Are you an active parent who would like to help your kids increase peak performance?
Now, before we move forward, we should probably define ‘peak performance.’
Peak performance is, essentially, the moment that an individual is performing at the maximum of their ability, when everything comes together and they achieve an exceptional performance.
It’s characterized by feelings of confidence and being totally focused and immersed in an activity or task.
The question is: how can you be an active parent and how can you increase your kids’ peak performance (without acting like a helicopter parent)?
While it’s often associated with athletic performance, it doesn’t have to be. You can aim for peak performance in all areas of your life.
That said, if you’re a parent and you want to help your child achieve peak performance, without overparenting and becoming a helicopter parent, there are some steps you can take.
Here are the 6 strategies we have identified to help you, as an active parent, increase your kids’ peak performance.
Teach Kids to Tolerate Stress and Anxiety
Stress has gotten a bad reputation over the years.
We sometimes forget that a certain amount of stress is actually a good thing, especially in achievement. Stress helps to keep us alert and motivated.
However, the goal is to keep stress at a level that improves performance… and keep it from reaching a level where it completely overwhelms the child.
So learning to manage stress and keep it at levels that optimize performance is a key first step to helping kids achieve peak performance.
That’s why it’s so important to share with them the necessary tools to face their fears.
According to Maureen Neihart, a psychologist and leading authority on talent development in children, the most basic stress management skill is controlled breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing. She explains parents should instruct their kids to sit in a chair with a hand on their belly and another on their chest, paying attention to the movement of their hands as they breathe normally for 15 seconds.
“Tell them to leave their hands on their chest and abdomen and concentrate on breathing so that their lower hand rises and falls noticeably. Their belly should move out when they breathe in because the diaphragm is opening the chest cavity, and their belly should move in when they exhale because the diaphragm is tightening and squeezing the air out of their lungs.”
This breathing technique works incredibly well to calm down a child (or anyone for that matter) before a performance.
Teach Kids to Relax Under Pressure
While it may surprise you, relaxation is a key ingredient for peak performance.
Think about it: if you’re focused but tense, your tension can still cause you to make mistakes. Focused relaxation allows for better concentration, which means a better outcome.
One of the best methods for learning to relax is a technique called progressive muscle relaxation.
It works by alternately tensing and relaxing major muscle groups from top to bottom. Tense your muscles for a full five seconds before relaxing them for 10-15.
You often see this technique at the beginning of a guided meditation. The major muscle groups include the forehead, eyes, jaws, neck, shoulders, upper back, biceps, forearms, hands, abdomen, groin, legs, hips, thighs, glutes, calves, and feet.
The biggest mistakes people make are skipping some of the muscle groups or shortening the exercise. It does take time. However, it’s important to progressively relax all the muscle groups since you don’t know where your kids carry the most tension. For example, if you were to skip the back, not realizing that’s where your child carried tension, that could negatively impact performance.
Also keep in mind that this relaxation technique takes practice but that if they keep at it, they will see immense benefits over time.
Get Your Child Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
Your child’s greatest accomplishments and moments of growth occur when he or she gets outside of the comfort zone.
Think about it, if school work is easy for them, they don’t learn organizational skills and instead leave work until the last minute. They don’t learn effective study habits because they don’t have to work for their grades. They also don’t learn to cope with failure and disappointment.
Growth doesn’t happen when we stick with what we know and what we’re good at. Growth happens when we push ourselves.
Hence the importance of being okay getting outside of the comfort zone.
Neihart points out, “A critical step in empowering talented children to reach and realize their potential is to teach them the importance of working at the edge of competence and encouraging them to take the steps that keep them there.”
She goes on to add, “Learning to take realistic risks increases our confidence about what we can do, and our sense of self-control. Risk taking also helps develop those strategies for managing anxieties and overcoming fears.”
According to Neihart, there are five categories of risk:
- physical, and
- moral or spiritual
Intellectual risks test the limits of your thinking. Social risks involve other people and possibly open up fears about what other people think of you. Emotional risk involves being honest with your own feelings. Physical risks, obviously, involve anything physical but could be something as small as opening your eyes underwater. Moral or spiritual risks involve our convictions, like standing up to someone or speaking up, despite the cost.
Encourage your kids to rank the categories on a scale of 1-5 based on the level of difficulty those risks are for them. When you’re done, discuss the outcomes (they may surprise you!) and ask them to come up with a specific set of risks they would like to try that are associated with one category (focus on risks within just one category at a time).
Another approach would be to try what Spanx founder Sara Blakely’s dad did for his kids. Every week he asked how they had failed and then celebrated their failures. By encouraging them to fail, he was encouraging them to try new things. In this way, he normalized failure and made it less scary.
