Mental Skills for Parents

Hello everyone.  I’m Coach Sara with Complete Performance Coaching, and today we are going to be talking about mental skills for parents.  This is such an important topic always, but I think especially right now with everything we have going on.

Often times with these lives, our blogs, and trainings, we’re talking directly to and about our athletes.  But we can’t forget the parents.  I am a parent myself, and I don’t know about all of you, but these last eight weeks have been a roller coaster ride.  I am a work from home parent, and in some ways, some of the changes we’ve experienced felt like a smooth transition because I was already working from home.  However, as time progressed and we started to realize, “Wow, this is going to be lasting for a while and there’s so much we don’t know.  This new normal is just so far from normal, the one we’ve been experiencing the last eight weeks and what’s to come.”

Managing the Chaos

It’s felt like a lot as a parent, and when you add in things like virtually participating in sports.  My son does jujitsu from home and it’s often just chaotic because that’s not what they’re used to.  For our gymnast, well, you can really do a lot of training at home if you have a trampoline.  That’s fantastic.  Maybe you have an air track or other options, but this virtual participating is not what we or our kids were expecting.  Then if you had homeschooling into that, it’s just a lot for parents.
So, I wanted to take some time today to share some of the mental skills that I’ve been using through this time that I think can really be helpful for you.  I’m really thankful that I’ve worked on these skills for a long time.  Now they’re rock-solid and right there when I need them.  Parents, if you’ve never tried these ideas before, they might not feel like they work. They might not feel like they’re super helpful, but I want to encourage you to keep trying.  That’s what we say to our athletes.
These are skills that we want you to have to develop new habits.  Remember to give yourself some grace as you start to work on them.  If you do need some help with these skills and tips, check-in with your athletes who’ve been working with our coaches and in our community because these are the same things that we talk to them about.

1. Breathing

Take a deep breath.  Deep breathing can help manage emotions and handle stress.  Deep breathing can make the difference between a full-on freakout and keeping your cool.  Now, one breath might not take you from, “I’m about to freak out” to, “I’m calm, zen, and peaceful.”  It is taking multiple, deep breaths and managing your emotions along the way.

Allow Time to Respond

Really deep breathing can be such a powerful tool.  Even if you start to get into the habit of, “I’m starting to get stressed out.  My kid has not done their assignment after asking for the 10th time.”  Take a deep breath, or two, or three.  This will give you time so you can break between what you’re feeling and how you want to react.  It also gives you time to respond.  It gives you time to cool down.  You’re oxygenating your body, you’re slowing down your heart rate and your breathing.
Your heart rate will tend to spike when you’re getting stressed out or worked up, and your breathing will tend to get more shallow.  Deep breath oxygenates your body.  It helps to regulate your breathing.  So you’re slowing down your breathing, you’re slowing down your heart rate.

Getting Triggered

For many of us, we get triggered.  There’s something that sets us off.  We go a little bit into panic mode, that fight, flight or freeze, and again, our breathing changes, our heart rate changes.  If you’re taking some time to deep breathe when you notice that happening, it can really help you step into the next moment in a calmer and cooler way.  That can do wonders for what happens next with your kids.

Adding to Your Routine

It’s really helpful to start your day with some deep breaths to get you in the right frame of mind and the right mood, especially as you go into what you know can be stressful or tense times.  An example would be getting ready for school.  If you know you get some pushback and you tend to get amped up, do some deep breathing.

Mentally Prepare

If you know you have a Zoom call or need to get some work done, but your kids tend to interrupt and then you get triggered, take some deep breaths before you start to mentally prepare for that.  Breathe as you think to yourself, “You know what?  I might get interrupted, but it will be okay.  We’ll get through it.”  Then if the interruption occurs, take a deep breath before you respond.  Deep breaths can help separate yourself from the reaction, calm you down, and help you feel more grounded and centered.
Take a look at ways you can add some deep breathing into those stressful moments, but also add in breathing throughout the day.  It will help your body get a little more familiar with and comfortable with this idea that, “Oh, I do deep breathing and it helps me relax and calm down.”
If you find that you’re having trouble turning your mind off at the end of the day, which I know is a lot of us because we’re thinking, “Oh, finally.  No kids, no responsibilities, I can go to sleep,” but then your mind starts going off.  Deep breathing and focusing on that can help you calm down and get to sleep.

2. Shifting Negative Thoughts

My second strategy is to pay attention to the way you’re thinking and shift those unhelpful thoughts.  It’s normal, in general, to have some or many negative thoughts.  I think right now it’s very normal to have negative thoughts, to have concerns, particularly about your kids – “They’re not trying hard enough, they’re not doing enough, they’re not listening.”
You may have negative thoughts about yourself.  “I can’t do this.  I hate homeschooling.  I’m letting them watch too much TV.”  Or you have negative thoughts about the situation in general.  “When is this going to end?  What is it going to look like?”  There are so many unknowns.  This is really scary.  It’s normal in general, but especially right now, to have a lot of negative, overwhelming, or just unhelpful thoughts.  But you don’t have to continue thinking this way.  You can work on creating some new and more helpful patterns.

Negative to Positive or Neutral

What I do, and what I want you to try and do, is when you notice these thoughts, start with that deep breath.  When you have that negative thought, breathe.  Then think about something else and make a point to shift your attention to something else.  Find a positive take on the situation.  You can say, “Well, they’re watching less TV than they did yesterday,” or, “Well, they’re watching a lot of TV, but they got all their work done, so it’s okay,” or, “I’m doing my best right now and screen time is okay.”

