What is one word that you would use to describe how you feel about the first day of school?
Simple question right? Unimportant question maybe?
The answer to this question might be one of the most consequential and least examined for parents or for anyone who is in the position to influence young people.
For many children, the answer that most frequently comes into their mind when answering this question is nervousness, a word anchored by fear or anxiety. Makes sense, for many kids the first day of school is driven by a kind of hyper social appraisal: social appraisal being the emotions and thoughts we experience when we feel like we are being judged by others. In this case, it is the judgment of other kids, a new teacher, a new principle (or even a parent). ‘What will they think of me?’ ‘Will I fit in?’ That is a ton of fear and anxiety, after a relatively relaxing summer.
This is one of the most destructive parts of pressure and is one of the main reasons that pressure undermines performance at any age. Here is the thing: it doesn’t have to be this way. A first day or week of school offers an opportunity for you as an influencer of young people to start helping your kids reframe pressure: what it means, and by extension, is how it will affect them, both during this week but also for the rest of their lives.
So, here is what you want to focus on as you coach your kids this week: when they display signs of anxiety or fear, help them see beyond the word they are probably using to describe it, nervous, to a different word: excitement. This may seem obvious on the surface or even trite but it most assuredly is not. If you can help them label the physical sensations or emotions they are experiencing as a sign that there is something to be excited about versus nervous of, they will, with more repetition over an extended period of time, begin to associate these same physical sensations and associated emotions with excitement. This is what happens to the more experienced athletes we work with. Over time and with much intentional training, the same physical sensations and emotions of pressure (if they do the work!) gets linked to excitement and their body and mind respond differently to pressure. They reflexively ‘approach’ a pressure situation as opposed to avoid it and become passive.
It is the same with your kids and the ones you influence: over time, they will approach pressure with confidence as opposed to avoiding it. In other words, this first week of school is mental training for the rest of their lives.