My good friend messaged me tonight for advice on how to deal with a situation. Her daughter had a school performance and all week they had been talking about it at home. They were all looking forward to it and her daughter would sing all the words around the house in preparation.

The day of the performance came and there her parents sat eagerly awaiting to hear her sing her heart out, and she didn’t sing. Not. one. word.

“We were so disappointed. How should I handle it when I get home?”

I totally get it. First child, first performance. There is so much excitement to see your child perform and show what they’ve been learning. I remember feeling giddy as I took my seat in the audience for my son’s first performance.

He spotted us, and then he started to cry. When he calmed down, instead of singing the songs which I knew he knew the words to, he took the prop and started putting it in his mouth. (It was a Popsicle stick with a picture of an ice cream, not meant to be actually eaten like an ice cream 🙈)

So what did I answer my friend?

First I told her, I get it. But then I went on…

Performing is scary for a lot of kids. And even if they belt out the words at home, or in the rehearsal, when it’s show time they are just silent. What’s the real goal? The real goal is to learn the content, through song, and to enjoy doing it. Did those things happen? Yes. And in her case, very much so. So, does it really matter that she didn’t perform for the class performance? No.

But what does matter? What’s the most important thing that can come from this? They can’t feel that they let you down. And that sentiment is something we can apply as they get older and continue to perform or try out for teams. They can and understandably will be disappointed for not making the varsity team, but they can’t and shouldn’t have to feel your disappointment on top of their own. We need to be their cheerleaders. When the going gets tough, and it will, they need to know that they can come to us for encouragement, not that they need to feel like they’re falling short was a failure in your eyes as well.

I told her, this is a perfect opportunity for encouragement. When you come home you can say something like, “It seemed like you were a little nervous to sing with everyone there. I totally understand, I used to be nervous too. I came up with some ways to help me be less nervous when I perform. Do you want to come up with ways together? (Like maybe she looks at you when she gets on stage and you do a special sign together – like a certain movement with your hand)” What you come up with doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re there as a source of encouragement and that goes a long way.

I went on to tell her my son did the same thing and remind her that they’re 3 years old, and even seasoned performers get nervous. I said, maybe over this holiday weekend coming up, her daughter can do her performance for her family, in her comfort zone. It may just be that the first performances are a whole new world and it takes time to get used to performing in school. There are kids who never get comfortable in school performances and adding stress and your disappointment is not going to be what makes them suddenly feel comfortable doing it.

She pointed out that the majority of the class didn’t sing, maybe only a few students did. I concluded with: (it’s a text message so excuse the grammar)
“So it’s obviously human nature. I think the most important lesson you can show her tomorrow is that even though she didn’t shine in her performance, you still 100% support her and encourage her to continue to enjoy singing and learning with her class.
Like even to say something like “I get being nervous! Each performance you might get a little more comfortable each time, just know we’re always here you can just look just at us and smile.”

A child needs to look to the audience at their performance and see their parents face as a source of comfort and encouragement, not a source of stress and fear to disappoint. The difference in how they look up to us goes far beyond that one performance in that one room.

If your son or daughter misses the shot that could have won their team the championship and instead they lost, they will feel horrible. I would also. And I wouldn’t want someone to be like “oh don’t worry you’re still amazing,” that’s not what they need to hear. They need to know, “it’s ok that you lost. I’m sure it’s a horrible feeling to feel responsible and I’m sure you’re feeling pretty crappy right now. I get it. There will be more games to play and sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you’ll lose and that’s life. I understand that you’re upset. I’m here if you want a distraction to do something you enjoy, or if you want some time to blow off steam, let me know what works.”

They need to know that if they try and then lose, that doesn’t mean they’re a failure in your eyes. They need the encouragement from you to help come out of their disappointments and losses stronger than they were before.

So yes, it starts at 3 years old to want to see your child perform successfully. And it starts at 3 years old to be your child’s encourager, to build the confidence that will only help them as they get older.