What kinds of thoughts go through a child’s mind when they are dealing with extreme pressure and anxiety? Why are some children more resilient than others? How can we help a child become mentally stronger?

Note: For those of you who missed it, this is an article I wrote for the Fall supplement of "Kids Connection" in the Kelowna Daily Courier.

Success in life has a lot to do with how we react to the challenges that are presented to us. Whether it’s dealing with a bully, an illness, or simply trying to make the school’s basketball team, the skill of learning how to react and handle pressure in a productive manner is priceless.

Let’s take an example from sports where Sport and Performance Psychologists, Dr. David Fletcher and Mustafa Sarkar, studied twelve Olympic champions. Even though these athletes experienced extreme stress during the Olympics, they dealt with the pressure and went on to win gold medals in nine different sports. How did they do it?

According to Mustafa Sarkar, “Athletes must learn to develop and maintain a very specific combination of psychological strategies and attributes to enable them to perform at their best and win in Olympic competition.”

So what are the key psychological strategies and attributes? Fletcher and Sarkar discovered that each athlete shared five qualities that contributed to their success.

  1. A Positive Personality
  2. Motivation
  3. Confidence
  4. Focus
  5. Perceived Social Support

It seems simple but let’s dig a little deeper. All five points are directly related to the way we “think.” Psychologist Martin Seligman conducted a test with Olympic swimmers and found that their thoughts significantly impacted their performance. First, the swimmers had to compete against each other. Afterwards, they were falsely told that they had done poorly but then given a second chance to improve their times. The Olympic athletes that remained optimistic swam very well. The ones who were discouraged swam poorly because they allowed doubt to enter their minds. This example demonstrates a direct connection between thoughts and performance and makes one realize the importance of being able to manage daily thoughts. If a single thought can impact a highly trained professional to this degree, imagine the potential of helping a child manage their thoughts and emotions.

It‘s also a well-known fact that Tiger Woods success is his ability to have intense focus. This didn’t just happen overnight. Over the years, Tiger was taught how to block out all distractions with the help of a Mental Coach. "It's all mental discipline and Tiger worked hard to master it at an early age,” says Jay Brunza (Tiger’s Mental Coach.) Now wouldn’t that have been helpful if as children we had the opportunity to learn from a mental coach!

And let’s not forget social support. Creating a support team, our own cheerleading squad, can help a child increase their confidence, resiliency, and success ratio.

Whether the goal is to be an athlete, deal with an illness, handle a bully, or bounce back from a setback, mental strength is a valuable and much needed card in the game of life. “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” Michael Jordan

The Magic of Think® uses stories, songs, games, lessons, and activities to help children build mental strength and “think.” www.themagicofthink.com

Janyse Jaud is an award-winning singer/songwriter, voiceover actress, author, and thinkologist working with clients such as Hasbro, Warner Bros., Marvel, Discovery, and The Cartoon Network. www.themagicofthink.com

Reference:Sport Psychology Today, Mustafa Sarkar, October 2012, http://www.sportpsychologytoday.com/sport-psychology-for-coaches/mental-toughness-makes-olympic-champions/