Why is it Important for Young Children to get over Stage Fright?
There is a first time for everything and as we write this article we are definitely thinking about the butterflies in our stomachs and the lump in our throats as we stepped on a stage for the first time. Uneasiness, anxiety and overthinking trouble the mind as one ruminates over everything that could go wrong while one performs. Stage fright affects all kinds of people who have to appear in front of an audience, even when they are not necessarily speaking. For example, it can affect musicians, dancers, politicians or athletes. In this article, we will focus on how to break this fear while one’s child is young.
To understand this feeling a little more, here are two real-life examples of how children felt before performing.
- Jesse Garret, a boy in grade three was assigned his first-class speech. His mother describes how he shuts down when he has to do something in front of others. Jesse cried and refused to do the work until his teacher prompted him at school and as soon as he made it to the front of the class, he froze and began to cry (Winn,2016).
- A young girl with performance anxiety shared how she could easily recall standing at the front of her class when the first wave of panic passed through her. She said her heart started beating more rapidly, her mouth became dry and her hands felt weak. She got through her short presentation, but the experience left her not wanting to feel the same ever again (Dimerman, 2019).
This force of anxiety is present within the child before, during and after the performance and it can be strong enough to hinder their normal functioning, which the parents are able to observe at home. The child begins to feel dizzy, the body trembles or sweats uncontrollably, they experience a loss of words or confusion, and some children are unable to move their limbs. Due to the irrational fear of ridicule or an unfortunate experience of being bullied for performance and sometimes even failure, few children even faint. These symptoms clearly show how taxing stage fright can be on an individual’s body and it is also the reason why it is vital to help a child overcome this fright at a young age itself.
If this fear is not dealt with at an early age the child can grow up to be an extremely nervous and frightful adult in social situations. This fear can develop into glossophobia or even a social phobia, where public speaking and any other social situation can become extremely distressing. Let us emphasize that children showing signs of nervousness is a normal developmental phase. The problem lies in letting it persist much beyond the preschool age (3–6) without any control. This same child can grow up to become the interviewee candidate who is shivering at the thought of being in a room of panellists or an adult who is unable to make new friends and socialise without having panic attacks. What may start as stage fright can have severe repercussions later in life.
Fortunately, there are many ways to help children overcome this fear. In the book Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents, psychologist Reid Wilson and psychotherapist Lynn Lyons suggest getting kids to speak directly to the “worry” whenever it appears.
For example — a child who has performance anxiety can say, “Oh, Worry, you always come on recital day and make my tummy hurt. But I don’t need you today, because I’m ready!”
This is a creative way of helping a child express what they feel and in turn self-motivate themselves into facing their fear. A 2011 study published in the journal Science described how students who wrote about their anxiety before a test even performed better. This technique is not only advised for children struggling to perform in different areas of their life but also for adults. A tool that comes most in handy with children is teaching them the art of clear and direct communication. A child’s imagination can run wild and that can be their downfall in fearful situations. However, when one guides a child to communicate verbally, how they feel, to themselves and to the people around them, it helps to create a safe environment. This aims to cancel out the fear that ‘everyone will make fun of me’ and replaces it with ‘everyone is here for me’.
When trying to help a child through stage fright one must understand that the root of this fear is the feeling of being left alone if something goes wrong during a performance. Parents and teachers must work hand in hand to make the child more confident and expressive in the face of this fear. It is essential that fear is normalised at an early stage and the focus remains on recognising the ‘fear monster’, a term used with many children, and winning against the monster rather than running away from it.
We would like to share an inspiring 6-minute video by Eamonn Kennedy, a 12-year-old boy who hated getting up on stage giving his first TEDx talk, in which he talks about the importance of finding your voice, overcoming fear, why public speaking needs to be brought back to schools to help students develop leadership, creative and life skills in ways that traditional tests do not. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjKF56TwkWI). In addition to this article, the ImPerfect blog page has many such helpful articles to look into that give knowledge about an array of topics related to psychology!
– Urveez Kakalia & Ferangiz Hozdar.