Performance Anxiety

Most people have some anxiety leading up to and during performance-type situations (e.g., musical performances, sports events, theater, public speaking). However, when children start to avoid activities that are important to them or feel extremely distressed when they have to do them, this is a sign that their performance anxiety is getting in the way. Children (and adults) with performance anxiety often report fear of their anxiety messing them up (e.g., a child worrying that their hands will shake during a piano recital and cause them to make mistakes) as well as fear of negative judgment from others, particularly regarding mistakes and physical anxiety symptoms (e.g., shaky hands, blushing, stammering). These books help kids to feel less alone in their experience of performance anxiety and to learn some strategies for coping with and facing their fears!
Age range: Mid- to late-elementary schoolers, but much of the book is applicable to kids a bit younger with some extra parental support.
Evidence-Based Practices: Cognitive Restructuring, Exposure, Relaxation
Age range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade
Recommended for: This book is best for children with performance anxiety. Pilar is a ballet dancer, but children with anxiety about other types of performances (e.g., musical performances, theater, class presentations, sports) would also likely benefit from reading this story. It normalizes performance anxiety, which is an important intervention (i.e., there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling anxious about a performance), and it teaches strategies of breathing, visualization, and talking with a loved one.
Age range: Kindergarten through 2nd grade, maybe 3rd.
Recommended for: A child with a lot of safety-oriented worries who is at all interested in knights or medieval lore. This story destigmatizes anxiety (knights are inherently cool and brave, right?) and presents the value of exposure (i.e., doing things they care about even if they’re scary) and expectancy violations (i.e., bad outcomes happen, and they’re not nearly as bad as the knight expected). Different coping strategies are briefly shared by the knight’s classmates (also knights), which might give these techniques a bit of extra credibility! The knight is particularly anxious about participating in jousting practice in front of his classmates; this will likely resonate with children who experience significant anxiety in performance situations (e.g., sporting events, recitals, etc.).

The Whatifs

Written by Emily Kilgore
Illustrated by Zoe Persico
Age range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Recommended for: Kids who are inclined to think that worst possible scenarios will happen may benefit from this book’s messages that our Whatifs (in this book, pictured as cute flying monsters) can be both “grim” (e.g., “What if my dog runs away) and hopeful (e.g., “What if there’s chocolate cake after our recital”), and that more hopeful Whatifs help us to feel better and often come true. The main character Cora is anxious about a piano recital; this book could also be great to read with children who get particularly anxious about performances.