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How My Facebook Friends Helped My 6-Year-Old Find Her Voice

oratoricalPeople always say be your own parent. Don’t worry about what everyone else is telling you. Others are only too happy to offer unsolicited advice about raising your children, but you need to do things your way.

While I agree that most of the time that’s certainly true, there are moments in the life of a parent when you have no idea what to do in order to accomplish something. You really do need advice, the solicited kind. For me, recently, it was helping my six-year-old daughter give her first speech.

Her school participates in the Optimists’ oratorical competition every year, from kindergarten on up. The children are given a topic about which they must write their own speech. Then they must memorize and perform it in front of their class. The top boy and girl in each class are then selected and have to perform the same speech in front of an audience and a panel of judges, competing against the other top boys and girls in the same grade.

Madden had never written a speech in her life, much less given one, and I had no earthly idea how to teach her to memorize a full page of words, even if they were her words. So what did I do? It’s 2013, y’all. I took to Facebook. On February 6th I typed the following status update:

Tips on how to help a 6-year-old memorize her first speech (it’s one page). GO.

What followed were lots of wonderful friends and friends of friends offering their two cents. They each took a second out of their day to share their experience as speakers themselves or as parents who’ve been through this already. Ceridwen Morris suggested it might be fun (and helpful) to say the speech out loud in varying funny voices. Alison Palmer thought saying it repetitively in front of the mirror might work. Jessica Ashley had made index cards for her son, with pictures on each to remind him of sections of the speech. Marcy Massura agreed with the visual cues idea, as did Jennifer Burden and Fadra Nally. Kelly Wickham thought adding tactile objects that she could use as prompts, in addition to the visual cues would be helpful. To help me lower my anxieties, Charlie Capen humorously suggested sugar and Kristen Chase proferred liquor, God bless them. Those are just a few of the people who stepped forward to offer support and advice.

In the end, something Ann Epperson McDermitt asked me stood out the most: What kind of learner is she? I took into account all of the great suggestions, then considered what I already know about my daughter, and settled on index cards that had word prompts as well as pictures as visual cues. I created a card for the opening of her speech, the three main sections, and the closing.

The very first day we tried to practice she sobbed. She was a heap of tears, worried that she’d forget her speech and be embarrassed. Worried that she’d never been up in front of an audience before. I was scared to death, because I wasn’t sure that I could allay her fears. I asked her to trust me and trust the process. (Yes, I really said trust the process to a six-year-old. I’m a nerd.) I told her that when we started to practice she would definitely forget things and that was normal, but that if she stuck with it we’d get there.

The night before the speech she was doing pretty well. She was using the cards, was starting to speak a little more loudly, and to stop kicking her leg all around and putting her fingers in her mouth while she spoke. She wanted to try doing her speech without the cards, but when that didn’t go so well my husband and I convinced her that doing it with them was perfectly fine for a first grader.

Last week, as I sat in the audience waiting for her turn in front of the microphone I was a silent wreck. I didn’t know if she’d collapse into tears the minute she walked in front of the judges. Instead she marched right up there, held her cards behind her back, and did the entire speech without them. Yes she got tripped up slightly here and there, but all in all it was fabulous. I was so happy for her. She did a lot of work and tried her best and it worked.

Last Friday I received an email announcing that she had won first place among all of the 1st grade girls. When I told her, the look on her face was priceless. We celebrated with a 30-second dance party right there in the parking lot where we were standing when I got the email.

I wanted to make sure all the people who helped, who gave us advice on how to get from point A to point B, knew that they were involved, at least in some small part, in her little victory, so later that day I hopped on Facebook and thanked them all by name. Go team!

Sometimes crowdsourcing parenting really pays off.

What about you? What parenting issues have you asked for help about on Facebook or Twitter? Did the suggestions you received work for you?

Photo credit: Katherine Stone

writes here at Babble as well as at her own blog on postpartum depression, called Postpartum Progress. You can also follow her on Twitter as she tweets inane things about her day, or learn more about her here.

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