Your child may feel “butterflies in their tummy” if he is trying something new, has a big test coming up, 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 even 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 still be successful.
Model calming behavior
As a parent, watching our child battle nervous feelings can be difficult and may cause us to feel anxious and worried ourselves. However, the child may grow more panicked because of this because our children typically feed off of our own behaviors. Model calming behavior to your child. Speak in a calm voice, try not to rush him, and keep your chit chat positive and encouraging.
Prepare and discuss
Prior to the big day, discuss with your child what he 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 his worries are specifically and help him 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 he thinks will be helpful in calming butterflies when they do arise.
“I taught my daughter to take slow deep breaths and to pretend she was somewhere else,” says Krystal Laws, mother of seven. 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 nervous energy. Once your child has found a relaxation technique that works for him, he will have a tool in his back pocket when nerves arise.
Visualize and problem solve
If your child is nervous about an upcoming recital, performance, or game, have him sit still, close his 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 a 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 he 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 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. This will help him feel he is at his 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. ■