As a teacher, I work with students of all ages teaching singing, interview skills, etiquette and commercial and theatrical audition techniques. All of the technical and artistic training aside, teaching life skills is at the core of what I do. For me, this starts with building a child's communication skills.
Often road blocks in progress arise that stem from being shy or nervous when interacting with adults. More challenging behaviors emerge in the form of kids talking back or speaking in a condescending tone. Here are some tips for constructively breaking bad habits and instilling confidence that I find work well with my private students. It always helps if parent and teacher are on the same page about what is expected regarding etiquette.
1. Lead by example: First and foremost, children will always follow the lead of the adults closest to them. This could be a parent, older sibling, or teacher. It's important to assess how we as adults are communicating with other adults, teens, and children. Do we use a condescending tone or sarcasm to poke fun? This will always show up in a child's speech, and usually at the most inopportune times!
2. Positive reinforcement: Children should be encouraged through positive words and praise. It's important to point out the offense and explain why it's wrong or rude to speak in that manner. I always do so in a tone that is firm, but not harsh. Then show them in a constructive way how we SHOULD speak to people. Practice this at home and make it a part of the daily routine. Another tactic that seems to make sense to kids is asking them how they would like a director or pageant judge to hear them speaking to their parent that way. I usually get an immediate "aha moment" from the child.
3. Eye contact: Many children are naturally shy, especially when speaking with adults. They often look down or away. Remind them to lift their chin and look at the person with whom they are speaking. It's a bad habit that can be broken with some friendly reminders and encouragement.
3. Standing still: Many children fidget as a sign of shyness, dipping their chins and mumbling when spoken too. As a teacher who trains young girls for natural pageants, I start by pointing out the behavior. Just like an adult with a nervous tic, the child doesn't realize they're doing it. Usually, after a few sessions of constructive reminders, they begin to recognize the habit and start to show signs of eliminating it all together. They'll be proud of their accomplishment if you can make it fun and friendly. Again, we never want to condescend when we correct these things. It's always constructive corrections.
4. Phone etiquette: With the digital age upon us, phone etiquette is on the verge of extinction. Texting is fine for convenience, but children and teens still need to be taught how to communicate verbally. Having a planned greeting in your household is a great way to start. "Hello, Smith residence, how may I help you." This may seem formal, but a little formality never hurt anyone, and this will stay with them as they transition into professional adults.
5. Please and thank you: This is basic, but also one that needs continued positive reinforcement. As I train young kids for theatrical and commercial auditions, they need to know that directors want to work with likeable kids who can handle themselves around adults. Please and thank you's go a long way and are a great first step! Take it even further and add a little southern charm with some "yes ma'am's and "no sir's" and you're kid will be a shining star!
6. Talking back: Almost every kid does it at one point or another. Talking back to adults or even other kids needs to be monitored and corrected. Most kids respond well when adults explain why its rude. The key is that the adults in the room keep their cool. As a teacher who trains children in etiquette for various social settings, I point it out firmly and let them know it's not appreciated. I find it shows up in younger children when they are frustrated or need a break. Pre-teens tend to like to disagree and show their independence. As a teacher, I encourage independence, but also trust and respect in the educational process. Parents and teachers can work together as a team to help put an end to this nasty habit.
7. Speak up: If volume is an issue, I encourage learning through games and demonstration. Choose sayings or a favorite story book and practice speaking them nice and loud. First stand right in front of your child and have them repeat the saying. After you've mastered that, separate yourselves by a room length and try it again. Demonstrate how much more energy it takes to make your voice carry. Explain that the volume you discovered is appropriate when speaking in conversation.
8. Understanding emotions: Body language is a sophisticated concept to explain to children. However, we can teach emotions and feelings like happy, sad, shy, mad, hungry, or cold and have them act them out. With every emotion their body language changes along with their facial expression. Once they start to master the different feelings, you can start to talk about reasons we close our bodies off. For instance, crossing our arms when we are angry or shy makes it seem like we are putting a wall between ourselves and the people around us. You can show how good posture, open arms and a nice smile mean that we are ready to talk and be CONFIDENT! A great word to teach kids!
In conclusion, I want to reiterate the importance of constructive corrections. I'm training children as young singers, actors and pageant titleholders, which all require that a child feel free to express themselves confidently and creatively. If we as mentors constantly correct in a condescending way, the child will only turn inward feeling afraid to take risks and be open to direction. Learning to follow directions is a great life skill and one that is vital to any students success. One of my greatest joys is watching my students transform from shy and self conscious to open and confident! I hope you find these techniques helpful.
Amanda Beagle is an Astoria, NY based Pageant, Talent and Etiquette coach.
Learn more about Amanda at www.amandabeagle.com
and feel free to contact her via her website.