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How can I Alleviate my Child’s Performance Anxiety?

Written by: Nanny Secours

March 17, 2014

Before taking an exam, performing on stage or playing an important hockey game, it is normal for a child to experience a bit of fright. Such nervousness is beneficial since it stimulates him into action. Although the most commonly observed signs of fright normally fade away moments before the event starts, symptoms can, however, intensify (vomiting, tremor, recurring stomach aches, sleep disturbances, disordered eating, difficulty concentrating, etc.) or just remain; this may be called “performance anxiety.” When this state of uneasiness kicks in, children often anticipate events negatively. Such a stress can lead to long-term consequences on the child’s social and academic life, as well as on his self-esteem and mental health.

Performance anxiety usually appears as children enter school for the first time; this is the time when they begin to compare themselves with others and undergo assessment from their teachers. Several factors influence the child’s capacity to handle this new pressure. His personality, his potential to resolve problems, his ability to manage and express his emotions, his past experiences, his parents’ attitude and disciplinary style, the incidences of sibling rivalry, the demands of his own environment and the extent of his social network, will determine (among other things) the impact stress will have on his life.

Tips to help your child cope with performance anxiety

  • Pay attention to his symptoms and what he’s going through. Let him know what you observed and ask questions to gain insight into his situation.
  • Help him express his worries and fears. Perhaps he’s having difficulty finding the right words to express his feelings or failing to make a connection between his symptoms and their causes. Listen to what he says with an open heart and a non-judgmental attitude.
  • Give your child unconditional support when he faces adversity. Help him find the means to better manage stress, for example, by teaching him relaxation techniques, by breaking the big picture into smaller goals or by working on the inner dialogue to create positive self-talk.
  • Don’t punish him if his difficulties are related to performance stress. Be reassuring; tell him you have complete confidence in his abilities and that things will be better next time.
  • Place more focus on your child’s effort than on the result. For example, praise his achievements as a soccer teammate instead of the number of goals he scored.
  • Ask yourself about the impact your attitude and disciplinary style have on your child. By being too permissible, parents may cause their child to experience feelings of insecurity ― given the lack of proper direction ― and vulnerability in the face of stress. Conversely, by being too authoritarian, parents may unconsciously put pressure on their child, which can further increase performance anxiety. Change your approach as necessary.
  • Begin to assess your own everyday stress. You are a role model for your children. If you sometimes use various stress management techniques, it is possible that your child will eventually follow your actions.

If necessary, do not hesitate to contact a family coach (near you) listed in Nanny Secour’s directory (French only). This site will offer you tailor-made coping strategies to improve your child’s stress-management skills.

Laury Boisvert, Family coach
 

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