I would be the last person to volunteer to go up on stage and dance or sing in front of a room full of people (or iPhone screens which presumably have people holding them up,) so I’ve had some challenges convincing my kids to get excited about things like recitals and school plays.
“You’ll be great!”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of!”
“No one has ever literally died of embarrassment (that I know of) so PLEASE JUST PUT ON YOUR DAMN BALLET SHOES!!”
If parenting has taught me nothing else, it’s that it’s impossible to be rational with irrational little humans, especially when their fear is actually pretty rational and natural, (and your primary driver for making them perform is the fact that you just shelled out $50 for that recital costume, so it will be worn on stage even if you have to go up there and move your child’s limbs like a little, angry marionette.)
But more than that, you want to teach your kids that they can’t just avoid everything that scares them in life. It’s our job to teach them that sometimes you have to “feel the fear and do it anyway.”*
Which brings me to my patented 3-step plan that has worked for us over the years and I hope it works for you.
Step 1: Get silly….and get some underpants – The oldest trick in the book for relieving nerves when you’re up on stage is picturing everyone in their underpants. When I first suggested this to my then 5-year-old daughter, the thought of picturing a bunch of her friends’ parents in their underwear was slightly more traumatizing than humorous, so we created a cuter, fuzzier audience.
After performing her routine in front of her technically more dressed than usual audience, we decided perhaps picturing the audience with their underpants on top of their clothes was a more age appropriate, and even funnier version of this presentation technique, but she still wasn’t convinced. On to Step 2.
Step 2: Establish The Bar for Success (hint: it’s pretty low) – Thanks to YouTube, you have virtually unlimited access to every child in the world’s school play, dance, and drama performances. Watch a few with your child while explaining that every kid up on that stage was just as nervous as they are. They all mess up here and there, and they all have their good moments. And if they need some serious inspiration, there’s always Johanna.
Step 3: Positive Reinforcement. AKA Bribery – While completing Step 2, my daughter noticed that some of the dancers in the videos received flowers after their performance.
“WHAT THE WHAAATT? I GET FLOWERS???”
(Well, I guess you do NOW.)
And that was all she needed. I think I could have talked her into bungee jumping over a kiddie pool full of piranhas in exchange for a couple of grocery store carnations. Knowing your child’s currency is a valuable tool.
She also decided that all of her classmates were probably feeling nervous too, so she channeled her inner Oprah, proclaiming EVERYONE should get a flower. (Note: my Oprah-level flower sharing ceiling is a dozen carnations.)
Step 3b. Ice Cream – Because ice cream.
That little 5-year old ballerina is 12-years old now and this 3-step program has been a life-saver for dozens of dance recitals, school plays, karate belt tests and school presentations.
In fact, I have a dozen roses waiting on the kitchen table for my daughter’s singing-camp performance today.
Here’s to all those brave singers and all your little brave performers who are feeling the fear but doing it anyway today!
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*Jack Canfield came up with that phrase, not me. At least, that’s who my college speech professor told me came up with it. He also the same guy who graded on a curve by adding extra credit points into the total, so he may have been wrong.