Kids and Stage Fright

Ann Douglas's picture

by Ann Douglas

little girl hiding in stage curtainsThis year is the first time your child's received a "talking" part in the school play or had to do public speaking. Suddenly, your confident child is developing a terrible case of stage fright. You've tried to give the advice we were given as kids to loosen up before giving a speech -- like picturing the audience in their underwear but it hasn't done any good. Your expectations aren't unreasonable. You don't expect a great public speaker, but you would hope for enough courage to get up on that stage and give it a try!

If misery loves company, your child is certainly in good company (although that, of course, does nothing to relieve the misery): Studies have shown that one in three people have a fear of public speaking.

You may want to start out by talking about what has triggered this fear. Did a group of kids during the last school play? Did your child have a difficult time coping with the pressure to perform on the soccer field? Have horror stories been circulating from older kids about what's involved in giving a speech. (These tales, like tales of that horrible teacher you might end up with next year, have a way of taking on a life of their own as they make their way around the schoolyard.)

Once you've identified the roots of your child's fears, you'll be able to help address those fears by empathizing and teaching strategies for managing them. Depending on the nature of these concerns, you may want to suggest your budding performer:

  • Memorize the lines or at least the first few sentences of the speech or and preparing a set of cue cards to eliminate worry about getting in front of an audience and drawing a complete blank
  • Practice the speech repeatedly on video tape and then in front of a small group of family or friends so that it won't feel so strange the first time it's presented in front of an audience
  • Visualize success as the play is performed or the speech delivered
  • Practice operating any equipment or props that will be used during the presentation (e.g., how to push "play" and "stop" on the DVD player for a clip of music)
  • Anticipate and manage the burst of adrenaline (a.k.a. nervous energy) that's likely to appear as your child prepares to give a speech or preform on stage. Practice using that energy to add enthusiasm to the part or speech.

Is your child is having a particularly difficult time coping with the idea of performing in public? You may want to think about whether other areas of life cause extreme angst. Anxiety makes life more difficult than it needs to be. Talk to your family doctor.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site, having-a-baby.com.

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org.