I truly believe that the words we say to ourselves is what we come to believe. Therefore we want children develop positive self-talk. But how do we do that? It would be easy if we could simply tell our children what to believe, but that isn’t possible. Instead each person is able to critically examine new information and decide for him or herself what is ‘true.’ Because of this self-interpreting, telling someone a truth for which they don’t feel psychologically ready is a surefire way for them to convince themselves otherwise.
Imagine a child who is severely stage fright. She loves her ballet classes but is begging and pleading to be allowed to opt out of the recital. The well intended parent assures her that she is a beautiful dancer and she will do great in the recital. The child then starts insisting that “no, I won’t! I can’t do the recital. I just can’t!” Unfortunately the well intended parent’s words caused the child to further convince herself of her self-limiting belief.
Well, how, should a parent respond to the hesitant child? It is fine to comment on the child’s beautiful dancing but I would perhaps highlight more the child’s apparent enjoyment of dancing while at the same time talking out loud about the child’s obvious and real fear of performing in a recital.
Often times, parents worry that they will plant ideas in their child’s mind but that isn’t how real people work, including children. If you say something that doesn’t actually apply to the child, the child will let you know you are wrong. If you say something that does apply to the child, she might not verbally agree but her non-verbal behavior will show she agrees. Then together with the child the parent can try to develop bravery steps for the child to get fully ‘used to the idea’ of performing in the recital.
Steps might include visiting the performance auditorium when it is empty so the child can gets used the space. Perhaps talking to the dance teacher might help develop steps towards a solution. Maybe the child would benefit from getting a recording of the performance music to practice more at home, or to go through the dance at the auditorium.
I don’t know what the specific solution steps would be. Whatever it would be, it would be at the child’s pace and readiness. The plan would help the child feel she is facing her fears in small accomplishable steps with the parent calmly walking aside her.