It’s panto season and along with pantomimes, we have carol concerts and nativity plays.
As we work with children leading up to the Christmas festivities, we are hearing a mix of emotions and feelings around the subject of Christmas performance opportunities.
“My teacher says I’m really good at singing, but I’m NOT singing in front of people.” (Age 15)
“I’m so excited for my school play, I’m Rudolph and…
do you know what the show’s called? ‘Rudolph!’
And that’s who I’m going to be.” (Age 6)
“I really want to have a speaking part but it’s been given to Jessie.
I don’t think the teacher thinks I’m as good as Jessie.” (Age 9)
“I work really hard at my dance class, and I love dancing,
I really want to be in the show, but I feel so anxious and even sick
when there’s an audience.” (Age 15)
How we feel about performing in front of an audience is likely not linked with our skill, talent or ability but with our belief in our ability – it’s linked to confidence.
“Confidence means feeling sure of yourself and your abilities — not in an arrogant way, but in a realistic, secure way. Confidence isn’t about feeling superior to others. It’s a quiet inner knowledge that you’re capable. Confident people know they can rely on their skills and strengths to handle whatever comes up.” (Source: Kidshealth.org)
Why is it that some children can just perform – they make it look so easy. Sometimes they might not even have a talent in that area, but they just have a confidence that shines through.
What creates that confidence?
In part genetics and personality types are a factor.
When we work with teenagers, one of the areas we might talk about is personality types and help them to understand themselves on a deeper level but also how this might affect the lens through which they view opportunities, challenges and other people.
Some are naturally more extroverted, where some are naturally more introverted for example.
This does not predetermine confidence levels but those who are more extrovert, are likely to be more comfortable in the limelight (it’s part of the extrovert makeup). However, please do note that there are a large number of hugely talented, successful and famous actors who are more naturally introverted, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep to name a few.
But our genetics only play a part and the good news is confidence can also be learnt. Confidence grows through the a combinations of positive feedback and positive experience and neuroscience shows that new neuropathways can be created by introducing new and repeated behaviours
So, how do we learn how to develop confident behaviour?
Confidence can be built through small opportunities to shine:
Our child reads out loud at school, perhaps just a line or two at first, and gets positive and encouraging feedback = their brain rewards them with serotonin (happy) and dopamine (pride, achievement) = confidence in reading out loud improves = encouraged to do it again = becomes easier over time = next step for example reading a few lines in the next assembly.
Sadly, we don’t always get positive feedback:
Our child read out loud but perhaps the teacher was distracted so no feedback or the class laughed at something else that was happening elsewhere = different, more negative story is created in the brain = they feel embarrassed = cortisol (stress/anxiety) is released in the brain = loses confidence to try again next time.
You can see how some experiences, that we can’t always control, have an impact.
Now, we as parents may not have much control over what happens when out kids are at school but we can really help to make a difference with building their confidence when they are with us which will help them cope better when things don’t necessarily go their way.
Our brains respond in a similar way whether an event is actually happening or we are imagining it. So, if your child has convinced themselves certain situations make them feel anxious and they are playing those out in their minds then the brain will re-enforce this belief, create anxiety and increase their lack of confidence with that particular thing.
So, If we can help them CREATE MORE positive experiences and reflect on challenges in a more solution focused way we can help them influence their brains to create more positive stories and build confident instead.
An exercise to build confidence
Following the steps below you can support your child in building on their past successes and using these as the foundation for future success.
This exercise begins by encouraging your child to recall a time when they were successful – each time we recall a positive and successful event we can recall the feelings associated with them – and as we know the brain doesn’t know the difference between the imagined and the reality, it is as if we have had that positive experience again.
We also know that when we have positive thoughts (one of our 3Ps) our brain delivers serotonin making us feel calmer, more in control and more able to cope with day-to-day life. This also enables your child to move from the anxious part of their brain to the part of the brain that is able to view the challenge more positively and make a proper assessment.
Ask your child to recall a time when they felt really successful (it can be any time – not necessarily linked to the things making them anxious right now).
- Ask them to close their eyes and vividly recall that event in as much details as possible – imagine they are back there now in their mind.
- Ask them to describe, in detail what they can see – colours, images, objects, people etc.
- Ask them to describe what they can hear – sounds, voices, positive feedback, own self talk in head etc
- Ask them to recall how they felt – describe those feelings (confidence, proud, excited etc).
Keeping them with their eyes closed, still imagining the memory, ask them to see if they can make those feelings even stronger:
- Ask them to tell you when they are a 10/10 for strength of feelings.
- When they have reached 10/10 ask them to picture a colour that represents those feelings for them.
Ask them to imagine they can now breathe that colour in and feel it filling their whole body.
- Let them practice breathing in the colour for a few moments and enjoying how confident they are feeling.
- When your child has fully and positively connected with that memory their brain will given them a lovely dose of feel-good chemicals and they should be ready to see themselves succeeding again with the future event.
Ask them to keep hold of that feeling and imagine themselves changing the event in their mind to the new situation they were worried about in the first place (singing, reading, performing etc).
- Ask them to describe it but going REALLY REALLY WELL!
- What can they see, hear and how do they feel (same as precious time).
- Then, in the new situation ask them to breath in their confident colour.
When they imagine the event as they would like it to be, the brain takes note and starts to work on and rehearse that new preferred outcome.
Encourage them to practice this positive visualisation each day in the run up to an event:
- When they are there for the real event they can bring their colour into their mind, breathe it in and notice how easily they can bring back those successful, confident feelings.
Confidence grows with practice and experience. Confidence in one area of our life does not guarantee confidence in another, but it does give us more confident foundations to build upon. As we encounter new challenges, both as adults and children, we may find that our confidence can wobble but if we stand on our foundations of previous successes (remembering and visualising when we were successful before) we can push into that new challenge and stretch to the next level of confidence and success.
And remember, if they decide to try a new challenge, encourage them, praise them and no matter how it turns out tell them how proud you are that they gave it a go!
One final thought, all these activities (especially around Christmas) are there to be enjoyed, in and of themselves they should be fun – if it’s not fun for your child, then helping them to identify another way they could be involved may help them to build their self-confidence by providing them with their best opportunity to be successful.