Ep 154 Transcript - Dr. Chelsea Pierotti

Ep 154 Transcript

[Motivational Intro Music]

Dr. Chelsea: Do you teach dancers under ten years old? Can you teach dancers that little about mental toughness, or is it better to wait? Hi, you're listening to the Passion for Dance podcast, the show for dance teachers and coaches. I'm Dr. Chelsea. My mission is to change the dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers through positive mental skills training, and I'm often asked if that mental skills training is appropriate for young dancers taking level one classes or in the mini competitive program.

If you teach young dancers, listen up because you absolutely can start teaching mental toughness at a young age. I'm going to tell you all about it and share three key ideas to help you get started.

And before we get into it, if you're a fan of the show, make sure to head over to www.followthepodcast.com/passionfordance and subscribe to the show so every new episode is always ready for you. Thank you for your continued support of the show. That's www.followthepodcast.com/passionfordance.


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Hi, I'm Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and mental performance coach. I know what it feels like to be a passionate dance teacher who cares about your dancers, but you want to challenge them and help them be their best, and I also recognize that some traditions and teaching practices in the dance world are harmful. So I'm on a mission to change our dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers using positive mental skills.

When you understand how to help your dancers with their confidence, how to find their own motivation, work together as a team and more, your dancers will unlock new levels of competitive success and happiness. And it's not just about them; you deserve the same. So we'll talk about how dance teachers can use positive mental skills to be more confident, resilient, and motivated as well.

Be sure to hit “subscribe” wherever you listen to podcasts. There are new episodes every Thursday, and each week you'll hear from me and my guests with advice and actionable tips for building mental toughness, covering topics about mindset, motivation, resilience, and building a community. Passion for Dance is a show designed to help dance educators like you have a positive impact on every dancer you teach.

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Dr. Chelsea: I was recently on a call with a studio teacher who asked me if eight years old is too young to teach mental skills. This dance educator asked me with some hesitation. It seemed like she felt like it was a silly question or she was embarrassed that the younger dancers were posing such a challenge. She said:

“I'm really struggling with my youngest dancers. The six- to eight-year-olds are starting to have a hard time focusing in class. They just want to play games with no actual instruction, and I'm not sure what to do. I want to make my classes fun and engaging, but we're also there to learn dance.”

When she was talking about this, I knew she was not alone. Many gym and studio owners seem to understand the value of mental skills education for older dancers, but aren't sure if it makes sense for the little ones. And I'm also hearing from more and more teachers lately that working with the youngest dancers feels harder than ever.

And I understand the hesitation from these teachers because talking about mental skills, mindset, resilience might seem like an advanced conversation or just too much for our youngest dancers, but I'm here to say you can talk to dancers about mental toughness at every age (and you should).

There's even some research in developmental psychology and mindset that when parents start using growth mindset language at home with their one-year-old infant, there are measurable differences in the child's mindset and ability to take on a hard task in school once they're eight. Can you imagine? Just starting at one and starting that language, you see a difference in school-aged kids. So if you're starting with school-aged kids, it's not too late. Let's get started. You can set that foundation for your youngest of dance classes. I'm going to show you how to start!

Exposing Young Dancers to Sport Psychology – 4:00

There are so many benefits of working on mental skills early on. I mean, wouldn't you love to have tween and teen dancers who already get it? With some exposure to sports psychology early on, kids learn to not judge themselves based on their performance. They can learn to separate their worth and value from their performance onstage, which is a key ingredient in preventing perfectionism. We certainly don't want kids to label themselves as losers or bad dancers, and that starts with exposing them to the tools of sport psychology as early as possible.

Of course, like with anything you're teaching, language matters, and you want to keep it accessible and understandable to your youngest dancers. But don't shy away from talking about it or think it's something they won't understand until they're older. You can make a big difference in developing brains right now.

Mental Training is Just Like Physical Training – 4:51

Okay, so where to start? I think the simplest act is to remind dancers that mental training is just like physical training. There's nothing bad about it. It doesn't mean anything is wrong with you if you're working on training your brain. If we can normalize the need to train our brain, just as we train our turnout and our flexibility, that will set the stage for dancers to be more receptive to mental skills training their whole lives.

Help them get rid of, or better yet, never learn a stigma around mental toughness. There's nothing wrong with you if confidence is harder or if you need to find some motivation sometimes. We train our brain just like we train our body and you can explain to your young dancers that if they work hard to train their brain, it will help them feel more confident or help them dance consistently onstage and even help in other areas of their life like school and making friends.

When they understand it's something that everyone can work on and it has big benefits, then they'll be ready to learn more and you can dive in. So here are three key ideas to build mental toughness in young dancers.

First Tip to Build Mental Toughness: Allow Your Dancers to Feel Challenged – 5:58

Number one is challenges. One of the best things you can do to start discussing and building mental toughness is to allow your dancers to be challenged and feel a little nervous and uncomfortable with something new. Of course, you don't want to push this too far, but it's okay and even developmentally healthy for children to be given a challenge in a loving, safe space.

