How to Cope With S-T-R-E-S-S at National Spelling Bee

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Competition can always be nerve-wracking but the 281 young students participating in the Scripps National Spelling Bee may be doubly terrified as their triumphs and failures are played out in front of an audience of millions.

While the spelling bee airs on ESPN with the viewing audience on par with a national sports competition, experts warn it's important to let the student competitors, aged 8 to 15, stay kids.

Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, said the most important task for parents is to make sure the child knows it is not all about winning and losing. "[A] critical feature is to make sure the parents are not over involved or adding to the stress," said Kazdin. "The child is stressed [enough.]"

Kazdin said parents, who have coached their child to the Olympics of spelling, should take a moment with their child to enjoy the event.

"You've studied all you can possibly study," said Kazdin of parent coaches. "You kind of run up and now you stop, flip it and enjoy yourself."

Some of the students may not need too much help getting their nerves under control.

Spelling Bee Runs Out of Words

Elias Kondolis, 14, is participating in his first spelling bee, but so far has kept his nerves under control by acting "more confident" and practicing his vocabulary.

"It makes your mind a little bit more clear," Elias said in a post on the spelling bee website. "Uncertainty is a bad thing for the Spelling Bee. If you think you know, but you're not sure, it throws off your answer. You get rid of a lot of uncertainty by practicing."

Kondolis' mother Zenovia Kondolios has been helping the eighth grader prep for the competition and apparently might have a few more frayed nerves than her son.

"I'm always nervous," Zenovia Kondolios said on the spelling bee website. "Did I help him prepare enough? I never feel like I did."

Kazdin said it's important for overwhelmed or nervous parents to keep their stress out of sight for their kids during a big competition.

"Children have two sources of stress, their's and they also have the parents'," said Kazdin. " We don't want a mom panicked. [she] can leave the room...and practice being calm and supportive and not a wreck about it."

Another factor for a certain group of contestants is dealing with a family legacy. This year the siblings of two former winners will vie for the title.

Kazdin said these children potentially face unique challenges since they are familiar with the competition, but might feel stress to win "for the family."

"They might feel the pressure that no other child has," said Kazdin, who suggests parents focus on emphasizing the child's success in making it to the National Spelling Bee.

Vanya Shivashankar will make her fourth appearance at the National Spelling Bee. Her sister Kavya won in 2009. But her parents have been adamant the experience for Vanya is more than just winning or losing.

"She knows it's not just about competition," Vanya's father Mirle Shivashankar told ABC News during the last National Spelling Bee. year. "It's a wonderful, wonderful atmosphere there, and there's so much camaraderie between the spellers. Not everybody can win, and there's a lot more to it than that anyway."

One of the youngest competitors, 9-year-old Tushan "T" Dargan, may have already figured out how to enjoy himself. The fifth grader is one of the youngest to make it to the competition and is simply happy to be there.

"It's surreal," Tushan said on the spelling bee website. "I can't believe out of 11 million people, I somehow made it to the last 281. It's amazing. It makes you feel proud of yourself."

ABC News' Katie Moisse contributed to this report5 Things To Know About the Scripps National Spelling Bee
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