Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham
I believe our children experience more pressure to perform in their sports and academics today than we did. We didn’t have many club teams and most sports in my area were through school. We knew who the natural athletes were and they weren’t taking private lessons to get better. It was also common for kids to try a number of different sports. Today, kids are specializing in single sports at younger and younger ages. Even college recruiting has started earlier, too.
We want our kids to get accepted into great schools. The pressure for high grades and SAT scores means that many hire private tutors, college admissions experts and our kids lose sleep. Did you know that UCLA received more than 102,000 applications last year and accepted only one out of six? Harvard had a record-breaking 42,747 applicants and they admitted a little over 2,000. Add that pressure to hoping for a scholarship and it’s no wonder we’re witnessing epidemic anxiety and depression in our youth.
What can we do to help our children with performance pressure?
Be there for them.
Offering unconditional love is the best thing we can do. When they know we love them no matter what, it alleviates some pressure. Yes, we want what’s best for them, and we want them to give it their all, but even if they fail, we still love them. When they’re away at college and something negative happens, we want them to be comfortable reaching out to us.
When we see our kids trying hard, we need to tell them we’ve noticed. In a sport like swimming, where the stopwatch doesn’t lie, it’s almost impossible not to focus on performance. But, according to many experts, if we praise our kids strictly for their performance and not the hard work they put in, we can add to the pressure they feel. They may believe they’re never good enough to please us.
Don’t add to their pressure.
Sometimes we can make our kids feel pressure by comparing them to other swimmers. Or, maybe it’s just us displaying some unfortunate body language at a meet. They will pick up on nonverbal cues. We may be feeling bad for them, but they’ll interpret it as us being disappointed in them instead.
Provide a calm and supportive atmosphere.
If you’re an anxious person or get nervous watching your kids swim at meets, they may get nervous, too. If we can try to be calm and create a supportive atmosphere, we’re already getting rid of some of their performance pressure. Making our kids laugh can ease tensions, too.
I’ve learned the last few years to just listen. When our kids tell us about a problem, they may not want us to offer solutions. Instead of problem-solving, they may want to rant and then they’ll feel better. Listen and watch how they will open up more.
How do you help your child with performance pressure?
Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.