Performing live is an important aspect to learning music but can produce anxiety in many children (and adults). As a parent, there are things you can do to help your child manage nervous jitters before a musical performance. While some “pre-performance jitters” are perfectly normal, we believe your child can experience less severe symptoms over time. We have a few tips for parents looking to help their child cope with performance anxiety in a productive way.
Be empathetic when helping your child manage jitters before a performance
One of the most important things you can do to starting reducing your child’s anxiety is simply validating that it exists and is perfectly normal, without minimizing their feelings or discomfort. Restating their feelings, with your support, can be helpful, such as saying “I understanding that you are feeling really nervous about the musical performance but I know that you will do great because you have been practicing music and really working hard.”
Use calm tones to reply when your child tells you that she is anxious about her upcoming music show, maybe even speak a bit more slowly. These communication techniques can help slow – and stop - the tide of anxiety, which can rise and build very rapidly.
Help with their performance anxiety without allowing them to “opt out”
It can be very tempting to give in when your child says he is not feeling good or is in great emotional distress and just wants to stay home. While it’s important to validate his feelings, you should not allow him to make excuses to just avoid his fear. Most of the time, a child is able to perform despite their nerves and can experience a great sense of accomplishment from doing something that was really difficult for him. Don’t deprive him of this opportunity for growth and confidence building by giving into his requests to sit this one out. In an earlier blog this year, we shared how the study of music can build real life skills. Learning to face his fears is a skill that will only benefit your child throughout his life.
Practice time-tested rituals for coping with stress around a performance
As we mentioned, musical performance jitters aren’t exclusive to young students. Many seasoned professional musicians and other performers also have to learn to manage nervous jitters before a musical performance. No matter her age, your child is old enough to learn some simple breathing techniques. A very basic one involved just taking a long, deep inward breath, holding it for 5-10 seconds and then exhaling slowing while relaxing her body. Doing this several times will have a calming effect on any young performer. Many performers also find that short habits or rituals prior to a musical performance can help them get to a relaxed state – it can even be something simple like taking a short walk around the block or listening to a favorite piece of music.
Help your child verbalize their anxiety around performing – or better yet, write about it
In a University of Chicago study published in the journal Science, researchers concluded that students can combat test anxiety and improve performance by writing about their worries immediately before a big exam. The same technique can be applied to anxiety before a musical performance.
“We reasoned that if worries lead to poor test performance, and writing helps regulate these worries, then giving students the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about an impending examination would enhance test performance,” said Sian Beilock, the lead researcher for this study and an associate professor of psychology at University of Chicago.
We encourage you to bring a little notebook and pen and encourage your child to get her fears down on paper – and out of her head – in the time leading up to her next musical performance.
Hopefully, this article gives you some ideas when your son or daughter grapples with this issue. If you need more suggestions for helping your child manage nervous jitters before a musical performance, be sure to talk with her teachers here at Stage Center Music.
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