How to help young people who stutter for big speeches: Push them or let them pass?

 
 

As adults, public speaking is the #1 fear, worldwide! 
So, how about our young people!?

Rites of passage can create a lot of pressure for kids - and a lot of uncertainty for parents. Sweet-16’s, bar-mitzvahs and bat-mitzvahs, and graduation speeches are all instances in which a child may be expected to speak in front of a crowd.  So the question is: If my child stutters or has a communication problem should I make them give the speech, or should I give them a pass not to give the speech?

This is a really big dilemma and there's no right answer. There's no perfect way, there's no way to be a perfect parent, but there are hundreds of ways to be a good one.

I think the #1 rule of thumb is engaging your child, especially the adolescent and the teen and giving them a voice, giving them some self-determination to choose what they would like to do and deal with what their concerns are.  Too often, as adults, therapists and parents we think we know what young people feel and we forget to just ask them!

Too often, we think we know what young people feel. We forget to just ask them.

When we ask our kids what's on their mind and ask them what would help them - like: would they prefer it this way or that way - we can be so much more relaxed and so much more confident because the decisions we make are informed by what they're really feeling.

In some cases, the best thing we could do is give them the opportunity to choose to pass.  And in another scenario, the best thing we can do is give them the encouragement that they really want, so that they can succeed and shine and communicate effectively.  Perhaps there may even be a third way.

I'm thinking of one pre- bar-mitzvah boy in particular - he was a great kid with a strong stutter.  His parents asked me what they should do. Now, this boy was a talented videographer and instead of giving his speech live and instead of giving a speech at all, he opted to create a montage that included a pre-recorded speech with animation and videos sliding in and out with a musical soundtrack.

And you know what?  No one noticed, remembered or commented about the fact that he stuttered!

The feedback from guests was better than his parents or I could have hoped for!  We we blown away.

"That was by far the most unique, engaging, and creative bar-mitzvah speech I have ever heard." 
 
 

He communicated and presented well enough - and by most measures, even better than average!

 

When we confront the question of whether to push, whether to give a pass, or to find a third option (I am reminded by the lesson taught to me by my young bar-mitzvah friend) remember to engage our young people.

 

TIP #1 Ask them what they feel

TIP #2 Ask them what they're scared of

TIP #3 Ask them what they want to do about it

 

If we do, they'll help us make the best decisions we can!

Uri Schneider, Co-Director Schneider Speech