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Stage fright or excuse? Four ways to help your child push past the nerves. by Christy Dorrity

Updated: Jul 16, 2019

“Mom, I hurt my leg at school today, I don’t think I should go.” After months of practice, my son was scheduled to attend his first swim meet. How could he swim with an injured leg? As a parent, I knew I had to make the best decision for my child, but as a dance teacher, I knew that there could be more to this claim than met the eye.

Over the years, I’ve seen nerves manifest among performers in many different ways. Seasoned athletes and performers know how to channel that nervous energy to their advantage. But those new to their craft haven't yet learned how to deal with this scary feeling. So how can we help the new performer cope with pre-event jitters?

Nerves can make some performers feel poorly, even to the point that they are truly ill. Others will begin feeling the stress weeks before an event and start associating their training and classes with the nerves, even to the point of dreading class. Some performers become irritable and lash out at those around them when stress presents itself. I’ve seen dancers cry, lash out and even laugh uncontrollably before an event.

So how do you, as a parent, help your child recognize and deal with the stress and lead them through the initial barriers in a sport that has the potential to become a lifelong satisfaction?

1-Recognize the nerves. Each child reacts differently to stress and new situations. It’s up to you to determine if your daughter has the stomach flu, or overactive butterflies.

2-Validate your child’s symptoms. If your son snaps at you because he can’t find his soccer cleats, help him look for them and give him encouragement. If your daughter gets the giggles before going onstage, laugh with her and then practice some deep breathing.

3-Be firm. Your child made a commitment, whether it is to a team, to a teacher, or to you, the person who is funding their ambition. Help them keep that commitment. Empower them to face their fear and push through.

4-Enlist the help of others. Coaches and teachers are great resources for reinforcement. Let them know what is going on. They have experience with all kinds of excuses, real and imagined. With their help, you can inspire your child to reach out and grab his/her potential.

By recognizing, and validating your child’s concerns, being firm and rallying help, you can empower your child on the path to success. Encourage them to finish what they started. Be kind, focus on caring for their injury or helping them feel better. Be firm in helping them finish what they started.

Kids who are able to commit to team sports and performances will be loyal and responsible adults.

When my son informed me that he wouldn’t be able to participate in his swim team events because of leg pain, I immediately set about finding the real issue. I sympathized with him and helped him ice his leg and put ointment on it. We talked about how he had committed to swim in the meet, that he and I had been making sacrifices for his practices, and that his team was counting on him. He participated in the meet and, although his leg was still a little sore, the pain was swallowed up in the sense of accomplishment and self-worth he gained from pushing through the nerves and following through with what he began.

You can do the same. Give your child the gift of self-worth through perseverance.

Have you ever experienced any of the above-mentioned stage fright? I'd love to know of other ways you've seen nerves on display.

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