help kids with performance anxiety

Stacey Turner, Head of Drama at St Nicholas Preparatory School explains how
parents can support their children with performance jitters!

Does your child get butterflies before school performances?

Performance anxiety is common in children and with the Christmas nativity season looming there are lots of ways in which parents can offer support to their little ones.
Often called ‘stage fright’, performance anxiety can appear in a variety of settings
including the sports field and the classroom.

In fact, my first memory of performing is my LAMDA exam when I was about 7 or 8 years old, my mind went blank, I forgot my lines and if it wasn’t for my friendly teacher and the support of my mum, I wouldn’t have gathered my nerves and started again. I was so proud of myself when I got it right in the end. I often wonder if it wasn’t for that support, whether I would have gone on to pursue a career in drama.

Symptoms such as blushing, butterflies, racing heartbeat and sweating are all
common complaints of anxiety and can become a real problem when the lead-up or
aftermath affects a child’s normal functioning – often most evident at home.

So why are some children more nervous than others?

It can be a combination of factors –

  • It could be due to the personality or temperament of the child
  • Perhaps it might be the genetics of the child (it has been understood that children born to
    anxious parents are more likely to become anxious themselves).
  • It is learned behaviour – for example, if the child has an older sibling whom they have overheard saying things like ‘public speaking is so scary’ they are more likely to
    voice similar opinions.

The first step in helping your child deal with performance anxiety is to explain that
these jitters are normal and to avoid dismissive statements such as ‘don’t worry
about it’ or ‘you’ll be fine’. Any comments such as these may send a message to the
child that it is wrong to feel the way they do, which is not what you want either.

Offering support and empathy is a better route as it enables your son or daughter to
have their feelings validated and supported. Statements such as ‘yes, that sounds a
bit tricky – would you like some help working out some solutions?’ rather than ‘you’re
being silly, there is nothing to worry about’ is a much better approach. They will
relish the encouragement and some simple tips such as remembering to slow down,
take deep breaths and remember that everyone in the room is a pillar of support will
no doubt calm any pre-performance jitters.

The children at St Nicholas have a weekly drama lesson from Year 2 upwards and
are encouraged to pursue their interests in the performing arts. Participation plays an
important part of their education as it promotes positive self-image, confidence and develops invaluable speaking and listening skills. The pupils learn performance
skills, mime, improvisation and participate in scripted performances – all of which
contribute to their overall ability to present themselves in a poised and independent
manner in the world outside the classroom. Are all children going to be actors?
Perhaps not, but by the time they anticipate moving on to senior school, they will
have the skills in place to express themselves with a quiet confidence and elegance
only drama tuition can provide.


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