Top Five Ways to Help Your Child Succeed Using Speech and Debate

Many moms and dads, especially debate moms and dads, have often asked the question: How can I help my child become a better speaker or thinker? As parents ourselves, we at NEA believe parent involvement is crucial to a child's academic success in a variety of subjects, and speech and debate is no exception. So how can parents help their child grow?

1. Start Early

For younger children, the key is developing their confidence and speaking skills. Even if your son or daughter is very young, you can foster these skills. Encourage your child to place their own order at a restaurant. Remind your child to be loud and look at the person taking the order. If the person taking the order turns to you when taking your child’s order, as they often do, direct him to your child.

When the child is older, you should introduce him or her to company and practice saying hello and shaking hands. Encourage eye contact, a firm handshake, and a polite hello, or how are you?

2. Help them Express Opinions

When your child is asking questions about things they hear on the radio, he or she is old enough for pre-debate discussions. At this point there are several steps you can take to help grow your child’s listening and thinking skills.

Engage in frequent and consistent conversations about major local, domestic and international events with you child. Try watching the news together, or listening to news radio as you drive in the car. The key is to ask your child for his or her opinion and listen to his or her ideas and thoughts rather than explain your opinions on the matter. Before correcting or expressing your opinions, echo your child’s thoughts and opinions back so they can hear what they sound like coming from another person.

3. Strengthen their Arguments

Eventually, it’s time to enroll your child in a speech and debate program. Now you’ll have the opportunity to address the academic topics of the debate class with your child and create your own arguments for the case. Ask your children to defend his or her own opinions and pepper him or her with questions and comments of your own. Be constructively critical of their ideas, meaning try more questions about their ideas rather than comments, and ask for reasons and support to your child's claims. Finally, make claims of your own about the topic and accept and invite your child’s questions or comments.

4. Remember the Goal is Practice and Support

There will be opportunities for tournaments, and you should encourage your child to attend. You too, should attend the tournaments in support of your son or daughter and be positive with him or her no matter the result of a particular debate.

Students who earn high speaker points and debate victories usually do not need as much in the way of support, but students who are new often experience some level of disappointment as they grow their skills in debate. Often times, it is up to us parents to remind our children, and ourselves, that no matter the score or victory, participation in debate is helping them in their abilities to think clearly and critically and effectively communicate ideas with others. In other words, scores don't matter, the learning process does.

5. Demonstrate the Importance of Debate

Be a debate participant yourself! Attend the judge training session, shadow debate rounds, and score the round yourself using the OCDL rubric. Volunteer for one of the many other positions in the OCDL or your own school such as assistant coach, judge trainer, fundraising or food service/sales. Your involvement will not only show your child that you care about the debate community as whole, it will also give you further insight into the inner workings of the organization and help the larger group itself become stronger.

Parents are a key component to academic success. How will you help your child?