It can be something simple like when you introduce a new skill and a new vocabulary word, or when they're learning choreography that they have to remember for recital. The magic happens with a challenge when you can acknowledge that this might feel hard and that's okay. It's about effort and trying something new. The message you want to communicate over and over is, “You can do hard things.”

Now, the youngest of dancers might not feel like anything is hard. I definitely taught those little four-year-olds who mimic the older dancers and say, “This is easy!” That's fine. Let them enjoy that. Developmentally, children don't view themselves in comparison to anyone else until around seven, so your youngest dancers might just feel like they're the perfect little dancer. Let them live in that world. There's nothing wrong with that.

The idea of making a challenge feel like a positive is really for the young dancers who are a little nervous or are immediately looking to you to know if they did it right. You can help them define “right” or “correct” in the moment, right then and there, and acknowledge that it's hard, but, “You can do hard things. Let's try it with your foot like this.” Let them understand that a challenge is good and you can do it with a little hard work.

Second Tip to Build Mental Toughness: Be The Role Model – 7:39

Number two is to be the role model. Another great opportunity for us to teach mental skills to young dancers is to be a role model for mental strength. That doesn't mean being perfect all the time. That actually means modeling that sometimes things are hard for you too, but you handle it. You might be nervous, but you can take a breath and have a positive attitude, or when you get frustrated, you have to calm and steady and focus and give it another try. It's not that adults have it all figured out and never experience these hard emotions. It's that, hopefully, we have tools to deal with it, and they can too.

Young children learn so much by watching other people. Even more than what you say, children will pay attention to and process what you do. So, it's okay to say that you get nervous sometimes, but taking a deep breath is helpful, or how you're still learning. Trying something new and taking on a challenge is exciting. Let them know something new that you're trying. Share how you took class the other day and felt a little uncomfortable with new choreography, but you kept trying, and it's getting easier. Be the role model for mental strength.

Again, you can remember your audience. Keep the language appropriate and positive, but kids learn so much from seeing role models handle their fears with a positive attitude and not pretend like they don't exist.

Third Tip to Build Mental Toughness: How You Talk About Mistakes – 9:00

Number three is how you handle mistakes and emotional awareness. How you talk about mistakes in your classes with your young dancers could help them develop the sense of resilience and motivation that you are hoping to see in the tween- and teen-level classes. The messages they hear at six and seven years old will shape how they approach dance class from then on. Allow dancers to make mistakes without judgment, and use it as an opportunity to learn emotional regulation.

Many young children who are just naturally anxious, or children who have been receiving a message at home where they're punished for every mistake, might have a hard time if they can't do a dance step perfectly right away. I have seen perfectionism take hold in the six- to eight-year-old mini team or ballet level one. Use your classes as an opportunity to teach emotional regulation.

We all make mistakes, and I think that's easy to say, but you can go beyond saying, “We all make mistakes. It's okay,” and actually help dancers learn the tools to handle those bubbling-up, scary emotions. Simple things like a deep breath, focusing on the present, focusing on your body and what you feel and even just saying, “I believe in you,” can help a dancer focus their mental energy on trying again and less on feeling dumb or uncoordinated or if anybody saw.

Emotional regulation is about learning to breathe before you react. It's just giving yourself a chance to think and recover and reset before you act too strongly. And, of course, as a dance teacher who might only see this child an hour or two a week, you could be in a battle against other messages at home and school, which can make this incredibly challenging. I simply want to let you know that even if it doesn't seem like they hear you, you might be the only person trying to teach them this important life skill, so don't give up on them.

If they are really emotional, breaking down a skill into smaller parts, allowing them to feel partial success, can help them slow down and reflect. And get to know them. Some little, younger dancers enjoy and do well with the attention and the support. Other dancers might need space for a minute, go work with somebody else, and then come back to them. For many dancers, it's about actually kind of forcing them to slow down and mentally and physically process, “What's going on and how can I work on this?”

You can also talk to your dancers about self-talk when they make a mistake. Explain that they have a little voice in their head that can be a really big helper if they want it to be. Encourage healthy self-talk in your dancers. Let them know they can intentionally think about helpful things after a mistake. They have the ability to learn self-talk with practice, just like any physical skill they train, and mindfulness is even possible at this age too (and really helpful).

Episode Recap – 11:58

So to wrap this up, I want to leave you with the important message that you absolutely can teach mental skills to young dancers. You can build resilience by showing them that they can do hard things and challenges are good. You can be a role model for positive mental skills, and maybe, most importantly, you can help build a positive inner voice that will stay with them for life. Remember, what you say can become their inner voice, so use your incredible position of influence for good, and help build up more confident and happy young dancers.

And if this was helpful, I hope you consider sending it to another dance teacher in your life who might benefit as well. I know there are so many dance educators out there who are in this role because we care about these young dancers and we want to help. So share this episode with a dance friend in your life, so that you can both continue to be a positive influence and share your passion for dance with the world!


[Motivational Outro Music]

Thank you for listening to Passion for Dance! You can find all episode resources at www.chelseapierotti.com/podcast, and be sure to follow me on Instagram for more high-performance tips at @dr.chelsea.pierotti. This podcast is for passionate dance teachers and coaches who are ready to change the dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers. I'm Dr. Chelsea and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world.

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