Guest Author, Dana Vachharajani, Dana V Music in Louisville
As we are heading into the Spooky Halloween season, let’s tackle an ever-present situation that can affect both children and adults alike: stage fright!
Stage fright can occur before or during an appearance in front of an audience, no matter how big or small. We as parents want our children to be out and communicating in the world, but for some, getting up on stage, in front of a class, or just saying “Trick or Treat” to a friendly neighbor can truly cause quite a bit of discomfort. As teachers, we can be pretty good at spotting stage fright in our weekly lessons, but sometimes it is lingering in the shadows.
Stage fright actually occurs in quite a large number of children and presents itself in different ways. As a teacher and a mother of three, I have seen “fright” show up in many ways. It can be subtle or severe. These mostly manifest as physical or behavioral changes.
Physical symptoms: Your child might tell you they have a stomachache, are dizzy, or feel ill. They might have sweaty palms or show nerves. Your child might stumble, or they will even cling to you! Does this sound familiar?
Behavior: You might notice that your child’s behavior will change. The inner monster comes out in tantrums, tears, and jitters. They might shut down and not communicate at all.
Has your child ever been told that they are the “shy” one in class?
This could be true, but it also could be that they are feeling nervous or scared to do activities like reading or answering questions in class. They might just be afraid of saying something wrong.
All of our teachers at Dana V Music take the time with their students to identify how and where the “fear” might be coming from and work with creative solutions to promote positive and empowering experiences for our students. The truth is, stage fright is more common than we think and can reveal itself on so many different levels. We might notice from the beginning that a child loves music but is unwilling to even rehearse in a lesson in front of us. The student might be highly judgmental of themselves. This leads them to feel like they don’t want to share their gifts. Of course, a big one is telling us they don’t want to perform but have trouble telling us why. The good news is that if your child has been regularly attending lessons, showing and practicing their skills, that is half the battle to succeeding when it is presentation time. Between teachers and parents, we can find a solution that works for everyone.
As parents, we need tools to help our children find successful solutions to help overcome stage fright. Here are five points to keep in mind.
Recognize that stage fright is real: Sometimes, as busy parents, we might chalk up stage fright to shyness or that our children don’t like an activity, but in reality, stage fright is a condition that needs to be approached with understanding and attention. The good news is there are lots of options to help alleviate symptoms. As we tackle them together, your child is also understanding their challenges and can learn to help themselves!
Take it slow: Realizing that stage fright is real, please don’t push hard on your child to “get out there!” This can make a situation worse. Long, lengthy conversations with your child about stage fright might just bring it to a place where a child can shut down. Remember that they are trying to work through their own big feelings, too! I have had students who have taken years to present in public, but when they do, they are ready! Stage fright doesn’t disappear overnight or after the first successful presentation. We have to be aware that this might manifest itself in other situations. Be supportive and start with simple steps.
Teamwork: There might be times when your kind and patient support is enough, and then there are going to be moments when we need a team. If stage fright is happening in school, please let the teacher know to start small with the activities in class that are public-facing. Discuss with coaches, dance teachers, and other trusted people in their lives.
Practice and Comfort: We wouldn’t be music teachers if we didn’t ask you to practice these skills. It could be a phrase to have them repeat in their mind or a visualization. With lessons, it can be as simple as having your child “play the teacher” and share what they learn by pretending.
If your child has a public performance, have them start practicing their presentation in front of small groups they trust. Maybe they feel safe with one parent or grandma, and then you move to the immediate family. Add a friend, and then see if you can bring in a person that isn’t as familiar. Find some family events to have your child present in a safe environment. What place feels comfortable for them? Is it church? Your home? Grandparent’s house?
At Dana V Music, we will arrange to have another teacher ask to hear a song during the lesson to see if the child might be willing to share. We have set up practice rehearsals for students in our performance room to give them a feel of how the performance might go.
Support the performance: If it’s performance time and there are still some lingering jitters, have them visualize a calm place. If they don’t know where to focus during a performance, choose a comfort focal point they can see. It can be a stuffed animal placed in the room or a person. Let your child know where you will be so they can see you in the audience. If this isn’t possible, have them find a focal point above the heads of the crowd so that they don’t have to look at faces. Teachers at Dana V Music have been known to stand in the back of a performing space and lead the support from an agreed spot. It does work!
What if we just can’t seem to get our child to participate in activities?
Having a reluctant or frightened child is real and can be frustrating, but if you can take a step back, take the time, find a team, and review options, we hope that your child will have some successful moments. In extreme cases, you might need some extra outside help, but at Dana V Music, if a child can walk through a door for a lesson, they can reach the next steps. Give it patience and time, and if your child is sharing, listen. Start small. Talk to your teachers. Practice situations. Walk them through the experience and watch them grow!
Frankenstein didn’t build his monster in a day, so we cannot expect our children to be confident, even with this advice, in the first performance. Love them and give them support in the process all the way through the close of the curtain.