By Lindsay Maclean
I was a particularly shy child and I didn’t like speaking in front of people. There’s nothing wrong with being shy, but for me it was a lonely and painful place. Overcoming this has been tremendously liberating.
In light of my childhood experiences, one of my main objectives has always been to encourage confidence in my six-year-old boy, Sam. While hearing him speak so freely and clearly on the radio recently, I smiled, turned to his dad and said, “There is no way that either of us would have been able to speak so confidently as a child.”
And how can we encourage children to speak up confidently? Through my work in schools, I do come across the shiny students in the classroom who put their hands up to ask questions, or don’t seem afraid to challenge me with a naturally charming confidence. However, generally, most children I meet don’t like putting their hand up in class and don’t like speaking up. Far more hands shoot up in the early year classrooms compared to the later years. Fear of failure and social judgment interferes with confidence and, in my view, social media, is exasperating this problem. So, what can we do?
SPECIFIC PRAISE FOR SPEAKING
A lot of children are told to be quiet. Fair enough, at school, listening is important. However, I’m conscious of this, so I praise Sam for speaking. I often ask him if he answered questions at school, or I ask him to relay his understanding of a book to me. I praise him for talking clearly and speaking well. Consequently, he tells me that he’s good at speaking out.
A ‘can do’ attitude is really important for speaking in front of people. I have a video of Sam learning to ride his bike at four years old. He fell into stinging nettles and was reluctant to get back on. I bent down to his level and asked him to repeat the phrase, “I can do this, I can do this”. In the video he gets back on to the bike, repeats this phrase over and over and off he goes. His dad and I often observe him saying this before he faces any challenge now, such as starting a new class or facing a new experience. I encourage this technique in the classroom with students and it’s amazing how this visibly helps people’s confidence.
A child is more likely to feel confident when they are happy. Studies suggest that the endorphins, which are released through singing, will give you an immediate feeling of pleasure. In the morning, before school, belt out tunes with your child. This can set them off on a positive path for the day and encourages them to unlock that voice. I’m aware lots of children don’t need help in this department, but it’s a wonderfully uplifting habit to add to your morning routine!
You’ll notice that toddlers and young children often have straight backs – however this all changes. The following is a good technique is for older children. If you notice that your child feels self-conscious and hunches over, suggest they stand up straight, imagine a piece of string pulling them up from their head to the ceiling, shoulders back and feet firmly on the ground. Ask them to do it before any pressurised situation such as an exam, interview or meeting. Amy Cuddy delivers a TED talk about how doing this can increase the hormones related to power. I’ve worked with school students on this exercise and it can work wonders.
These are super important for adults and children. Recently I was in a classroom, delivering a stress management programme to year 11. There were several students who had a drama exam directly after my session. These particular students were incredibly nervous. They told me they felt like their heart was beating fast and I could see some were visibly biting their lips or nails, while others kept telling me they were going to “fail the exam.” I asked everyone to be totally still and quiet. I then asked to them to be very present (this took some time but well worth it). Once I felt the calm energy, I asked them to take deep breaths. Breathe in for six seconds and breathe out for 10 seconds. We did this for five minutes. The students themselves were amazed at their response. Their calmer and more confident energy left them in a much better place to enter the exam.
Have fun! Encourage young ones to perform in front of you or anyone. It could be reading a poem out loud, or acting out a story, playing a teacher or playing a family member. Anything! It’s great fun and a fantastic way to get children used to people watching them and listening to them.
In most schools, there is currently no specific lesson for learning how to speak up confidently, yet in the business world the requirement for this skill is tremendous. Through my work, I see how some leadership teams in schools make this skill a priority. I’d love to see it as a priority in all schools.
The skills that I learnt have helped me to be assertive, helped me to be present without wanting the ground to swallow me up, helped me put up my hand, even though my face was bright pink, and helped me speak up in meetings and progress.
It’s easy to get to the end of the day and feel exhausted with the amount of challenges you’ve faced as a parent from the minute you wake up. I get it. However, at the end of a day it’s worth thinking back to how much you’ve praised your child’s efforts for speaking up, speaking clearly and communicating confidently. If they can absorb this belief when they are young, it will help them with so many life situations.
Grow them into confident communicators:
- Strike a Superhero pose – Standing in powerful poses can make you more confident. Get your child to act out some fun ‘power poses’ with you.
- Have a sing-along – Singing is a great way to improve vocal range and boost confidence. Why not have a regular sing-along on the way to school?
- Nurture their storytelling ability – Children are brilliant at using stories to connect with others, but many lose this ability when they become adults. Encourage them to continue telling their own stories.
About The Author
As a child, Lindsay was extremely nervous and found it very difficult to speak up. Her mother suffered a breakdown and while she was in hospital, she lost the ability to speak and communicate to the staff or her children. As a result of her childhood experiences, Lindsay embarked on a career as a communications expert. For the last 20 years she has been working with renowned corporations such as Cath Kidston, Asos and Jamie Oliver’s staff. She is also a TEDx speaker and delivers a variety of dynamic programmes in schools across the UK.
You can find more communication tips in Lindsay’s book Speak Up & Be Heard which is out now, priced £10.99, from Amazon