When our kids grow up and take that huge step from preschool to primary school, we as parents hope, often with some trepidation, that our little darlings are going to settle in well and make friends. I certainly did when my children started school. I was worried on so many levels. However, I can honestly tell you that the shift was actually not too bad. I realised that I had inadvertently prepared them well by teaching them the basics of how to speak publicly.
So what can you do to help your child?
You can make it a daily exercise to ask them questions, preferably in a silly voice to encourage a fuller response, rather than their standard, “Good.” They'll smile at you and think that you’ve lost the plot, which they’ll love. Sit down and get your child to stand in front of you and hold their hands. Then, you wait patiently for their answer. If none is forthcoming, repeat the question in a different silly voice. Then get them to elaborate on what they’re saying to you. This is the first step that you can offer your child, to encourage them to be happy when giving a mini-presentation. Huge score for Mummy or Daddy!
It’s also essential to make time to play with them, not quiet time on the floor, but what I call ‘loud time’, where you scream and yell, and tell each other stories, make enough of a racket to drive your partner bonkers with white noise. Kids love it when their parents behave like little children, and their small faces really do shine as they teach us how to reconnect with our inner child.
The reason is to encourage them to speak up, and screaming and yelling is an incredible way of letting go of any frustrations. All you need is five minutes a day (it’s good for you too!) However, I will stress that kids don’t have an off switch and any more than five minutes of screaming, and you’ll find yourself having to yell louder than your child to get them back under control. In my home we put on high-pitched voices or speak with different accents; French, Nigerian, Cockney, Irish, Greek, Russian, and American, which for some reason I find tough, but the kids laugh and copy me. By doing this you get them to ‘hear’ their voices, and what they can do with it.
The storytelling is about getting them to think outside of the box. To be given permission to let their imaginations run wild in a different way to drawing or other forms of playtime. You’ll find out a lot about your child’s personality by the stories they tell you. It’s also a perfect way for them to begin to learn how to speak publicly by using storytelling techniques. Don’t forget to get them to change their voices for each of the characters that they introduce.
However, I do feel that the best skill you can teach them, is an anxiety-reducing breathing exercise. This will help your child deal with any nervousness that might be felt when expected to present to their peers at kindergarten, and then at school.
Deep breathing ensures that we get enough oxygen to the brain, which reduces stress and tension. Get them to inhale deeply and hold their breath for three seconds, while mentally chanting the word relax. Then, tell them to let all the air out of their lungs in a big sigh, while mentally singing the word release; so they let go of any stresses, which even our kids don’t even realise they have. It usually takes at least five repetitions before you’ll see them doing it properly. By chanting the words relax and release the mind is given another focus rather what it’s worrying about. This technique prepares them for when they start school, enabling them to let go of any tension or anxiety before giving a speech. In fact, it can be used in any aspect of life!
Public speaking can be encouraged by making it fun and enjoyable from an early age. If you do, you’ll find that your child won’t grow up with the same fears that many adults have about it. By learning how to communicate properly from a young age, your child will learn how to express themselves more articulately as they mature, which will boost their confidence, promote healthy self-esteem, and encourage good mental health.
What I find wonderful about children is that their view of the world is seen differently to adults. They eagerly take everything in with fresh eyes, and they live their lives with an energy that I find incredibly uplifting and refreshing. Fear hasn’t set in, and they’re willing to try almost anything at least once.
I believe that by taking away the fear of public speaking, you can help your child prepare for school. Once there, they will confidently stand up and present their ‘show and tell’ speech, or later on in life, give a public address or report at work. They don’t have to lose their vitality and individuality or find something like public speaking, that should be rewarding, frightening. Public speaking can be fun, and often is an incredible a life changing experience.
The voice is a powerful tool, one that can be used effectively throughout your lifetime, to not only reach your goals but help others to achieve theirs too, so why hide it away?
By giving your child the opportunity to learn such an invaluable life skill that most likely wasn’t around when you were their age, you’re giving them one less thing in life to worry about.
Samantha Richards is a Public Speaking Coach and founder of Finding Your Voice. She is an award-winning public speaker who has competed at the highest level of public speaking in Australia, and in January 2015 she was awarded ‘Toastmaster of the Year 2014/2015’ for the second year in a row. Samantha is also a published author and columnist for several magazines. She is passionate about helping children to be happy and confident when public speaking. For more information visit, www.findingyourvoice.net.au or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.facebook.com/findingyourvoice.net.au/