Teach the ABCs of Goal Setting
Parents can work with kids to set goals. But the key is, while it is a collaborative effort, they must be the kids’ goals! If parents set goals for their kids, they become part of the parents’ dream, not the kids’.
As you’re setting goals, make sure that they follow the ABC’s: achievable, believable, and committed.
While goals should be challenging, they also need to be within the child’s ability. If it’s too easy, it will be accomplished with very little effort (which means the child will learn very little about pushing him- or herself). If the goal is too hard, they won’t see any progress and will lose interest.
The goal should be believable. In other words, the kid needs to see how this goal will help them get to where they want to be. They need to believe it.
And finally, they need to be committed to seeing it through. They won’t see the results they want unless they take consistent action.
Also, make sure that the goals are process goals and not outcome goals.
An outcome goal could be to win at a game. However, that isn’t necessarily in the control of the athlete if he or she is playing a team sport. The process goal defines what the athlete needs to aspire to in order to be successful.
The other benefit of process goals is that they can help reduce an overwhelming goal into something more manageable.
For example, if your main objective is to lose weight, you could set process goals around the amount of water you want to drink per day, the amount of physical activity you want to get, and the number of calories you want to consume. The process goals will get you the results you want, but in a far less overwhelming manner than focusing on the “big goal.”
Implement Good Habits
Anyone who is an elite achiever will tell you that they do more than just practice their craft to stay top of their game.
For his podcast, Tim Ferriss interviews world-class performers in business, investing, sports, entertainment, etc., to extract the tactics, tools and routines they use. And while everyone is different, the vast majority of those individuals make their health and wellness a priority.
It’s no different for kids.
For your children to reach peak performance, they need to maintain good sleeping habits, eating habits, and exercise routines that will enhance their performance at whatever they’re aspiring to achieve. Think of it as fuel for their brain.
Many kids eat too little protein and too much sugar, which promotes stress reactions that can lead to chronically elevated levels of the stress hormones. This means kids need to start their day with a serving of protein (not just a bowl full of sugary cereal). It also means they need to aim for three balanced meals a day (not just cramming a full day’s worth of calories into one or even two meals).
If your child wants to fine tune his or her diet for peak performance, you can start by helping him or her track energy levels through the day. When do they notice a drop in energy? What did they eat leading up to that?
Encourage them to make one small tweak each week and see how their energy changes as a result of those modifications in diet.
Something else that’s incredibly important: sleep.
Elite performers make sleep an integral part of their routine.
The ability to focus and react quickly is closely tied to sleep. Elite performers recognize this and are highly committed to sleep.
Research suggests that sleep helps the brain repair itself from daily stress, create new nerve cells and improve memory.
In order to get a more restful night’s sleep, try implementing a bedtime routine. Avoid late night snacking and turn off technology (both television and smartphones) an hour before sleep to relax the brain.
Teach (And Model) Realistic Optimism
I think most of us would agree that if you’re expecting to fail at something, you probably will. Some call it the Law of Attraction, others self-fulfilling prophesy, but the fact remains that an optimistic attitude can take you far.
So how can you teach your kids to have realistic optimism?
Well the first, and easiest, method is to simply model that behavior. Be aware of what you’re saying to your kids about your own life and how you react to them.
When they’re dealing with setbacks, help them to better cope by considering all the possibilities that the failure occurred.
They didn’t do well on a test? Did they study enough? Did they study the right material? Did they get poor sleep the night before?
Optimists accept the setback as a learning opportunity and move forward.
Neihart points out, “Only the mediocre are at their best 100% of the time. If achievers expect to give their absolute best every time, then when the results are not as they imagined, they may think they are not as good as they thought they were. This distorted perception can, in turn, subtly contribute to a change in their work habits and effort.”
The Most Important Factor: Love of the Thing
In order for a child to achieve peak performance at anything, he or she has to love it. Because without that love, that child won’t have the level of commitment and the drive to keep going, to alter his or her lifestyle to be better and to keep going through the setbacks.
They have to WANT to achieve peak performance. You, Mom and Dad, can’t make them want it.
That has to come from an internal drive. A love of the thing.
Encourage your child to pursue his or her interest. Fan those flames of passion.
But also, be aware that those flames may die down as interests change. And you need to be willing to let it go in the event that their interests change.
Summary of How to be an Active Parent and Increase Peak Performance
There’s no doubt that we all want our children to excel and increase their peak performance. But how can you, through Active Parenting, help them accomplish that task. Here is a recap of the strategy you can use with your own kids.
- Teach Kids to Tolerate Stress and Anxiety
- Teach Kids to Relax Under Pressure
- Get Your Child Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
- Teach the ABCs of Goal Setting
- Implement Good Habits
- Teach (And Model) Realistic Optimism
- The Most Important Factor: Love of the Thing
Have you tried any of these strategies with your own kids? Did they notice an increase in performance? Let us know in the comments below!