Even though I teach public speaking and make my living writing about communication, I didn’t give my girls the best start to be great public speakers. As a mother of two daughters, I sometimes fell prey to the belief that it was my job to be their mediator. To help translate between them and the world. So when a waiter would ask one of my girls what they wanted to drink, I would quickly jump in, “she’ll have milk.” Or when another adult asked my child how old she was, I’d say, “she’s 4.” Without knowing it, I had started a bad pattern of speaking for my children.
Perhaps you are a parent who has been communicating for your child. If so, you might be making the same mistake I did. You might be preventing them from learning some important early communication skills.
It took help from my girls’ pediatrician helped me see the err of my ways. We were there for a routine checkup. One in which the doctor was asking my youngest all kinds of questions. What is your favorite vegetable? Does anyone smoke in your house? Does anything on your body hurt? I had been “helping” my daughter with her answers until the pediatrician turned to me and smiled.
She said, “I can see that you love your daughter and know a lot about her. Like a mom should. But it’s important that I get her answers to these questions. Why don’t we give her plenty of time to answer, and if she gets stuck, then you can jump in to help.” I nodded and smiled. But it was like a lightbulb had clicked on. I had been speaking for my child.
I had always taught my girls that we take turns talking just like we take turns with toys. Interrupting is one of my pet peeves. Especially because it’s one of the areas we see a big difference in gender communication. Research has shown that men interrupt women three times more often than women interrupt men. It’s a battle we are still fighting. But essentially, that’s what I had been doing. Interrupting my kids and taking their turn to talk. I had been robbing them of crucial moments to build their public speaking skills.
After that doctor’s visit, I course corrected. I used every opportunity to let my girls know their voice mattered. And to give them a chance to build confidence in what they had to say. They learned quickly that when someone asked them a question, mom wasn’t going to step in and speak for them any longer. Slowly, their confidence grew. And all the while, they were building important communication skills. Like turn taking, voice projection, eye contact, and more.
If you are a parent, you have the ability to help your child develop communication skills that will benefit him or her greatly. Here are 3 easy ways to begin:
1. Ask your child questions. When you give your child the chance to voice his opinions, it helps him build confidence in what he has to say. When your child responds, listen intently. This communicates that his voice matters and that he is worthy of your attention and time.
2. Let your child speak for herself. This is especially important when your child is interacting with other adults. Because there is a societal imbalance of power between adults and children, responding to adults can be intimidating for some children. It mimics the nervousness we might feel when we have to give a presentation or a speech. That’s why it’s important for your child to learn from an early age that she can overcome this fear.
3. Take turns telling stories. The power to craft and deliver a great narrative will serve your child well. Kristin A. Meekhof is an author and licensed social worker who spent time collecting stories of Holocaust victims. Her work proves that the narrative is more powerful than we often realize. She says, “we connect with others because of our stories.” When you sit down at the dinner table, ask everyone to tell one story from his or her day. This builds both valuable communication skills and family bonds. Just by telling stories, your children will be learning to organize information chronologically, verbalize emotions, use vocal pitch and body language to enhance delivery, and to listen to others.
You can give your children a jump start on public speaking confidence. Learn from my early mistakes. We can help raise up a next generation who doesn’t fear public speaking but who has confidence in what needs to be said and in their ability to say it.
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