Your child may feel “butterflies in their tummy” if they have a big event coming up such as an important test, a piano recital, or even the first day of school. 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 the pressure to do well on a test or at a sporting event. Many adults find themselves feeling nervous for similar events at work or in the community. Even though nerves are common, parents can help kids calm the butterflies and be successful.
Model calming behavior
As a parent, watching our child battle nervous feelings can be difficult and may cause the parent to feel anxious and worried themselves. The 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 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 them 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.”
If you find your child is nervous often, sit down ahead of time and discuss some relaxation techniques they think will be helpful in calming butterflies when they arise. “I taught my daughter to take slow deep breaths and to pretend she was 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. Encourage your child to take a short walk or jog, do jumping jacks, shoot hoops, or play on the swingset. 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.
Symptoms of anxiety in children
While some nervousness is normal in children, kids may suffer from extreme anxiety that negatively affects their day to day life. If your child is experiencing the following symptoms it may be time to seek additional help:
- Children with extreme anxiety may “act out” with tantrums, refusal to do typical activities, and generally disobedient behaviors.
- Excessive and extreme worry about normal, everyday activities that causes them to miss out on events at school or with friends. (kidshealth.com)
- They may be restless, have difficulty concentrating, have trouble sleeping, and experience irritability.
- They may also experience physical difficulties such as muscle tension, frequent urination, stomach aches, difficulty swallowing, and headaches. (verywell.com)
If you believe your child may have an anxiety disorder, seek professional help for an official diagnosis and support. In the meantime, continue to be supportive and patient with your child and let them know you will help them work through these challenges.