The Christmas play is a key event in the school year. For some pupils it’s a chance to shine; performing to an audience is enjoyable and comes naturally to them. Others find the prospect of performance a little more daunting.
Severe performance anxiety in children isn’t a common problem here at Aldwickbury, but it’s normal (and understandable) for some boys to be a little nervous. Luckily, there is lots that can be done to encourage everyone to take part with enthusiasm.
Why do children suffer from performance anxiety?
Performance anxiety in children can arise for a number of reasons. Putting on a play and performing in front of an audience can be nerve-wracking if it takes children out of their comfort zone.
“Some children, often those who are academically successful, but have a tendency towards perfectionism, fear the embarrassment of things going wrong in front of an audience, and in some cases it can lead to acute anxiety,” explains child psychology expert Dr Amanda Gummer, MD, founder of Fundamentally Children.
“These children can learn a valuable lesson about not having to be perfect and can be encouraged to start with a smaller part.”
Supporting children at school
Every year at Aldwickbury School, the whole of Year 1 put on a Christmas play with their teacher and teaching assistants. The Year 1 performances of ‘A Miracle in Town’ will take place on 5 and 6 December.
When allocating parts and lines to the boys, we endeavour to match them to the confidence and abilities of individual children. Shyer individuals are encouraged, but they don’t have to be in the spotlight if they’re not comfortable.
Offering support to our performers doesn’t need to involve singling people out. ‘Hidden’ support to alleviate performance anxiety in the kids is built in; simple strategies like placing the boys in the order that they will be performing so they know they are next to speak, having visual prompts and offering support from the adults at the side of the stage are helpful to everyone.
You can also read more about Aldwickbury drama lessons here.
Extra support for anxious individuals
If we notice signs of performance anxiety in children as we start to rehearse, there are a variety of strategies that we use to support them. These might include practice sessions with a teaching assistant or in a small group, placing them next to other boys they feel comfortable with, or giving them lines to say with a partner.
It’s important to note that at Aldwickbury, we encourage the boys to perform but do not force them; if they are too shy or anxious to speak then we can adapt their part so that it is non-speaking. Gentle encouragement and praise is used to encourage the boys to take part, and our Pre-Prep plays are very much a communal affair with most of the boys on the stage at the same time, rather than focusing on ‘main parts’.
If you feel drama may help your child to gain confidence – or it’s simply something they might enjoy – you might consider drama as an extracurricular activity.
How drama can boost confidence in children
Although performance anxiety may lead children to avoid the limelight, taking part in a drama production can in fact be a good way for young people to increase their self-confidence.
“Performing is great for children’s confidence, especially those who find the more academic subjects more challenging and so struggle with confidence in the classroom,” says Dr Gummer. The experience of taking part in a production, and seeing the reaction of the audience, can provide affirmation and be a real confidence boost.
But in order to gain confidence, children don’t need to take on a starring role or sing a solo. “It’s important to support individual children’s strengths and not force children who really don’t want to participate onto the stage,” says Dr Gummer. “They can be valuable in behind-the-scenes roles and be called out for the curtain call at the end so they get the public recognition.”
Visit the Aldwickbury School calendar for a full list of performances leading up to the end of the Christmas term.