It's great when your child is enthralled by what she's learning in class, or fascinated by the guest speaker at an assembly. Some kids, however, choose not to share their ideas or questions during a classroom discussion for fear of asking that dreaded “dumb question,” because they may not be sure how to articulate their thoughts aloud, or for other reasons.
“I was a pretty shy kid and remember not taking show-and-tell items out of my backpack,” says Claire Milam, a spiritual coach and bilingual special education professional in Austin, Texas. Trust, she says, is a crucial component in family and classroom relationships, as is patience. In fact, many of the parents and educators we asked agreed that sitting down to listen to what your child has to say, particularly when she is curious about something new, builds her self-esteem. The lack of opportunities for children to elicit new information from those who actively listen generates apathy.
Your child can do activities on her own, with siblings, or classmates to start building the self-confidence to ask questions and stay engaged in class. You, too, can communicate with your child at home to foster in-class curiosity and confidence. Here’s a sampling of tips, games, and activities to try:
Urge questions in non-academic settings. There’s something about a classroom of desks and a teacher in front of a whiteboard that rattles the nerves of kids. Foster confidence outside of the classroom, then, by encouraging your child to talk to employees at the grocery store, or order and buy their own food, suggests Milam.
Switch roles on a daily basis. Each afternoon, ask your child what the best and worst thing about the school day was, asking clarification questions as appropriate. Then, switch roles: let your child ask you what the best and worst thing about your work day was. Answer thoughtfully, and allow her to ask follow-up questions, too.
Don’t act like an expert. “Both of my kids are very outgoing and gregarious, but my son is at times hesitant to answer particular questions, especially if an ‘expert’ is checking out his abilities,” says Milam. Avoid taking on the role of an expert during discussions – learn alongside your child instead. If she asks you why birds fly in a V-formation, ask a question in response to keep her mind tinkering instead of telling her the answer. Or, if she asks you how to spell a word, sound it out together rather than flip open a dictionary.
Create a query box. Written expression can be just as valuable as verbal, says Milam. Cover up a small container with plain paper – an empty Kleenex box, perhaps – and draw question marks all over it, designating it as the box for questions in your household. Questions can be about anything: the news, an upcoming family event, or homework. Sonal Ajwali, an academic content writer in Delhi, India, suggests writing questions down to encourage children to communicate without fear. Every evening, family members take turns reading a question aloud, and anyone has the chance to contribute an answer. The advantage here, says Ajwali, is you won’t single out a child who is learning how to articulate ideas aloud.
Generate peer discussion. Oftentimes, a student may be scared to ask a question during class, but realize, upon speaking to her friends after school, that they had similar questions for the teacher. Encourage your child to have these follow-up conversations with her classmates – an opportune time is when you drive her and her friend home from school. This generates the peer support she needs to ask a question in the next session.
Building confidence in class is no overnight task. But with your support and a tolerance for your child’s everyday curiosity, she may find outlets to inquire and speak her mind.