5 Keys to Teaching Debate to Children

Teaching debate to children helps them develop listening skills, dialogue, and respect for differences and the opinions of others.
5 Keys to Teaching Debate to Children
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 18 March, 2023

When we think of a debate, we generally associate it with the adult world. We imagine a classic or typical situation of two people on a podium arguing about different or even opposing ideas or positions. However, if we go a little further, we learn many of the skills that come into play in such a scenario as children. Thus the importance of teaching debate to children.

Learning to debate at a young age has enormous developmental and adult advantages. Therefore, it’s not something that should be left for later but should be encouraged from childhood. Of course, when we refer to teaching debate to children at an early age, it doesn’t imply doing it in the way adults do. We must respect their own ages and rhythms. With all this in mind, let’s look at some keys to teaching children to debate.

Take note of these tips for teaching debate to children

Debate shouldn’t be approached in terms of winners or losers, but in terms of respectful exchange, learning, and mutual enrichment. Therefore, it’s not a competition for who’s right. If we take this idea as a starting point, here are some keys to teaching debate to children.

1- Practice

No one is born with the wisdom to hold a debate successfully. Besides, the nerves of speaking in public and knowing that there may be people watching us are also influencing factors. For this reason, it’s important to choose the topic and look for the opportunity, which could be during a snack or while sharing a game.

You can always use questions such as “What do you think about this topic?”, “Why do you think this is the way things are?” or “Why do you think things should be different? This way, not only do they practice debate, but we also encourage them to think.

Taking emotional management into account is also key, as sometimes emotions can invade the child and lead them to act in unexpected ways. For example, they may become closed off, angry, uncomfortable, or euphoric, among others.

Two smally children debating about what's they're reading.
In order for children to learn to debate, it’s important that we facilitate situations where they can rehearse this skill.

2- Teaching the skills of listening and waiting

Let’s remember that, depending on their age, children are more or less self-centered in their thinking. Therefore, it’s important to teach them the importance of listening, waiting their turn to speak, and not interrupting others. To do this, some strategies can be used, such as asking them to raise their hand when they want to say something or passing an object to indicate that it’s their turn to speak.

3- Prepare and be informed

The exercise of looking for information will be in accordance with the child’s age. But it’s important to point out that in order to be able to discuss a topic, you need to know something about it beforehand. We can have opinions about something in particular, but in any case, it’s key to know how to explain, express, and support them.

4- Teaching values is part of teaching debate to children

It’s important that children understand that a debate is nothing more than a circumstance in which points of view and arguments about a position or way of thinking are presented. Therefore, it’s important to educate them to respect other people and their opinions. Also, it must be made clear that it’s not okay to insult, shout, attack, or make fun of others.

5- Be a good example

Children learn a lot from what we teach them as well as from what they see. They’re sometimes present when we have conversations and arguments with others and are able to register our emotions, our behaviors, and even our tone of voice. Therefore, it’s very important to set a good example.

You may be interested in: Debate Techniques in The Classroom

A young girl looking sad while her parents argue in the background.
If we want children to learn certain values when debating or to have certain behaviors, it’s important for adults to be good role models.

Some benefits of teaching debate to children

Some of the advantages of knowing how to debate are the following:

  • They develop a critical spirit and autonomous thinking.
  • They develop empathy, listening, tolerance, and respect for others.
  • They learn to dialogue and not to confront.
  • When debate is used as a strategy in the classroom, children become committed to learning and become true protagonists in the construction of knowledge.
  • They learn to keep track of their emotions and everything that happens to their bodies. All this helps them to know themselves and to exercise self-control.

The exercise of thinking for themselves

For many people, it may seem strange to associate two terms or situations such as childhood and debate. However, enabling them to have such an arena for expression not only strengthens other skills but also allows them to put their own thoughts and desires into play. Moreover, in this way, they learn to make decisions for themselves.

All this is nothing more than facilitating participation, child protagonism, responsibility, and autonomy. These qualities are very important for the school stage in particular and for life in general.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Velasco, José Antonio, & de González, Leonor Alonso (2008). Sobre la teoría de la educación dialógica. Educere, 12(42),461-470.[fecha de Consulta 21 de Julio de 2021]. ISSN: 1316-4910. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=35614569006
  • Vivas García, Mireya (2003). La educación emocional: conceptos fundamentales. Sapiens. Revista Universitaria de Investigación, 4(2),0.[fecha de Consulta 21 de Julio de 2021]. ISSN: 1317-5815. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=41040202

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.