How to get your kids to speak up in public

NOT all young children get a chance to speak up, especially in public. I’m not talking about being on stage, participating in oratorical contests, debates, dramas or talent quests. I mean the opportunity to speak up and say something of some significance to someone in public. The everyday stuff.

That something may be as simple as placing an order at McDonald’s, buying tickets for a movie or simply asking something of a stranger — like the time or directions.

Most times parents take it upon themselves to do these things. Or the task is designated to an older sibling. They just don’t have the confidence that the young one is capable of doing it. Or perhaps they don’t see the importance of training kids to become socially adept.

The reality is that if the young ones have never been given the opportunity to speak up in public, we cannot expect them to become competent at this essential skill.

They may be forced to become shadows of their older sibling or totally dependant upon their parents. We have all witnessed children and adults who ask questions, place orders for food, respond to questions from others etcetera in meek, unsure voices.

And we’ve also witnessed children and adults who speak confidently — and probably get a better response and service.

Parents may unknowingly deprive the child of this important life skill. Often they may not recognise its significance.

Usually it is simply because it is easier to do this task themselves than to train a young one. Or another child that is extroverted naturally takes the lead with such tasks always falling on his shoulders.

Yet this simple act can provide great value to a growing child. It builds confidence, improves communication and social skills, helps overcome fears and teaches life skills to mention but a few.

This is particularly important for the shy, introverted or reflective child. And just like playing badminton or basketball, the child gets better and better with practice.

Here is a simple method you

can use to help your child:

Step 1: Pick a speaking task you want to teach your child. Keep it simple. Lead by example. If, for example, you want to teach your child to place an order at McDonald’s, start by taking your child to McDonald’s and allowing her to watch you place an order.

Step 2: State the task clearly. Say today, Mommy is going to order a Big Mac and a McNuggets Happy Meal. Listen to what I say. Watch how I give the money and collect my change.

Tomorrow it will be your turn. Then perform the task in your child’s presence. (If your child is not tall enough, carry her and seat her on the counter top.)

Step 3: After accomplishing the task, repeat the steps to your child. When you get back home, role play with your child, re-enacting the entire scenario. Tell your child to speak-up clearly if she is too soft. Be encouraging. Laugh and make it light-hearted.

Step 4: Next day, show excitement and enthusiasm for the task ahead while role playing one last time. Be gentle with your child. Lovingly, provide reassurance and encouragement. Express faith in your child’s abilities.

Step 5: Be with your child as she attempts the task for the first time. Hold her hand or touch her shoulder.

Step 6: Express joy and praise the child on her accomplishment. Show respect for your child by only praising in public and saving the negative feedback or corrective action for when you are alone in private.

Step 7: Provide multiple opportunities to repeat the task. Add a notch of challenge by increasing the size of the order or changing the location. Provide positive reinforcement each time the task is accomplished successfully by the child.

Step 8: Vary the challenge. It could be asking for directions to a nearby building, asking the time of someone wearing a watch, using math skills to figure out the cost of an order, getting the correct change, checking the price of an item with the sales assistant, stating your destination to the taxi driver, giving directions to your house, placing her own order with a waiter when out at a restaurant with the family etc.

The more your child uses her voice and interacts with others, the better she will get at communication.

Her self-esteem and confidence will go up and social skills will improve. Soon such tasks will become second nature to your child.

You may notice improvements in the voice quality, posture, body language, social graces, and willingness to take on challenging, unfamiliar tasks.

Be a good role model and mentor to your child. Let her see you in action and learn from you. According to Clinical Psychologist Tony Humphreys, “Parental self-esteem affects the physical, social, psychological and educational wellbeing of each member of the family.”

The world is your child’s school. It is laden with opportunities to learn. And, likewise, it is filled with regular, everyday things to teach.

Explore together. You can develop important life skills early in your child and have fun at the same time. Remember that each day is filled with opportunities to better prepare your child for living independently with confidence. Let your child be your apprentice in every way you can. Try this for three months. I guarantee it will do your child a world of good.

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