5 Ways to Help Kids Deal with Nerves

Some of our top tips for helping students overcome stage fright with public speaking.


There's no magic solution for nerves, but at Rise & Shine we do have some techniques we've found to be helpful. Here are five of our favourite tips:

1. Don't say "don't worry" It's not helpful and it invalidates a child's experience. And it just doesn't work. Instead, we try to validate that a child has the right to feel like that and that yes, it can be scary. Being brave isn't about not feeling nervous - it's about feeling scared and doing it anyway.

2. Explain what's happening physiologically This is best to do in a class prior to a debate - explain physiologically what's happening when we feel nervous. How our stomach feels, our throat and other physical symptoms of nervousness. Explain that their body feels like this because it is reacting to a perceived threat and it's trying to be helpful and keep them safe. It's not trying to make us feel bad. Sometimes when students can recognise the symptoms of nerves and understand that it's just a physical reaction and will pass, they are able to move through a case of nerves. We can also remind students that there are ways to tell their body that it's going to be okay, such as breathing deeply and by smiling.

3. Deep breathing This is physically a powerful calming tool, especially when you explain to students that when our body starts reacting to something it thinks is dangerous, one of the ways we can tell it that it's going to be okay is to breathe deeply. It's good to give students a technique to help them to breathe deeply rather than just telling them to do it. For some students, just hearing "do some deep breathing" won't mean anything to them - they need to know exactly how. For example, counting to five breathing in and then out. Or getting a tissue and breathe in as you raise it above your head, then breathe out as it's falling to the floor. Or do this but just imagine the tissue.

4. Songs or chants Sometimes singing a chorus of a favourite motivational song can help students relax and feel better or feel like they can do it. Singing automatically opens the lungs and allows deeper breathing and a more relaxed body too. The chorus of "Brave" by Sara Bareilles is one of our favourites - "Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out, honestly. I wanna see you be brave." Or we change the last sentence to "I wanna see you debate."

5. Taking a moment before speaking We like to teach children to take a moment to look at the audience before launching into their speech. NEVER ask them to imagine the audience naked or even wearing silly things. This is inappropriate for children, distracting, off topic, takes a lot of mental energy and just doesn't help at all. We ask them instead, to look at the audience and remind themselves that everyone is there to support them. To look at one person and think, "that person is here to support me and they think I'm great already." Choose another person and think the same. Usually if a child looks at 3 people and thinks this (or some variation, such as "that person is in my fan club"), they will be ready to speak confidently.

We like to talk to children about nerves and teach them tools to help manage fear, but also not speak about it like nervousness is inevitable. We tend to talk about nerves like they are something that's natural - some people experience them, some people don't. Either way is fine. We also remind students that what they're feeling may also be a mixture of excitement and nerves, and they can focus on the excitement they're feeling too. There are many other ways to overcome nerves, but these are some that work well for us. What techniques work for you?