I was explaining to a young child I was working with about the value of practicing the skills we were discussing to manage his anxiety. The father of this child happened to be in the room and said something rather profound. He said to his son, “It’s just like when you play in a football game. You can’t practice skills in the middle of the game.”.
This father understood exactly what I was trying to teach. When we are faced with stressful situations, we rarely respond in a well thought out way. We are usually in reaction mode with the thinking part of our brain going on autopilot..
This is why professional athletes practice skills over and over and over so when they are faced with a game situation, they are able to react with confidence. This is because the skills they have learned have been drilled to the point that they rarely think about them..
When I am teaching new skills to my clients, I tell them that they must practice these skills not in the middle of a stressful situation, but when they are calm and likely not even needing at the moment the skill they are practicing. It is only with this repetition that the foundation for these skills is built..
Now this is not always easy to do especially with kids. I encourage parents I am working with to think like a coach. Coaches often during practice help the children drill the skills needed to be a better athlete, artist, cheerleader etc..
Parents should expect to practice frequently with their children the skills necessary to help their child to be more successful. There needs to be lots of grace to allow mistakes to happen during practice because that’s exactly what practice is for-- doing things imperfectly for some time until the skill or habit is mastered. Too many parents expect their child to exhibit the skill after just a handful of practice opportunities. That is not the way skills are improved..
Make it a point to regularly practice with your child the skills they need to better manage their life. This could mean practicing diaphragmatic breathing with them on a regular basis. It might be helping them say things in a more assertive manner..
Whatever the situation, be sure to model the skill first and then have the child practice the skill over time until they become more proficient at it. It is only then that they will be able to access these skills particularly in more stressful moments when they are having to react rather than think through the situation..
Help make your child ready for that moment..