Gratitude

You’ve shifted your thought to something that’s more helpful.  Focusing on something you have to be grateful for can also be really helpful when you’re overwhelming yourself with these negative thoughts.  “I’m not doing well, I’m terrible at this homeschooling and they’re watching way too much TV.”  Shift that to, “You know what?  We’re all healthy right now and we get lots of time together.”  Distract yourself with a positive thought.  Shift to something to be grateful for.

Distraction

You can also simply distract yourself with something else.  Turn on some music as an external distraction.  Read a book as an external distraction.  Or, think about the next thing you need to do that day as a shift to a more internal distraction.  The more you practice shifting away from those negative and unhelpful thoughts to positive and helpful, or maybe even just neutral things like, “Where’s my cup of coffee?  What’s for lunch?” You’re strengthening that neural pathway, and you’re going to become better and better at it.

Get Support

Again, it’s normal to expect that at this point, we’re all going to feel a bit down or overwhelmed or uncertain.  If you need extra support with that, absolutely reach out to your partner.  Connect with a mental health specialist.  Get more support, but know that some of that negative thinking is normal at this point, and you can train yourself to be shifting away from those.

3. Take Time for Yourself

I know this can feel hard when some of you are still very much at home with your family members and it feels like you’re always together and you’re grateful for that.  But it doesn’t allow for a lot of time for yourself. Your mental health as a parent is so important.  How you think, how you feel, and how you behave will impact others around you.  You might already know that and sometimes you start to realize how much you actually affect other people.
So whether you’re still working from home or you don’t work in your home with your kids or you’re back to work, you’re likely still spending a lot of time with your family, which we know is fantastic, but it’s also a lot.  It’s likely you don’t have your usual outlets.  I know we’re all around the country, so some places are opening up.  You can get out and see other people, you can go back into restaurants.  Whether or not that’s your comfort level, that’s up to you, but we still don’t have access to the many ways that we took care of ourselves.
You’re probably missing your gym, your parent friends that you see at drop off or grab that cup of coffee or grab a quick meal while your kids are in training.  We don’t have these usual ways that we take time for ourselves, so make sure that you do that.  It will look different right now than it used to but look for creative ways.  Whether it’s taking a break and you and your partner trade off or you let your kids watch a little bit more screen time because it allows you to go outside and drink that cup of coffee hot and get some time on your own.

Local Resources

Look into your local library (library cards are free).  Many of them have apps on your phones or that you can use on your computer to download, eBooks, audiobooks, magazines – there are so many great resources that you can utilize from home.  Download an app like Headspace or Calm so you can do some guided meditation.  Get out of the house for a walk.  Even if it’s with your kids, have them walk a little bit in front of you where you can keep an eye, make sure your social distancing, but you just get a little space for yourself.  My husband and I switch off bedtime with our kids.  We have young kids who still need us at bedtime, but it’s been really nice.  We started this once shelter in place happened.  He has a night and then I have a night so when dinner and that stuff is done, I have some time to myself and then he has some time to himself.  Think creatively about how you can still just get a little space from all of this.

4. Lower Your Expectations

I’ll be honest, this is a hard one for me.  I tend to have high expectations of myself and others in a number of situations, but I’ve realized, and I have to continually remind myself, that this is not a normal time.  Even as we move to our next phase and our new normal, this is still not our usual normal.  Even though we’re home and there’s lots of time and we should be able to get all this schoolwork done and my kids should be able to do jujitsu from home, it’s only 30 minutes and we have mats in the garage.  You know what?  Get those shoulds out of there.
He might not be able to do that right now.  It’s not the best way to learn.  He’s going from being in a room of 30 kids where it’s fun and it’s social.  He’s going from coaches who are right there talking to him and interacting to now being with his brother in a smallish space, trying his best.  So I get frustrated when I have the same expectations I used to.  Even if I just lower them a little, sometimes we just need to drop those expectations for ourselves.  For others, you can still expect certain things, right?  That we respect each other, that our house doesn’t become a complete disaster day in and day out.  Ours was a disaster for about a week and I just got some headway on that and the last couple of days. But we need to lower our expectations, give ourselves some grace, and give others grace.
I know that’s hard for parents.  We expect a lot of ourselves and of our kids.  A lot of our athletes to have high expectations for themselves.  I think if we can model lowering our expectations, that will help our kids feel a little more comfortable with that too.

Mental Toughness in Life and in Sport

So mental toughness comes into play not only in the gym, but in life.  These ideas are not just for our kids, but for ourselves.  I got my master’s degree in sports psychology starting in 2004 and finished in 2006.  I learned these skills many, many years ago, and have used them since that time.  There are times where I still struggle.
If you have not tried any of these ideas, again, give yourself some grace, some flexibility.  Simply try it, see how it goes.  If you need help, talk to your kids.  They’ve been learning a lot of these skills as well. Check-in –  how has it been going for them?  They can teach you a thing or two, maybe by using them you can help them troubleshoot.

Keep Working Those Skills

While a lot of our athletes are still out of the gym, this is a really great time to be working on mental skills. We have an elite training program and other options for you.  If you do want to use this time to work on mental skills for your kids, let us know.  We’re here to support.  Click here for a free, 30-minute consultation call to get started with a plan that will work for you and your athlete.
And again, parents, you’re leading the ship on this thing.  I saw a shirt that says “I keep a really tiny shipwreck” which is sort of how I often feel these days.  We’re doing the best that we can, but our mental skills and our mental health can not be overlooked at this point in time.
I hope you have found these tips helpful.  I hope you all are doing well. You’re staying safe, you’re staying healthy, and that you’re taking care of yourselves and your family during this very strange and challenging and unprecedented time.  We look forward to when we get into our new normal, and then the newer normal and what that ultimately looks like.
Have a great day.

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