One of the most common fears is public speaking. That's why experts recommend kids get experience early on. "Being comfortable talking to others -- whether one-on-one or in front of a group -- will allow kids to better convey information, appear more well mannered, and make stronger social connections," says Stacey Marshall, author of Captain Courage and the World's Most Shocking Secret, the second in a series of children's books on the subject. Since those benefits can last a lifetime, we have ways to help your child become braver.
Although facing an audience of classmates is not the same as facing a ferocious beast, it can feel just as scary to your child, says Marshall. Her worries about the crowd's reaction -- such as being teased by her peers or being asked a question she can't answer -- can give her butterflies, sweaty palms, and a racing heartbeat. Let her know that this fight-or-flight response is natural and that she'll learn to overcome these anxieties with practice.
To look the part, encourage your child to practice using confident body language by standing straight and tall, smiling into the mirror while speaking, and making eye contact with his "audience." Even when he's feeling shy, this can help bolster his own morale. Next, teach your child to project by using puppets to model the difference between speaking up and mumbling, suggests Marshall, and have your child mimic the confident one. Taking deep breaths before talking, slowing down his speaking rate, and increasing his voice volume can help too.
Show your child that the same set of words can carry different meanings depending on her inflection and presentation, suggests Jackson Chow, director of Communication Academy, a school that teaches public-speaking skills to youngsters in Cupertino, California. You can try this with an exercise dubbed "I can't believe this is happening." Have your child say that phrase using different emotions -- excitement, shock, or anger, for example -- and make up a scenario in which each expression of the phrase could be appropriately used.
Make the most of daily activities where your child can build his comfort level naturally. For example, the next time your family goes out to eat, encourage him to order his meal from the waiter himself using a loud voice and clear articulation, recommends Chow. At dinner ask him to share a story about his day, or help him dial Grandma for a weekly phone update that will get him chatting. Encouraging him to pipe up in familiar situations will better prepare him for a moment in the spotlight -- at school or elsewhere.
Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Parents magazine.