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Helping Your Child with Performance Anxiety

Updated: May 6

a young student performing music

Helping an anxious child with performance anxiety can be distressing for a parent. You want to relieve their fears, and you want the performance to go well so they feel good about themselves and their hard work.

If your child is performing for the first time this spring, or if your child regularly performs in auditions and recitals, you might wonder how you can help them feel more confident and calm when they play.

So here's how to make that happen: The key to performing their best is practice, practice, practice.

Well, of course, you're thinking. I already knew that.

But I'm not talking about the regular kind of improving the music practice (although obviously that's necessary too.) I mean that a child with performance anxiety should practice performing.

Playing an instrument well at home in their living room and performing well in an unknown environment in front of strangers are two totally different skills.

The reason many students are afraid to perform is simply because they haven't done it enough. Sure, some kids are born to be in the spotlight. But for those who aren't natural performers, these preparation steps are key.

Play the piece dozens of times.  In the weeks just before the performance, students should play their piece - from start to finish - many, many times. There is a lot to be said for muscle memory kicking in when nerves threaten to derail a performance, but this only happens after dozens of repetitions.

Practice the skill of not stopping. Sometimes the fear of performing is actually a fear of making a mistake. Especially in our perfectionist culture, the idea of making a mistake can seem like a catastrophe impossible to overcome. The only way to prove to ourselves that it isn't is to practice the skill of continuing on when we mess up. The more your child practices this skill, the easier it will become to recover and continue on if mistakes happen during performance.

Play in noisy environments. Generally, audition and recital spaces are quiet and free of distractions. But there are things that happen - someone drops their phone, a baby cries, a fire truck goes by - that are simply out of everyone's control. To avoid being thrown by a disruption, students should practice in some noisy environments so they can hone their focusing skills.

Perform their piece for people they don't know. Before the big day, the student should play their piece many times for people who don't normally hear them play. Friends or family that they play in front of all the time don't count, and it's best to perform in front of a different person or group each time so doing so feels like no big deal. Set up a few Zoom or in-person performances with friends, extended family, or others who visit your home.

As someone who has always had plenty of nerves when performing. I can attest to the fact that these steps absolutely make performing easier - and much more fun! Use these steps to help manage your child's performance anxiety.

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