. Teaching your kids to handle pressure gives them a mobile skill that they will be able to use throughout their life. Here are four proven tips to give them so they can do their best when it matters most.

Befriend the Moment

Perceiving a pressure moment as threatening – as a ‘do or die situation’ — undermines self- confidence, elicits fear of failure, impairs attention, short -term memory, judgment and spurs impulsive behavior. Teach your kids to think of their pressure moments as an opportunity, challenge, and fun. These words are inherent performance steroids and using them (eg. “The test is an opportunity to show off your knowledge; have fun at your audition”) will help your son or daughter approach the moment with a positive attitude.

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Second Chances

Adolescents and young children typically believe that a pressure moment is their only chance to prove themselves, and thus make the moment the “most important” of their lives; exaggerating the importance increases the pressure they are likely to experience. Teach your children to see their pressure moments—be it a test or sporting event—as just one of many opportunities that will come their way.

Write off Pressure

It’s the night before your daughter’s audition, son’s big game, or SATs and their worried — how can you help reduce their pressure feelings? Spare the pep talk. Instead instruct your son or daughter to write out his or her concerns. Worrying diminishes processing power in our brains. A wide body of research shows that writing about your concerns before a pressure moment diminishes worry thoughts, enabling your son or daughter to stay focused and do their best. Expressing their concerns in writing will also provide them (and you) with insights about their sources of pressure.

Anticipate, Anticipate, Anticipate

What if your guitar string breaks in the middle of your audition? What if the test is an essay instead of a multiple choice?  Most kids are thrown off course by the unexpected. Teach your kids to anticipate glitches and to mentally rehearse strategies for dealing with them. They will learn to be adaptive in pressure situations, and maintain their composure so they can do their best.

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Highlight Their Successes

Success is a great confidence booster. Get your kids in the habit of frequently “flashing back” to their successes, especially seconds before they need to deliver the goods. “I’ve done this many times” is a thought that once habituated, will help reduce the pressure of their moments. Pay attention to your child’s successes so you will have many examples to help him or her remember that they are competent individuals and that their best efforts can allow them to meet challenges more often than not.

Share Feelings

Are you kids afraid to tell you they feel pressure? Too many kids, especially adolescents and young adults keep their feelings of pressure to themselves. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that this is a poor way for them to cope and can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation.

Encourage your kids to share their feelings about the pressures they experience. Help them problem solve by validating their feelings, clarifying their thoughts, and providing options for how they can navigate their life effectively. High school and college kids are under pressure –competition is a major source of this pressure. Modeling and attitude based around the idea that you should “focus on doing your best, not beating the other guy” will give them skills in reducing the pressure they feel. Sharing your own feelings of pressure and how you deal with them will give them ideas about how to manage their own pressure: be a pressure management model.

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Pressure is an inherent part of life. The sooner you teach your kids how to perform under pressure, the sooner you’ll give them life’s ultimate edge.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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