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Education|14 June 2022

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking for Children

Written by Aprajita Dixit
A Counselling Psychologist, Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist who specialises in child's psychology and child's development. Double RCI licensed (MA Clinical Psy & ADCGC(RCI) and MPhil in Clinical Psychology(RCI)) & a gold medal winner with more than 5 years of work experience.

Is your eight-year-old child scared of reciting poetry in front of the extended family? Is your twelve-year-old hesitant to answer questions in front of their colleagues? Has your sixteen-year-old refused to hold a mike and address an audience? If yes, it is time to understand where your children are coming from and give them a little push in the right direction. 

Public speaking is an essential communication skill. It enhances personal traits like confidence, critical thinking, articulation, imagination, creativity, and expression. It helps children influence an audience. It boosts their confidence and encourages them to take on leadership roles and voice their opinions.

However, most children avoid public speaking because they lack confidence and find it intimidating to speak in front of people. Children might also avoid public speaking because of the fear of fear itself (How to Help a Child Overcome Fear of Public Speaking, 2019). However, the best part about public speaking is that it can easily be improved over time! Speaking skills are not inherent, and children can acquire them gradually. Genetics might also play a role in the extreme fear of public speaking for children (Sang, 2017) but that too can be tackled with experience. 

Learning starts at home, and the foremost task lies with the parents and other family members. Being an active and patient listener is fundamental in improving the child’s confidence to speak in front of a large audience. This involves hearing out the child, validating and recognising their opinions and responding to their views. 

Having established that, you can use different tactics for children from different age groups to make them comfortable with public speaking. To ensure that your pre-teens get an early start, try to give them initial exposure in a protected but natural environment. Encourage them to be more vocal at family gatherings, talk about their day or have them narrate a bedtime story. The listener should engage the child by asking ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions, requesting examples of the situations being described and pushing the child to use more descriptions, almost as if asking them to paint a picture using only words. You must make your child feel supported by being visibly present and encouraging them through hand gestures if they get flustered. In the end, the listeners must express their appreciation, perhaps even give the child a small treat! Feeling rewarded will motivate the child to repeat, and thus practice, the art of public speaking. (How to Help a Child Overcome Fear of Public Speaking, 2019).

Adolescents (children between the ages of 10 and 19) are a little more tricky. This age group is trying to find themselves and establish their identity in the midst of hormonal changes, bodily changes, and self-esteem issues. Some adolescents prefer to isolate themselves during this transition as they better understand their identity. It is even more important to encourage them to speak publicly in this time as they are in their formative years. Speaking will give them confidence and, in turn, boost their self-esteem. It will also help improve their diction, articulation and analytical skills.

Even if they muster up the courage to speak on a public platform, adolescents might lack the opportunity. The increase in academic pressure might make them refrain from engaging in extra-curricular activities like public speaking, debating or reciting. Also, the school might repeatedly pick only those with prior experience public speaking. 

New speakers must adopt a few methods to kickstart their public speaking journey.

First and foremost, they must grab all the opportunities that come their way – speaking in class, answering questions or making announcements. Starting with smaller tasks will gradually increase their confidence to handle more significant tasks like addressing a large audience, debating, delivering speeches etc.

Secondly, you must encourage the adolescent to read. Children often get flustered when they run out of speaking topics. The more they read, the more content they will have to present to an audience. They should have access to a holistic range of content, beyond academic material, including music, food, travel, clothing, literature or anything else that piques their interest. This also enables them to hold conversations with people from different backgrounds. Additionally, it will help them develop their vocabulary and pick up useful phrases and idioms. 

Thirdly, to be well-rounded orators, they should be able to communicate through their body language. Communication with an audience happens via words and actions. Body language includes the gestures, movements, postures and expressions used while trying to communicate. This is important when it comes to developing public speaking for children – having a good command of body language makes the speech even more effective, so you should encourage your children to understand and develop their body language. An efficient way of doing this is through observational learning, wherein one carefully notes the actions of others by observing them and gradually develops the ability to carry out the same actions. Thus, adolescents should watch other people speak. This will help them unconsciously emulate the speaker’s body language.

Last but not least, make them practice. Practising in front of the mirror often helps but having an audience is always better. It is understandable for an adolescent to hesitate when it comes to speaking to an audience directly. Parents should attempt to make the practice sessions feel more natural as adolescents often feel repulsed when they feel targeted. You should incorporate family bonding exercises over dinner, where everyone talks about their day. Play games like JAM – Just A Minute – where everyone gets a topic and is required to deliver an extempore speech timed for one minute. You can also use these tactics for younger children in more mature ways where you encourage them to talk about their day, hobbies or achievements. 

Children can quickly and effectively develop the crucial skill of speaking in front of a large audience using these simple techniques. A little practice and effort in the beginning will go a long way in helping your children develop the art of public speaking. So, motivate your child to grab a shampoo bottle and speak in front of the mirror as you prepare them to eventually hold a mike and address an audience.

References:

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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