Parenting Perspective: Public Speaking

April 2, 2010 7:59:57 AM PDT
Not every little boy or girl is outgoing, and most kids are quiet around adults. So, it's helpful to learn some basic skills they can use for times when your child ever needs help when you're not around or when they are making presentations in school with an auditorium full of folks.

Certainly, I explained to my son that he should not talk to strangers when I'm not there. But I encouraged him to speak for himself, even as young as 3-years-old, when I am there.

Now at age 9, he is confident and uses full sentences, even initiating conversations with appropriate adults.

It doesn't have to be a structured, planned out lesson on public speaking. Just let the options come up naturally and see how it goes. If it makes your child uncomfortable, wait until they're a bit older, or practice at home when you're playing with action figures, dolls or stuffed animals.

For example, Jake and I would be playing with his cars on the floor at age 3. We had a small rug with a children's neighborhood printed on it. We would role play with our "pretend" people driving in the cars and have full conversations about where they were going, what they were doing, what they ate in the restaurant. I didn't ask him questions about his pretend character driving the car... we pretended we were the characters.

Mom's voice: I'd tell Jake, "Michelle is headed to the beach today." Then after making the 'vrroooming' sound (a must for a little boy to hear) I would have Michelle talk about the beach. "It's so hot and humid here today. I think I'll jump the waves with my friends. But wait there's the ice cream man! Sir, sir, can I please have a push-pop?" Jake had his character do a similar conversation.

Then by the time Jake was 4-years-old, I would ask him to order for himself at a restaurant using full sentences. We practiced before the waiter or waitress came over. Sometimes I'd pretend I was the waiter, "Young man, what would you like to eat tonight?" Then if Jake didn't know what to say, I'd provide his half of the conversation during our "practice session" too. Mom pretending to be Jake: "I'll have the sketti with red sauce and a coke please." I always reminded Jake to look in the waiters eyes and to smile and be polite. Later when he really ordered, I would gently remind him to add the "please" and "thank you" if he forgot. And if the waiter turned to me and asked what my child wanted to eat instead of asking Jake, I would kindly say, "he wants to order for himself," and then let him.

By the time he was 6, he had to present his reports in school to the whole class. We would practice at home several times so that he felt completely comfortable.

Now at age 9, when one of my friends or colleagues at work asks Jake about school, sports or the Phillies, he is comfortable having a 5-minute conversation with a person he might not know that well. He'll even debate the pitching skills of Cole Hamels versus Brad Lidge politely with Jim Gardner or explain his school camping trip in detail with our neighbor.

Try it in small steps and see if your child doesn't gain confidence along the way!