Let's face it, we live in a pressure-filled world, and this is especially true for our kids. As they work towards their futures, the expectations from family and friends can increase the stakes of their endeavors, whether it be their performance in sports or in class.

Physiological Consequence of Pressure

Unfortunately, this pressure to succeed can have the opposite effect and that can be detrimental on a person's performance, regardless of how talented or prepared they are. For our children, parental pressure and the scrutiny of their peers can make the situation even more difficult.

Scientists believe that there may be a physiological consequence of this pressure that decreases the brain's ability to maintain and utilize working memory. The ability to remember is centered in the region known as the prefrontal cortex, where the brain stores information that pertains to a specific task.

When worry or stress come into the picture, it becomes harder for the brain to utilize that information because the prefrontal cortex is over-burdened. This phenomenon is often referred to as, "choking under pressure."

Writing About It

For people who, like myself, buckle under pressure, research may have found that an effective way to reduce the negative impact of stress is to write about it. In a recent study published in the journal Science, researchers found that students who were susceptible to stress before their exams performed better on the tests when they were allowed to first write about their anxieties.

The process of putting their fears into words seemed to free up their brains to better accomplish the task at hand. The data supports previous research that determined that expressing oneself through writing is an effective way for people to cope with a traumatic or emotional experience. In the current findings, researchers wanted to see if those benefits could apply to the classroom, as well.

What Parents Can Do

While every parent has a strong desire to increase their child's chances for success, sometimes our obsession with the end result makes us forget that there is value in the journey.

Personally, having been pressed for success for most of my life, I can honestly say that focusing only on the end result often had the opposite effect on me, not always encouraging me to assert myself as much as I could.

It also made it all but impossible for me to enjoy what I was doing and, for that matter, really give much thought as to why I was doing it. As a result, I never took the time to consider all of my options and choose a path that might have been better suited for me.

It is important for children to have goals and to assert themselves to achieving them, but it's also important not to lose sight in the fact that in the process of working towards said goal, there are important lessons to be learned, especially when it comes to building character, regardless of whether or not the child succeeds.

With this in mind, here are some steps parents can take to help their kids have a healthier approach to success.

1. Be Supportive

Kids should know that you stand by them in whatever they are doing (within reason), and that your love for them is unconditional, regardless of the result of their efforts.

2. Teach Them to Enjoy the Process and to Focus Less on the End Result

When someone is having fun while working at something, they often do well at it, and at the very least, find the work rewarding and enjoyable, adding to their quality of life.

3. Help Them to Find What They Love

Take the time to really watch your kids and communicate with them in order to see what sort of activities they enjoy the most. When they have a passion for something, success (in some form or another) will often follow.

4. Build Their Self-Esteem

Part of discovering who they are is having the confidence and wherewithal to pursue their interests, and this stems from having the independence to be comfortable with who they are.

5. Encourage a Diverse Range of Interests

It is admirable when a young adult knows what they want and to pursue it with a passion, but for most kids, life is a long process of discovering who they are. By having many interests, kids stand a greater chance of finding a path that best suits them, which they can eventually focus on and take advantage of their strengths and interests.

The world will always be a pressure-filled, anxiety-ridden place, but that doesn't mean that a child's happiness and fulfillment has to hinge on their performance. Success is often a case of how a person defines it, and when the pressure to succeed leads to a child's disappointment, frustration, and even shame, then maybe it is a good time to stop and re-think things.

For more information about reducing your child's stress, visit the website for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

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