Seven tips to help ward off uncontrollable tears in the midst of the stress during competitions
We’ve all been there. Your child gets off the stage after her first performance of the day and has five numbers before her next performance. She has to change costumes, lipstick, hair, shoes and accessories, and you have about 15 minutes to get it done. Tensions are high, but you packed and checked everything twice. You promised yourself this time everything would run smoothly, and you have dedicated the last week to organizing everything to ward off any potential catastrophe. You’ve got this! You are such a good dance mom!
Then, things start to fall apart. The tights rip, an earring is missing, the ballet bun begins to unravel and so does your child. You now have five minutes before her next performance begins. You are frantic. You see the tears welling up. Your daughter starts speaking in a voice only dogs can hear, and then begins to hyperventilate.
This was the scenario at the first three of five competitive events my daughter and I attended last year. After the third time I began to reconsider whether competing was healthy for my child and our relationship. I was watching my normally sweet, mild mannered, preteen daughter morph into someone I didn’t recognize every few weeks. This didn’t feel right to me. My thoughts were, if she’s not having fun, this is not worth the money, time and effort we are putting into it.
And it wasn’t just my child. It was half of our team over the course of three competitions, and countless others from other schools experiencing meltdowns off stage and in the dressing rooms. Do I really want this for my child?
And so, I did what any lost parent does these days. I took to social media for advice. The best advice I received that day? Talk to your daughter.
So I did. Our half hour drive to the dance studio the following day was eye opening to say the least. Nobody likes to hear that they made a bad situation worse. But the words coming from my daughter, said politely and sincerely, were not so much about what we needed to change, but how I needed to react to her stress. Or, said better, how she needed me to support her when she feels like she’s losing control.
See, my response to her getting upset seemed more angry than what I was feeling. I’m dealing with what I know, and what I know is that we have extra tights, someone has an extra earring, and we can fix anything in a matter of seconds if we have to. She can’t walk onstage all red faced, we don’t have time to cry it out and fix make up. I needed her to settle down, immediately. Turns out, demanding she settle down was not helpful. Go figure.
My daughter kissed me before she got out of the car that day and walked into the studio, while I stayed in the car absorbing her heartfelt words. I feel like you’re mad at me for getting upset, but I can’t help but be upset, and you’re just making me more upset. Then I can’t calm down because I feel pressured to calm down and we just keep getting more agitated with each other and I don’t know what to do.
So, on the ride home we discussed a few things that solved a lot of problems during the two remaining competitions, and I’m happy to share with you what I’ve learned.
1. Food is important. Hangry is a real emotion. We all take candy and bags of chips, but real nutrition is necessary to get through 2 to 3 days of competitive dance. Nuts, fruit, sunflower seeds and dried fruit (without added sugar) are some great alternatives to snacks with empty calories.
2. Be prepared!! Most meltdowns seem to be the result of forgotten and misplaced items. Check that dance case, have the same list for every competition and check it off every time. Bring extras of everything possible, and find a way to organize it! Then check again at the hotel before you leave, then again in the car.
3. Be positive and soften your tone. You’re stressed, you’re panicking, your child’s performance is important to you, and you know that if the bun is too high or a hat falls off, the blame is on you if the number doesn’t do well. But as stressed as you are you are not the one walking on stage to dance in front of judges and parents. Understand what your child is feeling and build their confidence up. Soften your frustration a bit, be understanding and patient.
4. Your dancer also needs to know that your understanding and patience has a limit. You want your dancer to be calm and collected, so you respond to them in kind. But with some, you give an inch and they take a mile. Don’t allow a little venting to turn into disrespect, or you’re not helping your dancer as much as you’re creating a bigger problem. Stress is no excuse to mistreat anyone, and it’s important for them to understand that. You a not a doormat for your child.
5. If a fellow dance mom steps in and takes over, allow her to do exactly that. This takes some pride swallowing, and it does sting a little when your child responds better to an outsider. But in reality, this is helping your relationship with your child because they are not taking their anxiety out on you. It’s not about the person stepping in being better at dealing with your child, it’s about your child being helped by someone they will not easily use to take out their anxiety. Of course, there are a few parents who aren’t as much help as they think, and if the person tends to be toxic in a dance environment then you must politely intercede. But if the situation seems more under control if another parent steps in, allow them to take over for a few minutes and see if another dancer is in need of help. Instead of being upset with you, they are responding and calming down, and when they have come down a little you step back in and ask if she’s okay, give her a little hug and send her to the stage on a positive note.
6. Have a talk before the competition season even starts, really listen to your child and be open to criticism. We know more, but that does not mean we are always right. If you want competitive dance to be a positive experience for both of you, then listen to your child tell you what she needs from you. From here you can develop creative ways to deal with anxiety and the occasional catastrophe. My daughter and I came up with a color code to tell me her level of anxiety. It was actually my nieces idea, and it’s working beautifully so far.
7. Let her dance instructor give the corrections. When your dancer walks off the stage after a lackluster performance, she needs a hug from you. Don’t give a list of what she did wrong. The judges will give her a score and her instructor will go over the score with her soon enough. Let them do their job, and when they do, you get to build her up and ask her how you can help her improve. For now, just let her know you’re proud of her, and that she looked beautiful.
Dance season is just beginning, and competition season is on its way. Hopefully this helps your season go a bit more smoothly.