Do you remember how fearful you were learning a new skill like math, reading or writing? I do. I still have anxiety periodically, especially in my current improv class. Performing without a script, scares me. But it’s also thrilling. It makes me feel less self conscious and pushes me out of my comfort zone. Kids and teens can be just as judgmental and hard on themselves and their peers, and need just as much helping cope with the anxiety as adults do.
I’d like to share seven tips that are helping the kids and teens I work with curb their anxiety and help them to trust me when they’re feeling vulnerable.
Encourage your children or teens to create with wonder and exploration as they work on a new skill, especially writing. Make it joyful. Take words and binaries like “good” or “bad” out of the process, because they don’t belong there. Being new to a skill doesn’t make you a bad or good person. Those two words are unnecessarily distracting and defeating. Kids, teens and parents need to let go of these words and the problematic baggage attached to them.
Being new to a skill doesn’t make you a bad or good person.
Focus on the Process
Too often students focus on the end product–a letter grade or other external “reward”–instead of fully investing in the process or journey. The skill development, all the work, repetition, goal setting, commitment, triumphs and failures, are the character building treasure that symbolize learning for me. Looking outward disconnects one from deep and consistent skill growth. Be in the moment, or as dub poet Lillian Allen says, “be the moment.”
Everyone seems to want quick results. I used to be that way. By marrying patience with accountability, commitment, hard work, and scheduling, you’ll achieve your skill goals, both short and long term. It’s about the quality of your work process and the consistency, not the quantity or good intentions. You’re not going to become a master athlete, baker, thinker, speaker or writer overnight, ask Michael Jordan. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are feeding your denial and fears. Do the work and gain self respect.
No matter where you are in your skill journey, begin. If you don’t start, you’ll get nothing done. It’s that simple. Better to start afraid or weakly then procrastinate. Starting is the hardest step in this process but the most crucial. Almost every coaching session, my young clients are frightened to start but I gently encourage them to. And then we’re off and writing. The anxiety feels insurmountable but it isn’t. It needs to be acknowledged, unpacked and worked with. We can never provide enough encouragement and support.
If you don’t start, you’ll get nothing done. It’s that simple.
We all need more of this. When learning a new skill, you’re not going to do well by beating yourself up verbally. I used to do that to myself mercilessly and wondered why it didn’t help me improve? Abuse of any kind has no place in learning, coaching, or teaching. And self compassion breeds empathy! The nicer you are to yourself, the more you are to others.
Both Ira Glass and Julia Cameron wisely teach us to accept that we will produce weak results as new learners and creators. We will not make great things. Accept this and you will weather the early stumbles and strife with grace, patience and maturity. You’ll feel frustrated, confused, and tired. ALL NORMAL! And things that all people feel, successful or not. If you stick with the process, embrace your beginner status, you will improve.
We will not make great things. Accept this and you will weather the early stumbles and strife with grace, patience and maturity.
Almost every day or evening, I write my Morning Pages, as part of The Artist’s Way program for blocked artists. In three pages, I purge all of my negativity and explore everything that keeps me from creating art, being authentic, and taking action. I create affirmations in response to every cruel slight rooted in fear. Putting thoughts on paper helps you “see” and respond to them. It disarms them. Took me a while to realize that. I wrongly believed my fear induced thoughts defined me. Journaling stimulates clarity, self awareness and strength. As Flannery O’Connor says: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
I hope these tips are helpful. We all need to deal better with learning anxiety, especially children and teens. The ones I work with too often are riddled with fear and shame, afraid to look “stupid.” The fear is to be expected, but the lack of self compassion is daunting at times. But I’m compassionate and patient because these students were once, and at times still are, just like me.