Your child may feel ‘butterflies’ in their tummy if they have a big event coming up such as an important test or a piano recital. It is normal to feel nervous when kids are expected to perform or speak in front of a group of people, if they have an upcoming dentist or doctor appointment, or if they have pressure to do well on a test or at a sporting competition. Even though nerves are common, parents can help kids calm the butterflies and be successful.
Model calming behavior. Watching our child battle nervous feelings can be difficult and may cause you to feel anxious and worried yourself. Your child may grow more panicked because of this. Model calming behavior to your child. Speak in a calm voice, try not to rush them, and keep your chit chat about the upcoming ‘big day’ positive and encouraging.
Prepare and discuss. Prior to the big day, discuss with your child what they can expect. “We spend time talking about the event a few days before. I allow my kids to ask questions and understand what to expect throughout the process,” says Lauren Heller, mother of twins. This is a great opportunity to discuss with your child what their worries are specifically and help them work through them in a healthy way. Rodganna Avery, mother of three, suggests, “We talk about what to expect and how to handle it. We also try to find books on the topic from the library.”
Relaxation techniques. If you find your child is nervous often, sit down with your kid ahead of time and discuss some relaxation techniques they think will be helpful in calming the butterflies when they arise. “I taught my daughter to take slow deep breaths and to pretend she is somewhere else,” says Krystal Laws, mother of seven. Some other relaxation techniques may include stretching, reading a book, sipping a favorite drink, listening to music, or talking to a friend.
Many kids find physical activity relaxing, too. Encourage your child to take a short walk or jog, do jumping jacks, shoot hoops, or play on the swing set. This will help your child release some nervous energy. Once your child has found a relaxation technique that works for them, they will have a tool in their back pocket when nerves arise.
Visualize and problem-solve. If your child is nervous about an upcoming recital, performance, or game, have them sit still, close their eyes, and visualize each step of the upcoming event and how it will go. Picture a positive outcome with everything going smoothly. During the visualization process, address any obstacles your child may foresee. “Before an ice-skating performance, we consider what would happen if she fell - just get back up, no big deal,” says Jane Hammond, mom of three. Problem-solve with your child how you can overcome any of the challenges they may be worrying about. For younger kids, acting out the situation that is making them nervous can be very helpful. “Our boys used to have a really hard time with doctor appointments. We bought a doctor set and played ‘doctor’ while talking about what to expect. They love going now!” says Becky Asher, mom to triplet boys.
As the big day approaches, set your child up for success with a good night of rest and a healthy diet before the event. This will help them feel they are at their best when the ‘butterflies’ arrive. Explain to your child that even adults get nervous about situations and these feelings are normal. Children tend to feel more secure in new situations when they know they have your support and understanding along the way.
Sarah is a wife and mother of six children.
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