8 Ways to Help Your Kid Be Stronger Than Stage Fright
It’s holiday recital season, and while parents are excited to see their kids shine on stage, many children and teens dread being the center of attention. Stage fright, AKA performance anxiety, refers to feelings of nervousness from performing in front of an audience. Stage fright is one of the most common fears in the U.S. and it’s understandable why; the thought of speaking, singing, or dancing in front of grinning strangers and flashing cameras can be a little intimidating for anyone. But if children don’t find healthy ways to cope with performance anxiety, it can hold them back from pursuing their passions and reaching their potential later in life.
So what can parents do to help their kids cope with stage fright?
1. Rehearse routinely
It can be hard for parents to know how much to push rehearsals before a performance, as they don’t want their kids to feel burnt out. Still, ample rehearsing helps a child memorize their performance, boosting their confidence and reducing anxiety. Make rehearsing part of your daily schedule as soon as your child receives their lines or routine, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes a day.
2. Dial up that diaphragm
Every pro performer knows the importance of diaphragmatic breathing; in addition to helping a person project their voice, it also works to calm their nerves. Teach your child the difference between shallow and deep breathing. Have them practice slow “belly breaths” and remind them to take a few deep inhales and exhales before stepping out on stage.
3. Focus on the message
Stage fright can prevent a performer from showing their true passion and talent. Remind your kid that the audience is there to experience the performance’s message, and not to judge them as an individual. Ask your child what their performance goals are - what ideas or emotions would they like the audience to experience from their performance? Remind them to reflect on those goals when they are feeling self-conscious.
4. Soothe with self-talk
Encourage your child to practice positive self-talk about their performance. Tell them to repeat affirming statements to themselves such as, “I’m going to do great,” “I’m an amazing performer,” or, “this is going to be so much fun.”
5. Accept their nerves
Many people try to force away stage fright or tell their kids to just get over it, but repressing fear is ineffective and often makes it worse. A healthier approach is to teach your child to understand and accept their nerves. Talk to your child about symptoms of nervousness such as blushing, rapid heartbeat, and sweat. Remind them that they can do a great job even if they are feeling afraid. Assure your child or teen that nervousness is a normal part of performing that even famous performers experience.
6. Encourage excitement
Many parents think that kids should only focus on relaxation before performing, worrying that excitement will add to the high-strung feelings of stage fright. However, research suggests that excitement actually helps to reduce anxiety. By embracing their nervousness and channeling it toward excitement, your child will get amped up to perform with more passion and positivity.
7. Find their “A-game activator”
Encourage your child to come up with a special phrase or song that unleashes their A-game before they set out on stage. It may be saying a word to themselves like, “epic” or “outrageous” or listening to an empowering song like, “Roar,” or “Eye of the Tiger.” Have them imagine that every time they say their word or sing their song, their inner star is unleashed and their sassiest, boldest performer emerges ready to wow their audience.
8. See a specialists
Stage fright is a normal experience for children, teens, and even adults, but if a person can’t find healthy ways to cope with their fears, it can hold them back in several areas of life. If you are concerned that your child’s performance anxiety is holding them back from pursuing their passions or reaching their potential, our Specialists at Variations can help.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. If you are concerned that performance anxiety is holding your child back, Dr. Shinn can evaluate your child for mental or emotional health challenges and provide tools to help your child overcome anxiety.
Cynthia R. Johnson, LMFT, is a specialist in Parenting and Child Therapy at Variations Psychology. She has years of experience in strengthening families and empowering parents, teens, and children to overcome challenges and reach their goals.
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Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.
Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams, graduate and professional licensing exams such as MCAT, LSAT, GRE, CBEST, NCLEX, GMAT, CA Cosmetology Exam, CA Contractors State Licensing Exam, and CA Bar Exam).
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Brooks, Alison Wood. “Getting Excited Helps with Performance Anxiety More Than Trying to Calm Down, Study Finds.” American Psychological Association , Journal of Experimental Psychology, 23 Dec. 2013, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/12/performance-anxiety.aspx.
Dingfelder, Sadie F. “Putting the 'Play' Back into Performing.” American
Psychological Association, Monitor on Psychology , Dec. 2005, www.apa.org/monitor/dec05/play.aspx. Psychologist Jon Skidmore helps young musicians overcome anxiety and enjoy themselves on stage.
“How to Keep Fear of Public Speaking at Bay.” American Psychological
Association, Monitor on Psychology , Feb. 2017, www.apa.org/monitor/2017/02/tips-sidebar.aspx.