Overcoming Performance Anxiety for Children

Has your child ever performed in front of a crowd and at the last minute backed out from it? Or has your child prepared thoroughly for an upcoming exam only to break down on exam day and claim they are going to fail? While some parents may think that the children are just being dramatic, performance anxiety is real and can be experienced by anyone. At some point, anyone could have felt performance anxiety from simple students to even seasoned politicians.

However, it doesn’t mean that there is no way to overcome performance anxiety. There are many ways to overcome it and not let it affect the individual completely. With children, it’s even more important to help them deal with it properly so they can develop their own coping mechanisms as well as not let it rule them as they get older.

What is performance anxiety?

It is an uneasy feeling of a mix between apprehension from performing in fear of the result and social humiliation from their peers. When a person starts to feel this, they would also start whatever confidence they had at the beginning to slowly start to slip away and start to lose their focus on whatever they are doing. Sometimes, an individual may even forget or blank out with what they were supposed to do even if they have been doing it all their life. As an example, a dancer may forget the steps of the routine they have been practicing for so long. This can also be the same with a singer who forgets the lyrics or an actor who forgets their lines.

For students, the most common scenario wherein they may feel performance anxiety is during their examinations. Some of the most talented and diligent students may forget what they have studied during their exams because of their fear of failing.

When this kind of anxiety hits students, they may often show symptoms of it such as crying, throwing unnecessary tantrums, and even stomachaches before they need to perform or take an exam. There are also others who have more silent symptoms such as nausea, mood swings, and breaking into cold sweat.

What’s the difference between performance anxiety and exam stress?

In our previous articles, we’ve tackled about exam stress and how it can also affect the performance of the student taking the exam. While they both share similar symptoms of panic and worry, they aren’t exactly the same. Some students may feel exam stress longer spanning from way before the day of the exam to until the end of it. Students who also feel performance anxiety may continue feeling the same symptoms with the same duration as those who suffer from exam stress. However, the difference lies in how prepared the student is. When a student is more prepared with their exams and knows they have studied well but still fear they will not do well, this is mostly caused by performance anxiety. Whereas when a student feels exam stress, they often feel like they haven’t fully prepared for the exam or haven’t put their best foot forward.

Why does performance anxiety happen?

As mentioned, everyone can feel performance anxiety. Even the most experienced speakers and brightest students can feel the signs from time to time. Which brings us to the question, why does performance anxiety happen? There are a lot of factors that can trigger this but here are some of the most common ones:

• Recognition

Sometimes, a person wants their hard work to be praised and their efforts recognized. This mostly stems from a person’s want to be accepted by their social peers.

• Lack of confidence

Confidence affects a person’s performance. When they are not fully confident in their skills, they will start to doubt themselves even if they are capable. Sometimes, lack of confidence can also stem from the person knowing they could’ve done more such as practice more or study more.

• Overthinking

Oneself can be one’s biggest rival and critic. Sometimes, a person can criticize and overanalyze the situation before it even happens. When they do this, they bring out scenarios that can happen to them which ultimately leads to failure and humiliation.

Consequences of pressure

Constant pressure on oneself can be very dangerous for the development and health of that person. The pressure given to young children to succeed can also affect their self-esteem no matter how talented they are. As such, the same pressure from parents or the people around them can also be factors for the lack of development in terms of handling pressure in a healthy way. Additionally, pressure can also affect memories. When a person is constantly stressed or pressured, their brain can’t function properly and may affect the part of the brain that organizes one’s memories.

How to help children with performance anxiety

There are many ways to help children when it comes to dealing with performance anxiety. However, as parents, it should be done so with care as children can be uncomfortable for them. Remember that in order for them to practice proper coping with performance anxiety, they need help first. Here are some ways to help them when they are experiencing performance anxiety.

1. Help with practicing mindfulness

Performance anxiety can happen to anyone and it’s only a matter of how to deal with it. A good way to deal with performance anxiety, or any stressful situation, is to keep one’s mind calm and focused. Anxiety can cause an overload on one’s senses and mind when uncontrolled and will affect the way a person reacts to a situation.

Another way to practice mindfulness is to introduce them to activities that promote them such as meditation and exercises like yoga. It’s also important to prepare them the right kinds of food that also helps promote focus and attention on tasks. As such, introducing them to these activities isn’t enough. Have the child do these activities before they perform in public or take their exam to help them focus and lessen their anxiety. When they start doing this on the regular, they will also incorporate this into their routine and significantly decrease the symptoms of performance anxiety for them.

2. Help them with the right way to strategize

Children can feel performance anxiety even when they have studied hard for their exams. However, even when they have studied, they can still feel worried over how to proceed with their exam. Some children tend to experience performance anxiety when they have no concrete plan on how to deal with their exams.

Before the exam, speak to the child about their plan on how to proceed with their exam. Some students have the knowledge they need but not the procedure in tackling the exam. When the parent and the child can develop a good strategy, it can help them stay focused on their exam and lessen the anxiety they may be feeling. If the parent isn’t confident with the strategy the child may be taking, they can opt to hire a tutor for the exam. Home tutors can help them practice test questions before the exam to familiarize the child with the exam flow as well as impart exam-taking techniques that can elevate anxiety and maximize the student’s knowledge and scores. Additionally, home tutors also provide personalized lessons that help with different learning styles and pace a child may have as well as provide feedback on weak areas the child is struggling on.

3. Share experiences of your own

As mentioned already, everyone at some point in their lives has experienced performance anxiety. For parents who have experienced the same, they can use their own experiences to explain to the child how they got through the situation. Relating to what the child is feeling through their own experiences can bring the parent and the child closer and the child will also be given real-life examples on how to approach the situation.

Using an example can also encourage the child to speak up about their feelings and thoughts. When they can share their thoughts with their parents, it can become easier to console them and provide them with help in coping with the situation. Additionally, as parents, you can also encourage the child and let them know there are people who support them and proud of what they are doing and that they gave it their all.

4. Help build up their self-esteem

One of the main reasons why people feel performance anxiety is because they lack confidence in themselves. For children, it’s important to build up their self-esteem as early as possible. This can be supported by parents helping them in finding their interests and passions. Some children may not know what they are most happy in doing or what they want to pursue in the future. Parents can help them by providing many ways to discover their various interests and finding out what best suits them.

Pursuing their passions can help them with their self-esteem as well as building up confidence in their chosen field of interest. As such, when parents continue to support them, it will also help lessen the stress and pressure they are feeling and just enjoy their interests without this pressure. When they are given the chance to pursue their interests more, they will become more confident in performing and will lessen the burden of performance anxiety as they enjoy what they do and they know that their parents are supporting them in their endeavor.


Performance anxiety and stage fright are normal experiences. However, as parents, it’s important to guide them in the different strategies they can do to cope with performance anxiety from the very beginning or at the first signs of it. If parents don’t intervene with it immediately, it can affect the child’s self-confidence and can hinder them from facing the world in the future.



Carelle is a teacher who has been through the ups and downs of the teacher and learner life. She wishes for every learner to gain educational satisfaction that will help embody the people they want to be in the future.

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