How can I help my daughter who has started throwing up before and during dance competitions?

My daughter has been competing in dance for the last two years without any problem, but she has recently started to throw up before and during competition.  However, she still goes through with it and competes.  It is becoming very stressful and I am even considering pulling her out of dance. She loves it, though, and begs me to let her go.  We keep on encouraging her and forcing positive thinking. What else can you suggest?

If your daughter is older than about ten years old, she can learn both physical and mental relaxation to help her lessen the stress of competition.

The easiest physical relaxation strategy is deep slow breathing, sometimes called the relaxation response. She should:

  • sit in a comfortable chair and gently close her eyes (no TV, could have relaxing music on).
  • breathe in through her nose and fill her lungs
  • breathe out through her mouth

She should breathe in relaxation and breathe out tension. Do this for ten minutes. If she gets dizzy she should slow down her breathing. Practicing this twice a day and then just before competition.

The easiest mental relaxation may be similar to your helping her with positive thoughts. The key is for her to identify negative thoughts and replace them with more realistic thoughts. I like to use the ADAPT method. This approach is hard to do until the child has meta cognition or the ability to think about thinking. This happens about age ten or 11 years.

A – Acknowledge the feeling of stress or being uncomfortable.
D – Describe the thought or image that is causing the stress. It might be something like “I have to win the competition” or “I will do terribly and everyone will laugh at me” or it might be an image of her falling down.
A – Assess how helpful or sensible this thought is. This is when your daughter has to learn how to argue with herself. She can say things like “My thoughts are too extreme” or “It’s not as bad as that” or “If I fall, I will get up.”
P – Present alternatives. It is best to replace the negative thoughts with sensible, positive thoughts. Saying “I will be a bit worried but I can manage” is much better than “I will do it perfectly.”
T – Think praise. She can say “That was a good try.”

She will have to practice this many times, with you helping her, before she tries it in a real situation. Try and make it fun. When you run into situations practice these yourself so that she can see you doing it.

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