I am home-schooling my 7-year-old son as we are in the midst of the Australian lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every Friday at school (when things are running normally) is FUN FRIDAY, the day ends with children from his neighbourhood volunteering to participate in a concert for all the parents as we pick them up. Children can play an instrument, sing a song or even do a dance.
My son has never put his hand up to participate even though he loves dancing and also singing. He is pretty extraverted, so I keep pushing him asking why he doesn’t want to be in the concert? Next week they are planning on doing a virtual fun Friday and they are asking for volunteers. I asked him again whether he wants to participate and he vehemently says “No way I will get really nervous!”. He actually starts going really red even thinking about it…
“Why is that, I ask? You will be doing your performance at home wouldn’t that be a little less scary?”
He responds that he will still get really nervous as he doesn’t like everyone looking at him. We then had a really interesting conversation, as I know that nerves and excitement are two ways of looking at that feeling of fear or nervousness. And successful athletes and performers have learnt to interpret nervousness as a positive form of energy and frame it as excitement. Your mind is a powerful weapon so if you think about it. Nerves and excitement have pretty much the same physical reaction in your body. Whether you are nervous or excited:
- Your heart starts racing
- Your palms get clammy
- Your mind races and you start visualising the future and what is going to happen
- You may even need to go to the toilet (1’s or 2’s) 😊
So, I started thinking about how can I prepare my son and help him reframe his nervousness as excitement and get the courage to face his fear and stand up in front of his peers? I started talking to him about our family motto which is “The Jaksch’s never give up.” This is how I get him to push forward when he wants to give up or not try something.
It didn’t work, he actually started getting really upset so I knew this fear was actually a pretty deep-seeded one. And I struggled to understand it, being a speaker, I loved getting up in front of people. I also know that the best way of getting over a fear is to face it. This is what creates resilience.
I then tried using the analogy of skiing. Our family are avid skiers and Sebastian learned when he was just two years old so now at seven, he was actually pretty good. In fact, he just started skiing black runs. But this involves my husband pushing him and taking him places that are outside his usual comfort zone. These little expeditions often end in tears but then quickly turn to elation as he conquers his fear and gets down the hill. My husband at the end of each of these difficult runs, asks my son to look back up the hill and look at where he has just skied down. The response is always the same, my sons face breaks out into a massive smile. “WOW!” He exclaims. “I cannot believe I just did that, let’s do it again!”.
Using this analogy, I ask him to remember the feeling he gets when he is about to ski down a black run. I ask him what is that feeling? He says it’s really scary I feel afraid in my tummy. I then ask him what he thinks is going on his body? He says his heart is jumping up and down! (Cute explanation hey!). During this conversation, he starts smiling as he remembers how he turned his fear into another feeling.
I decide to press on and I then ask him what is going on when he thinks about getting up in front of people? He instantly gets really agitated. “Oh, mummy I just don’t want to talk about this, OK!”. There is obviously something there.
I ask him, can you remember a specific time when you had to get up in front of people? When you maybe felt nervous? He looks up and says yes “Mummy, I have this dream all the time that I am on stage in a big theatre and I wet my pants, and everyone laughs at me.”
I find it amazing that a seven-year old’s fear of social rejection manifests in a dream and then he brings it into a real-life fear of being publicly humiliated. But our unconscious mind does not know the difference between reality and a dream so there we have it. So I press on.
“Is it ok if I ask you another question?” I ask.
“Ummmm, ok,” he says nervously.
“So, can you remember a time recently when you wet your pants in public?” I ask.
He thinks for a moment and starts smiling “No, no I can’t I don’t wet my pants anymore. That’s what babies do.” He answers.
“So do you really think you would wet your pants if you had to get up and do a dance in front of your friends?”
“No Mummy I wouldn’t but I still don’t want to do it. I’m still nervous.”
Knowing what I do about brain science, I decide to try and get him to reframe this experience and create a new stimulus for him to draw on in an attempt for him to conquer this fear.
“Is it ok if we try something out I ask?”
I asked him to close his eyes and get a picture of him standing up in front of a group of people. He reluctantly agrees. “What is the feeling that you get?” He says “I am nervous my heart is jumping and I feel weird in my tummy.”
“Now imagine that instead of speaking you are about to ski down the mountain and at the bottom is the same group of people are watching you”. He said “ok”. I said, “How do you feel?”
“I feel scared mummy. My heart is still jumping and I feel it in my tummy.”
“Don’t you notice how similar these feelings are… I asked?” I repeated what I heard that whether he was talking in front of people or skiing down a difficult pitch he has the same feelings in the same places within his body.
He paused and said, “Yes Mummy I suppose they are.”
“Now I want you to imagine yourself skiing down the mountain and when you get down the bottom imagine all the people are clapping? Can you see it and feel it?”
His face breaks out into a massive smile and he exclaims “I did it, I did it!”…
“How does it feel?” I ask.
“I don’t know mummy he says, can I open my eyes now?”
“Just a few more moments.” I press.
“So, what did you notice?” I ask?
“Mmmm…” he ponders… “That being scared is ok as the feeling doesn’t last forever and when you try something new sometimes you can do things, you didn’t think you could…” he says.
“B I N G O!” I exclaim… “By using the special powers in our mind, we can choose how to feel about any situation we are faced with. No matter how young or old we are.” I explain.
This is one trait I see time and time again with the Millennials that I interview. They all have grit and resilience but it is something that they are not born with it is something that they train themselves to have. Like an athlete, they get addicted to that feeling of discomfort, fear and nerves and they embrace it and enjoy the end result.
You are never too old to start trying new things. I am actively teaching my son to be brave and push himself as this is what is going to serve him well later in life and hopefully create pathways for the type of thinking he will need to draw on.
My son still does not want to perform at Fun Friday. And that’s ok. I also need to respect that sometimes people will only do things when they are good and ready.
My advice is next time you are nervous try reframing your fear to excitement and see what happens. You can even say the words “Well this is exciting.” I am positive you will notice a difference and in times like these, we need to be using our fear as a positive form of energy and using it to help us grow. It’s a choice.
Written by Emily Jaksch