How to Help Your Child Prepare for a Debate

Our top tips for helping your debater to do a great job and learn lots along the way.

Your child has a debate event coming up and you know they need help to finish and practice their debate... but what kind of help is best? How much should you be involved? It's tempting to want your child to achieve a high award level, but over the years, we've found that the best learning is gained by students writing their own debates with your encouragement. Parents who do much of the work for their child are denying them the opportunity to learn at their own pace and build a strong foundation of understanding for the future. Doing a lot of the work for your child may possibly help them earn a high award level, but it doesn't give them a realistic idea of their real skill level and when they don't have your help readily accessible, they often flounder. This is not to say that parents shouldn't help their children prepare for their debates. To the contrary! Parent support and encouragement is vital for young debaters. The best ways that you can help your child prepare are:

1. Ask questions Rather than telling your child more about their topic, ask questions that help them find the answers for themselves.

2. Discuss the topic We encourage students to gain a deep understanding of their topic and talking about it with them as a family at dinner can really help students to broaden their knowledge and get the perspectives of others on the subject of their debate.


3. Let them use their own words Students learn so much more and are much more confident when they write their speech in their own words, rather than trying to sound impressive or using overly formal language. Encourage students to understand their research and then explain it in their own way.

4. Encourage preparation Encourage your child not to leave finishing debate until the last minute, and listen to them practice their speech. The more a child can practice, the more confident he or she will feel and the more they are able to use great eye contact!

5. Encourage learning, not competition We teach debating as a learning experience for students, not a competitive experience. Encourage your child to do their very best, but don’t put pressure on them. Students learn more when they enjoy the process and they are more likely to want to continue learning rather than being put off trying again.

6. Keep their age in mind Please remember that your child is still young and does not have an adult’s general knowledge of the world and that their ability to reason is still developing. We do not expect perfection from students or that they grasp every aspect of debating right away. Skills take time to develop and come with experience and practice. 7. Be realistic with your expectations Let your child know that it's important to do their best, but that learning and improving is more important than the award level they achieve. Sometimes beginner debaters are disappointed to get a bronze award, but remind them that a bronze award is still an excellent achievement. We don't disparage those who get a bronze in the Olympics! A bronze award is an acknowledgement that they have now mastered beginner debating skills - something that all the people who haven't done debating haven't accomplished yet. By keeping these tips in mind when you're supporting your child to prepare for their debate, you'll help them have a positive experience that they can learn and grow from. As Eric Hoffer, moral and social philosopher and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom said, "in a time of drastic change it is the lifelong learners who inherit the future."