As a parent, you want your child to speak confidently to their friends as well as adults, and also to be able to take part in conversations and not be afraid to express their ideas and feelings. Some parents also dream about the day when their little one is comfortable enough to speak in front of a large audience.
Did you know that school-going children face social issues at school and in other areas of their lives on a daily basis? These social problems can create a type of chain reaction in which a child’s learning and emotions can be affected as a result of peer conflict.
A school psychologist often hears the following statement, “If I do what my friends say, they allow me to play with them. When I don’t want to do what they want me to do, they tell me to stay away from them.”
In general, people want to raise well-behaved children who don’t get into trouble, which is wonderful. However, there is a fine balance as well-behaved children are often caught between the good moral values they learn at home and their desire to be part of a group of their peers.
Such children are certainly not alone. Many kids have trouble asserting their feelings and thoughts even in situations where they know that they should speak up.
Knowing when they have to stand up for themselves is very important for kids, especially when it comes to teasing, peer pressure and bullying.
Self-esteem, one of the basic necessities of human nature, along with things like love and safety, has been described as the desire to be respected and recognised. Don’t underestimate its importance. It has been argued that self-confidence protects children from the negative consequences of life’s more challenging aspects.
When you talk to your child, you’ll also have the opportunity to boost their self-esteem. Make an effort to point out his/her positive attributes… Assure your kid that you love him/her and that others are also pleased with his/her behaviour.
One way to help our children be who they are and still be respected and accepted by their peers is to raise our children to speak with confidence.
Here are several tips and confidence-building exercises to raise a child who speaks with self-assurance.
#1. Make it a priority to talk to your child
Children who cannot communicate easily may find it difficult to talk. This is why it’s so important to teach your child how to start conversations or take part in them, so that they can feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.
You can make talking to your child a top priority in a few simple ways. Talk to him/her on the way to school in the morning or on the way back from school in the afternoon. Chat with them while you are preparing a meal in the kitchen. Explain what you are doing. Try to introduce new concepts as much as you can and introduce new words in conversation to broaden their vocabulary.
When you talk to your child, you’ll also have the opportunity to boost their self-esteem. Make an effort to point out his/her positive attributes. Use affirmative words like, “We’re on the same team. I will help you” or “I understand you’re overwhelmed and that’s okay”. Assure your kid that you love him/her and that others are also pleased with his/her behaviour. Your relationship with your child is extremely important.
#2. Listen actively to your offspring
Listening and expanding on what other people say is a vital part of any conversation. You can practise this skill with your son/daughter:
Ask your kid to tell you something about their day, repeat part of what was said to them, then ask a related question. For example, “I’m glad that you had fun at school today. Do you look forward to playing with your friends again tomorrow?”
It’ll be wonderful if, when you notice your child speaking to someone confidently, you tell him/her that you are proud of the way in which he/she conducted himself/herself. Parental support, acceptance and approval are vital to a child’s self-esteem.
#3. Practise role-playing conversations
Role-playing games are a great way to boost your child’s self-confidence when it comes to speaking. It is especially helpful to act out situations that your child is particularly nervous about. For instance, pretend that you are one of the kids who sits with them at lunch. Or act as the teacher to see how your offspring interacts with adults at school. Practise with your child what they could say in specific situations.
Why not allow your child to “be” another person in the conversation to introduce them to different scenarios, topics of conversation, and appropriate responses? Explain that people may have different responses as they might be struggling with personal issues. This can be an eye-opener for your child as they can learn to empathise with others.
#4. Show them how to start conversations
You want to equip your child with things to say when opening a conversation. Model phrases that he/she can use to get a conversation flowing and make sure they know a phrase for each situation. Here’s a good example, “Hi. My name is Ann. What’s your name?”
#5. Point out your child’s body language
Children who have trouble communicating with others also tend to have difficulty picking up on body language. Such non-verbal cues actually play a large role in effective communication. As body language provides important clues about people’s emotions, intentions and their motivations, you’ll need to make them aware of this unspoken form of communication.
Explain what different expressions mean and teach your child how to use body language to convey confidence. Teach them to make eye contact, hold their shoulders back to stand tall and keep their arms on the sides of their body.
Use the mirror to show your child, for example, why it is important to look up when they talk to someone. They will be able to see what makes them look confident in the mirror.
Giving children choices can make them feel empowered. Just remember that you are still the parent, so you need to provide some reasonable options for them to choose from.
Ask them to weigh in on some decisions that involve them. Think of simple things. You could let them choose which cereal they would like to have in the morning or perhaps the colour of their bed linens. Speaking up about personal matters boosts their confidence.
Children should also be encouraged to make their ideas known during family discussions. If they feel confident about voicing their opinions in front of family members, they are more likely to speak their mind in front of others.
Children who have trouble communicating with others also tend to have difficulty picking up on body language…non-verbal cues actually play a large role in effective communication…[providing] important clues about people’s emotions, intentions and their motivations.
#7. Arrange small performances
During small performances, kids learn new ways of expressing themselves. Encourage your child to recite a poem out loud in front of your family. They could also sing a song. They will perform confidently as long as they have your support. Remember, the skills that they learn can be applied to real-life situations. Moreover, small drama performances have been shown to boost self-esteem.
#8. Teach them to write in a journal
Journalling gives your child the opportunity to explore their thoughts and reflect on them. Writing about their daily activities in a diary, your child can take time to consider which thoughts are worth sharing with other people. This way, when a friend approaches them with a question, they are more prepared and feel more confident about providing a quality answer.
#9. Encourage them to socialise
Exposure to social situations is probably the best way in which children can exercise their speaking skills. Your child will become accustomed to mixing with other kids of their own age and, consequently, this will improve their confidence. A good idea is to arrange suitable social opportunities for him/her.
A psychological study, led by Professor Kenneth H Rubin, whose research focuses on peer as well as parent-child relationships, shows that children with weak communication skills and who have trouble maintaining friends, are at a high risk of developing poor self-esteem. This shows that speaking skills and self-confidence are interconnected.
Building confidence and teaching good speaking skills take both time and practice. Your child needs to practise at home, in school and in real-world situations. As the parent, give your child as much support as possible. Don’t take over tasks from them, rather, do things with your child. Also, stop yourself from improving on what your child does.
Now that you have some ideas about how to build your child’s confidence and self-esteem, you can start implementing the tips and exercises. Once your child starts speaking with confidence, they’ll reap the benefits and will feel ready to handle the things that come their way!
Dr Lisa Lim Su Li is the clinical director and senior speech language pathologist at The Speech Practice.
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