Overcoming Stage Fright with Stay Listening

The evening before my 7-year-old daughter had her audition for a community theater production, she asked me, “Why do I have to go to the audition?” I reminded her that she had enjoyed her theater experience the previous year and had wanted to sign up for this year’s show. Her tone instantly became more strident: “I want to quit! I didn’t really want to do it!” Ah! I recalled how scary the audition had been for her last year. So perhaps she needed me to listen closely. We went back and forth for 20 to 30 minutes. She grew increasingly desperate and angry, shouting that I was forcing her to do something she no longer wanted to do and that I was not listening to her. I reassured her that while I knew it was challenging and scary, I was confident with her preparation and from her prior experience that she would do fine in her audition.

I must admit that when she burst into tears, I felt wobbly and wondered, “Maybe this is truly how she feels, and she’s not just letting off anxiety. Maybe I should let her quit now.” I decided to keep giving her warmth and closeness as she yelled about how mean I was being and that it is her life so she should make the decision.

After a while, she petered out and transitioned to something else. I felt the change in her energy, and we went about going to bed. I went to sleep wondering whether the next morning would bring more of the same and we’d end up e-mailing the director to cancel her audition.

From the moment she opened her eyes the next day, she was all smiles. When it was time to drive to the audition, she immediately took her dad’s hand and went to the car without one word of complaint. Later, she reported that the audition was fine and that she was excited for the show. For the past month, she has been rehearsing most weekends, and her attitude is always cheerful and upbeat. Perhaps she may need more listening and connection as we approach the first show next month. I will be ready!

I am so grateful to Hand in Hand. Without the insight into how children’s emotions work, I would have been much more likely to take her words at face value and let her drop out. It’s hard to have your child accuse you of being insensitive! With my training in Parenting By Connection, I was able not to be triggered by her outburst and to give her the warmth and love she needed in order to release her feelings.

3 thoughts on “Overcoming Stage Fright with Stay Listening”

  1. Wow, I have a similar problem with my daughter and stage fright. I would have let her not go. How were you so sure she should still go to the audition ?

  2. Dear Pauline,

    When our children bring up fears about something, if we find ourselves wanting to help our children avoid the thing that brings up the fear in them, it is possible that we ourselves are triggered with fear by the same thing or it may be that we are afraid to have our children go through big feelings because we are overwhelmed by their feelings. And that it a sure sign that we need to process our feelings about what is going on for our children. It’s time to get some listening time for ourselves with a listening partnership and understanding where our feelings are coming from.

    So if your child is experiencing stage fright and you’re tempted to avoid the situation altogether, then you might ask yourself what it was like for you as a child when you had to be on stage. Or you might ask yourself what it was like for you as a child when you had big feelings and how the adults in your life responded to those feelings. As you work on your own feelings about the situation, you will very likely find yourself becoming more and more confident about your child’s ability to face the situation that is triggering fear, and work through the fear. You will find yourself more able to believe in your child’s ability to face the situation that is causing her to be fearful. And when you believe in your child, your child feels the safety of your confidence and your belief and she will be able to release those fears through trembling and shaking and sobbing.

    It is important not to force your child into doing something she is not ready to do, but instead communicate to her with gentle confidence that you believe she can do it. If you force your child to do something she is scared to do, she may get too overwhelmed and the fear may deepen. But when you communicate your belief in your child’s ability to do it, your child feels the safety of your presence and she will have a chance to release those fears. And because it doesn’t help to force it, be prepared to be patient; the release of the fear may not happen on your timeline. It will happen when your child feels ready… as you allow more and more safety to build up with your gentle, accepting, and grounding presence.

    Again, you have to be able to truly believe in your child’s ability to do it without feeling anxious yourself. And to get there, it really helps to get some listening time for yourself.

    I hope this helps.

    Usha Sangam
    Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor & Consultant

  3. I struggle with my son’s gymnastics like this. He loves it & is good at it, but goes through times when he absolutely, adamantly wants to quit. I don’t have any attachment to gymnastics, but the times he has quit, we’ve always gone back a few months later because he misses it. The gymnastics programs are not set up that way, and it doesn’t help him make friends with the kids to be in & out.

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