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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 November 18, 2020

15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

  1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
  2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
  3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
  4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
  5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
  6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
  7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
  8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
  9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
  10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
  11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
  12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
  13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
  14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
  15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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