4 ways you can help give your kids an edge in life

Women college students working on robotics

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If you want to give your kids an edge in life, teach them to perform under pressure.

Helping them learn how to do their best even in the face of stress will be more helpful than giving them an SAT tutor, tennis lessons, or sending them to Europe to broaden their cultural awareness.

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 book, Performing Under Pressure.

Four ways to teach your kids to perform 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 apt 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.

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, reported college students are under more pressure today than ever before to the point that university counseling centers are being overwhelmed by students seeking help.

Handling pressure gives 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 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.
1. Befriend the moment

Perceiving a pressure moment as threatening — a do or die situation — undermines self-confidence, elicits fear of failure, impairs attention, short-term memory and 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 — “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.

2. 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 apt 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.

Teens or college students with a science project
Photo by monkeybusiness/Envato
3. Write off pressure

It’s the night before your daughter’s audition, son’s big game, or SATs and they’re 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.

4. 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.

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

Hendrie Weisinger, PhD

Hendrie Weisinger, PhD

Hendrie Weisinger, PhD is a world-renowned psychologist, pioneer in the field of pressure management, the originator of criticism training, and the author of two New York Times bestselling books. including Performing Under Pressure: The Science Of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most. He has consulted with and developed programs for dozens of Fortune 500 Companies and government agencies and has taught in Executive Education and Executive MBA programs at Wharton, UCLA, NYU, Cornell, Penn State and MIT. For more information, visit hankweisingerphd.com, and see more of his work here.

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