Performance anxiety can affect a person of any age. But when it comes to our children it’s tough for a parent to witness. Tantrums, stomachache, and nail-biting are just a few ways it can manifest itself. These symptoms can appear in any kind of situation such as recitals, sports, tests, and speeches. They can also show up in less obvious places such as art camp or cooking class.
While performance anxiety is believed to stem from a child’s temperament, genes and learned behavior, support from an adult can go a long way to easing their nervous system:
- Explain that having the jitters is normal. Avoid saying, “Don’t worry,” or, “Don’t be silly.” Show empathy by saying, “Yes, that’s difficult,” and then offer to help figure out how they can cope.
- Don’t avoid situations such as giving their teacher a note to excuse the child from the activity. Building their resilience to the stressful situation serves them more. Empower them so they can deal with that audition for the school play or math test.
- Encourage stretching to loosen up muscles and taking slow deep breaths before a football game. Ground them in the knowledge that they have the ability to achieve whatever they want.
- Focus on the journey rather than the outcome. Remind them of all they have achieved to get to this point. Offer small rewards as a way of recognizing what they’ve done so far in their lives.
- Speak gently and slowly with them as a way to relax their inner butterflies.
- Tell them you love them no matter what. Children need to know they won’t be punished for not doing well, and that your love for them does not depend on their performance. At the end of the day, like all human beings, children want love and acceptance for who they are and where they are in their lives.