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Stage Fright: How to Help Kids Overcome Performance Anxiety

You’ve witnessed your little one rehearse for days for his upcoming recital. They know their piece, the stage directions, and have practiced the end-of-show bow by heart. But just when you think they’re about to pull off their most monumental performance yet, they run back to you, hands cold and trembling, too frightened to perform.

It may be unsettling to see them cry and beg to stop the performance, but it doesn’t mean their dreams will never see the light of day. Even the most seasoned child performer experiences this. It’s normal and it has a name — stage fright.

The good news is there are several ways you can help your kid manage and overcome their stage fright so they can achieve their fullest potential. Learn more about performance anxiety and some effective ways to cope with it.

What Is Stage Fright?

When a person is afraid of not being able to perform a certain task, they have performance anxiety. Individuals experiencing performance anxiety often worry about failure to successfully carry out a task before actually doing it. They might believe failing a task will lead to humiliation or rejection. Anxiety specific to public presentation is called “stage fright”.

Stage fright can manifest in various situations and locations, from within the four walls of a classroom to the sports field. Children of any age and background can experience this anxiety.

The level of stage fright varies from one person to another. Some people experience mild nervousness; others can have panic attacks at the mere thought of performing in public. Children and adults who experience severe stage fright may need to visit a therapist for performance anxiety treatments.

According to Carla Fry, a child psychologist from Vancouver, stage fright in kids is caused by an interplay of three factors:

  1. Personality – It’s part of the child’s innate temperament or personality traits.
  2. Genetics – Experts claim that children born to parents who have anxiety are more likely to develop it as well.
  3. Learned behaviour – This can stem from a child’s unpleasant experience in the past or messages they received (e.g. hearing a sibling say, “Recitals are scary.”)

What Causes Stage Fright?

Many renowned celebrities and iconic personalities have reported pre-show jitters. For years, Mahatma Gandhi feared public speaking, while Barbra Streisand, at the peak of her singing career, struggled with severe stage fright.

The presence of performance anxiety doesn’t mean a person lacks talent or ability to perform on-stage. Performing before other people can put a person in a vulnerable state. This situation makes them fear that one mistake will negatively impact how people or their peers perceive them. Others may worry that their actions will affect the overall performance of the group.

Severe anxiety can also trigger the body’s fight or flight response, causing them to get distracted from giving their best in their performance. When they become preoccupied with anxious thoughts, a singer’s voice might begin to tremble or a dancer might forget the next dance steps to a routine.

Children experiencing anxiety might avoid future performances to prevent past mistakes from happening. When another invitation to perform comes up, these “failures” may increase anxiety.

Symptoms of Stage Fright

Being the center of attention can stress children out. This experience heightens the body’s fight or flight mechanism. This is why the symptoms of stage fright are quite similar to the symptoms people experience when exposed to danger.

These symptoms include:

  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Trembling lips, voice, hands, and knees
  • Cold and sweaty hands
  • Racing pulse and rapid breathing
  • Vision changes
  • Nausea and uneasiness in the stomach

Ways to Help Your Child Get Over Stage Fright

Stage fright is shared by many; so don’t be alarmed if your child exhibits signs of uneasiness before a recital. What you can do instead is help them overcome their fear and assure them they are capable of pulling off a great performance.

While music itself boosts mental and emotional health, sometimes children need a little extra boost to help them overcome stage fright:

1.Help them reframe their state of mind.

Anxiety BC, a non-profit that raises anxiety awareness, suggests that it’s crucial to reassure children with anxiety that their fears are legitimate. Showing them empathy encourages your child to open up their worries to you later on. Stage fright often stems from the uncertainty of people’s impression, judgment, and perception. Instead of focusing on these uncertainties, you can help your child shift their attention to the opportunity of standing before an audience and showcasing their talent. Get your child excited about the opportunity they’re about to embark on. If you can redirect their focus on the opportunity, the enthusiasm will follow suit.

2.Encourage interactions with other children.

Expose your child to more positive interactions with others before they get into the spotlight. Every opportunity for social interaction, no matter how mundane, will help them be more at ease with others and stretch their self-confidence.

These interactions can include ordering meals at restaurants, telling stories with your family and friends, or giving phone calls to relatives. The more they socialize, the more they learn how to act, sound, and react when facing people.

3.Emphasize the importance of practice.

Your child has to be comfortable in order to do well in their presentation. Practice allows them to master their piece and promote confidence. Encourage your child to rehearse their performance as often as possible before the final presentation.

Set up a practice room where they can play their instruments or practice their moves in their spare time. This helps build self-discipline. It may also help to have your child practice in front of a mirror or record their performance. After a practice session, you can let your child watch the video or listen to the recording and point out what they’ve done well and what they can improve.

4.Help them relax.

When your child is relaxed before and during the presentation, it will be easier for them to handle their stage fright. Below are a few exercises to help them ease their nerves:

  • Visualizing the presentation– Imagining their success is an effective technique to help calm a performer. Help them visualize the sequence of events (from climbing up the stage to getting a round of applause at the end) to boost their confidence.
  • Making eye contact – Maintaining eye contact with the audience helps to establish a connection with them. If doing so makes your child nervous, they can easily fake this by looking at the top of people’s heads or the rims of their eyeglasses.

5.Encourage self-reflection.

To be at their best, performers have to be self-aware. Self-reflection is a great avenue for developing self-awareness and getting in tune with one’s feelings and emotions. One of the best self-reflection exercises is journaling, which can help your child express what they feel and articulate their thoughts about their situation.

Teach your child to reflect on and be open about their anxiety. When they do open up, talk to them with compassion and empathy.

Overcoming stage fright doesn’t happen overnight. As parents, you play an important role in guiding your child in managing their anxiety. You can do this by encouraging them to practice consistently and fostering an affirming environment where they can hone their talents and skills openly and without judgment. Eventually, you may soon see your child become a musicor dance virtuoso.

If you’re looking for a fun, flexible, and encouraging learning environment, contact DeGazon Music Studios. We offer music and dance lessons in Mississauga, Vaughan, and Caledon for kids, teens, and even adults. Contact us today and get a FREE trial lesson!