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Pressure and children
May 9, 2011
by Jenni Sebora

Pressure these days for our children to succeed in sports and other activities can be overwhelming for many children involved. Children are pressured by themselves or outside forces to be the best. Children attend sports practices at earlier ages, in greater quantities, and with more intensity.

Many children, at early ages, even focus on one sport because they need to dedicate their time and energy to be the best at that one sport, or they feel (or their authority figures feel) that they won’t be able to compete if they don’t.

Some children are perfectionists and that may be part of their personality. They always have to be the best and put pressure on themselves. This can lead to many issues and frustrations.

But, more often, it is outside figures who are pushing children. And the children want to please their parents, their coaches, and their leaders. We’ve all observed or heard firsthand or by television or newspaper about those little league parents/coaches who blow up on the court, field, or whatever the sport arena is, because of a referee’s call or because their team did not produce the results they wanted them to.

We know that sports, as well as other activities, can provide great benefits for our youth. Fun, friendship, camaraderie, teamwork, and fitness are just some of those benefits. And even some stress is really OK. We all have to learn how to deal with some stress in our lives. But, too much of it can cause harm and burnout.

It is important for us, as parents, to take an interest in our children’s activities. We should support and encourage our children. Pushing them too hard is not positive.

A child’s stress level can be increased by a parent’s embarrassing behavior. Loud, boisterous, boorish behavior by parents can end up increasing the stress so much that a child can be turned off to participating in activities. Parents may need to do a check of their own behaviors and remember that it is about their child, not them.

If your child gets nervous, there are some commonsense methods to help them relax. Your child can picture, in their mind, a quiet place or quiet experience they have had and imagine the stress leaving their body. Have your child try some deep breathing. In a quiet place, have them take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds and then slowly exhale. Repeat these four or five times.

As a last resort, it may be best for your child to take a break or remove themselves from the activity that is causing the stress for a while. Have your child play with with friends, go bike riding, or do something else that they really enjoy. You may find that a break from the stressful activity will give them the renewed interest in that activity.