The days of hanging out in a friend’s back yard after school or cruising around the neighborhood on bikes are being replaced by 8-yr olds running in 80-degree heat to cut weight for Pop Warner kiddie football weigh-ins (true story) and middle school children being dropped off for early morning swim practice with a mug of coffee (also true).
From athletics to academics to music, there seems to be more pressure than ever for children to become overachieving whiz kids who will get into all the right schools and have successful high-income careers.
And to hear parents, teachers, and administrators tell it, the stress is evident, even if the kids can’t quite articulate what they are experiencing.
There are good questions being raised about whether this pressure is helping or hurting our students’ likelihood of success in the long run as creativity is a necessarily messy process, that will only flourish to the degree that mistakes and “failure” are accepted as temporary points of reflection along the way.
But regardless of whether this pressure has a net positive or negative effect on our kids, the issues are amplified when our students don’t have the tools to handle this kind of stress effectively.
But how do we bring up such a topic with young children? And what are we supposed to say, anyway?
“It’s ok, you don’t have to get on stage if you don’t want?”
“Suck it up and get your butt out there?”
We could certainly shy away from talking about it. But then that sends the message that they shouldn’t feel what they feel, that being nervous is bad, that there’s something wrong with them if they feel anxious, that they’re abnormal, that performance stress is a taboo subject, or something to fear.
So how can we talk about performance pressure, nerves, and stage fright in the most open, natural, and helpful way?