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Stage Fright in Children: How We Conquered the Demon


Kids on Stage - Stage FrightI admire and even envy people who can address a crowd. Don’t you?

I assume even the most consummate orator does feel those ubiquitous butterflies in his stomach. Yet I will doff my hat at his ability to mask it and continue with the performance. Wish someone had taught me that trick! At 35, you’d have thought I’d be over all this. But I still have clammy hands and a hollow pit in my stomach when I speak at client meetings. So I can sense what my seven year old goes through when she climbs on stage.

Or at least I thought I could.

I remember some time ago, my daughter was rehearsing for the school’s annual function. Suddenly, she went stiff. Her hands and fingers became rigid and though she was crying miserably and able to follow instructions, the cramping did not ease. The school authorities in absolute panic called me at home. Never having heard of anything like this or experienced it, I rushed to school with horrific images of the child convulsing and foaming at the mouth. She’d calmed down considerably by the time I saw her and I was assured that none of what I’d imagined had occurred. Some probing later, I discovered that it was a good bit of yelling because she was not ‘performing’ on stage that triggered the ‘episode’!

By nature, my first born is shy to the point of being non controversial. So when it comes to ‘showing off’ talent in public, she prefers to stay in the background. I was no better at her age, I thought and let it go at that.

At about the same time, she expressed a keen interest in learning to play an instrument—particularly the harmonica. The sheer shortage of good Harmonica teachers pushed me toward another woodwind instrument—the Recorder (the precursor to the Flute). Some amount of searching later, we zeroed in on a teacher and classes commenced. The child enjoyed her lessons and took to the instrument with great enthusiasm. And then, one day, she told me that she wanted to play the Recorder at school.

At first I was hesitant and worried about this triggering off yet another ‘episode’. Unsure if I could handle it, I kept procrastinating. Finally, I wrote to the class teacher, and having got the go ahead, had her practice at length the tune she wanted to play. She went, she played, she got applauded. And I felt a load lift off my chest.

Within days, we came across a notice at one of the local clubs inviting members’ children to perform at the annual western music talent night slated earlier this month. Only three months into her Recorder lessons, my daughter proactively chose her Classical and Non Classical pieces and after hours of practice performed voluntarily in front of a select gathering of our friends. Till today, I’m amazed at what a little bit of applause can do! On d-day, she walked up to the stage, smiled into my camera, looked the audience in the eye and played her solo pieces perfectly. No freezing, no going blank and certainly no awkward pauses. She won two prizes that evening but what mattered more to me was that she’d conquered her demons.

Now if only I could get the courage to face my own fears. So here’s what I learnt about how not to let stage fright get the better of your child:

1. Identify the trigger that causes stage fright: It may not be the act of going up on stage alone. It may be the pressure to perform, an unfamiliar ambience, inadequate preparation, or even a tyrant breathing down one’s neck.

2. Look for an activity that your child is interested in. Now try boosting his confidence by showcasing his abilities in this sphere.

3. Have the child practise at home and eventually perform in front of a gathering that he is comfortable with.

4. Use words of encouragement and shower praise for the effort he’s made.

Not everyone is born prepared for the stage. This, hopefully, will make the experience of going up on stage something to cherish for both, you and your child.

Also Read : How to Develop your Child’s Self-Confidence

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6 thoughts on “Stage Fright in Children: How We Conquered the Demon

  1. Kritika

    Good pointers, Amrita. Especially where you mention that the issue may not be stage fright, but simply finding something that the child is interested in. We want our kids to sing and dance and recite poetry – the works! But perhaps if they find something that they are interested in doing, then there’s no fear anymore, because they are going to love doing it anyway.

    Reply
    1. amrita.pai Post author

      Oh yes, Kritika. This is what worked in our case, but I’m sure there are parents who’ve had other experiences. So, would love to hear more on this. Amidst all the kids raring to go on stage and participate in the many reality/dance shows on tv, I realise that there will still be a fair share of those who are intimidated by the arclights, shy, and ‘introverted’ who’d rather be back stage than on it.

      Reply
  2. Ramya

    If a parent can emphasise that the child enjoys the experience for herself (if she is reciting a poem, enjoy the rhyme in it for e.g.), and not so much for the audience, the job is done. Often, I have observed that parents (or adults in the situation) tend to position the performance as a ‘high stakes’ one, and give a multitude of instructions and don’ts, which just adds to the natural nervousness any child may have.

    As someone who enjoyed public speaking through school and college, I feel the key is in just enjoying it (the speech, the music, anything) yourself…..then the good performance automatically follows. (:-)

    Reply
    1. amrita.pai Post author

      Ramya, you are spot on! As I always tell my girls, we may not aim for the gold, but if we do clinch it, let’s not forget to have fun in the process :-)

      Reply
  3. Sudha Kumar

    I had contrasting experiences with my children. My son was quite introverted, and while he could master his poem or speech in no time, he would be quite diffident in front of an audience. And, he did not enjoy this speaking thing for a long time. However, his school had compulsory recitation sessions for primary school children, and it was not an enjoyable experience for him. However, over time, he overcame it ( by himself), and now I am told (by him) that he is one of the best speakers in his class! My daughter on the other hand is a natural and used to revel if she had an audience. With neither of them did we emphasize on winning prizes, incidentally. So, it also has to do with the kids’ personality and so long as we are supportive, I think things will sort themselves out.

    Reply
    1. amrita.pai Post author

      Hello Sudha,

      I can totally connect with your situation! This is something I’ve personally experienced as a child. I also see a lot of what you’ve mentioned in my children. My grandmum used to say something about parents passing on their neurosis to the firstborns while by the time the secondborns appeared they’d be a lot more relaxed, which could possibly explain the difference in attitudes of siblings. Don’t know how much of that is true but yes, nothing beats supportive parents! Thank you for writing in.

      Reply

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