How to Help Kids Through Stress and High Expectations
Ryan Colby, a mental health specialist for athletes, has seen a big jump in the number of kids experiencing anxiety and depression during the pandemic—and that includes sports kids who were already feeling pressure. Kids are also struggling with identity issues if they’ve invested a lot in their sport and aren’t competing.
“I’m seeing crazy spikes in anxiety and depression,” he told us on our latest Ultimate Sports Parent podcast.
Athletes are often put on pedestals, which means they feel increased pressure to meet others’ high expectations. That creates pressure, and can lead to anxiety and depression if the athletes don’t meet these expectations, he said.
“When kids are on a pedestal, it takes the stresses we already have and intensifies them,” said Colby.
In addition, shortened seasons or an unexpected end to their sports careers add to kids’ mental health issues and lead to identity struggles.
“Often, kids’ identities are based on sports. When the opportunity to play sports is taken away, they often grapple with identity issues,” Colby said. “If they’re removed from something that has brought value and meaning and purpose, losing it can bring up questions like ‘Who am I if I’m not competing?’”
For example, athletes in their last year of high school may not be able to participate in sports during their final season. If they don’t expect to play sports beyond high school, it’s a sudden end to an activity they may have invested in for many years.
Parents can help sports kids dealing with identity issues by encouraging them to seek out a broader range of activities and interests.
Those interests might include art, music, reading or volunteering, for example.
Parents can help kids cope with depression and anxiety by seeking out help for them. At home, parents can encourage kids to get enough sleep.
“Adolescents need eight to nine hours of sleep. Adults need seven to eight hours. If they’re getting less than six hours, they’ll experience cognitive dysfunction,” he said.
Eating well is also important. Kids need to stay hydrated and avoid eating sugar. And even if sports kids aren’t playing sports right now, it’s still important to get exercise, said Colby.
If young athletes are playing sports right now, parents should be positive. Tell kids you love watching them play.
If they decided to move from soccer to ceramics, parents should be supportive.
“Simply taking joy in watching them and expressing that is important,” said Colby.
Listen to the entire interview with Colby:
Help Your Kids Improve Mental Toughness
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