Well – it really depends on how you approach it.
Maria and I were discussing this issue recently, as we are constantly checking ourselves to be sure our approach is the right one.
The thing is, if an anxious child is forced or overly cajoled, then it is clearly going to make things even worse. They need to go at their own pace, knowing that everyone around them gives them full permission NOT to get up and perform if that makes them uncomfortable.
“I see kids every day who have some form of anxiety” said Maria. “those who can’t perform because they just get so consumed with fear that they just shut down. Anxious people (and it isn’t just children) will fear failure or that they might let themselves or someone else down. It will make them feel inadequate and incapable”
So why on earth would someone with such anxieties join a drama club? Well, on the whole, it is the parent who decides that drama may help. And it is our job to prove them right. So it needs to be managed very carefully. A drama club is providing an environment and the tools and the support of others all of which act as the building blocks of inner strength and self-belief.
This may all sound like a bit of cod-psychology but, to be honest, we both suffered anxiety as children and have learned to overcome it. I was so terrified of going to school it used to take half an hour to take the ten-minute walk while my mum stopped and watched me hyper-ventilate. In my case, I was having to deal with difficult relationships with other kids. Maria was also anxious about school but it was more a fear of looking stupid if called out in class. In both of our cases, we came to drama and found a way to not be ourselves for a while. It offered us the tools to cope with life in general and made us realise that placing ourselves in front of a crowd and speaking out loud was empowering and especially when we realised we could do something other people couldn’t!
Of course, we also need to know when a little gentle persuasion is all a child needs to give it a go! Sometimes they just really, really want someone to say; “We know you can do it and now we want you to show us”. The important thing is, that a critical appraisal of their performance is not what they need but simply a cheer for taking that leap.
“One student” says Maria “who I have been working with for a year now, still cannot get over the fear of performance, so he is directing his group. There is always another role that a child can take on until they are ready to step into the spotlight.”
Given time, drama will help the anxious child to speak up in class and risk a wrong answer, to stand up for a friend who is being picked on and to shrug off unkind words from other kids at school. Given time…..