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When Performance Anxiety Becomes Unhealthy

Written by: Succès Scolaire

December 1, 2015

Performance anxiety manifests itself in a variety of ways:

  • Exam-related stress;
  • Panic or anxiety attacks before, during or after evaluations;
  • Physical symptoms, such as migraines, stomach aches, insomnia or nausea;
  • Excessive perfectionism (mistakes seem unbearable);
  • Constant discontent with the level of effort put into a project;
  • Low self-esteem;
  • Fear of undertaking a task if certain success is not assured.

What Can I Do as a Parent?

Performance anxiety doesn’t suddenly develop in university students. Its manifestations usually begin as early as pre-school or primary school. My intention certainly isn’t to blame parents, but studies have shown their behaviour or expectations sometimes play a role in their child’s level of performance anxiety. Here are some pointers on how to minimize the risks of developing this form of phobia.

1. Unconditional Love

Anxious children are driven by the desire to show their worth. To deserve their parents’ love, these children believe they must excel in every project they undertake. It’s your job as a parent to reassure your children early on. Tell them that you love them regardless of their school grades or performance in extracurricular activities.  

2. Realistic Expectations

You were an honour roll student in your day? That’s great, but remember that your child may not have the same capacities, so don’t ask for the impossible.

If you ask a lot of yourself and are a perfectionist, chances are your children will copy the behaviours they witness at home. So keep this in check!

3. Efforts Over Results

Explain to your children that their learning process (listening in class, studying and doing their homework) is as important, if not more, than their grades. Show them that learning should be fun and performance is secondary.


4. Constant Support

Encourage your children in everything they do. Let them know you will always be there to help them, and involve yourself in their education and activities. This way, they’ll know they’re important to you.

5. Building Self-Esteem

Help your children build a good self-esteem by emphasizing both their strengths AND weaknesses. They need to know and understand that no one is perfect, and accepting this is the first step towards overcoming their performance anxiety. Tell your children about the subjects you excelled in or had trouble with as a child: “Even if I studied for hours, I always had a hard time remembering dates in history class. On the other hand, my English teacher constantly praised my creative writing and extensive vocabulary.”

If, despite your efforts, your child still struggles with performance anxiety, don’t hesitate to see a specialist or talk to the school staff. It’s essential to nip these fears in the bud or at least ensure the situation doesn’t worsen.

You can also learn more about the subject. Some good reads include:

  • What to Do When You Worry too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (Magination Press, 2006). Written by a psychologist, this is an easy read for children and their parents. The author offers engaging, motivating and empowering exercises to help children overcome their anxiety.
  • David and the Worry Beast: Helping Children Cope with Anxiety (New Horizon Press, 2007).

For other tips and tricks, visit the School Success website.

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