I am a parent of a child that has had to learn to overcome shyness. If you have a child that struggles to speak out in a group, you understand how difficult this can be. If your child is like mine, at home she is outgoing, outspoken and dare I say, even LOUD. So what causes her to change when she is in a large group?
With my child, I believe it was her fear of failure and a lack of self-confidence in a large group. As a toddler, she was the child that clung to my leg when I tried to drop her off at preschool. It seemed that all the other kids would excitedly run off to play while my child acted like I was sending her off to military school. As time passed and she entered elementary school, one thing that helped her tremendously was participating in her school’s Speech Team. On Speech Team, she learned how to direct her voice so that she sounds powerful, how to use proper body language to engage her audience and how to look at her audience in a way that didn’t make her feel nervous and also captured the interest of her listeners. Practicing public speaking gave her the life skills she needed to help her in groups of her peers. It was great to see her confidence grow!
As time progressed, she felt comfortable with her friends but we found she was still shy when speaking to adults. Around the age of 8, we started having her interact more with people at stores and restaurants to help her overcome shyness in this area. I remember vividly around this time, we were at a store and she was buying some earrings. The salesperson asked her a simple question; I believe it was “What grade are you?” My daughter looked at her struck with fear and just stared. No answer. It killed me not to fill the silence and answer for her. She looked at me hoping I would tell the salesperson that she was good but I waited it out. Eventually she answered and it was another shyness hurdle was crossed.
As time moved on we started giving her larger opportunities to work on her fear of shyness; things like asking the concierge at a hotel for dinner recommendations for our family, asking salespeople questions to determine which product to buy, asking employees where to find a particular product at the grocery store, etc. She actually loved all these challenges and became less shy with each one.
My daughter is now in 7th grade and although she still has a natural tendency not to be the first one to speak out, she is very comfortable in her own skin. She is not a natural leader but I also don’t worry about her being afraid to speak out or following other kids because she doesn’t think her opinions are valuable. I know that working to learn these skills early in life will help her in her high school years and beyond. As a parent, I learned that I was not helping her by answering questions for her. I suppose that she taught me that we are never too old or too young to learn important life skills!
To learn more about having a Speech and Leadership Class offered at your local elementary school, click here. Or check out emPOWER: Leadership and Public Speaking Summer Camp!