Unlike hard skills, like math, reading, science and social studies, soft skills revolve around communication, relating with others, and self discipline. Like balancing a check book and figuring out a mortgage rate, these essential skills are usually learned outside the classroom from their families and peers. Sometimes these necessary soft skills aren’t learned at all.
Did you think that self-confident class president learned how to schmooze his way to victory from his history class? More than likely, he learned from mimicking a family member or through a mentor. But just what exactly are these soft skills1?
Social skills may include greeting adults and peers and interaction with people outside their immediate family, peers, and adults.
Please, thank you, you’re welcome, yes ma’am, no sir. Polite manners are all soft skills that usually aren’t addressed in the school curriculum. Ever hold the door open for someone? Who taught you to do that?
Listening is as important as communicating, and due to our reliance on electronics, this soft skill has fallen behind for many.
Making friends and alliances. Again, due to our technology, we rely more on texting than face to face communication, which is necessary to build good rapport with others.
Seeing things from another person’s perspective. When you face an issue from another person’s point of view, you are less likely to barge through that situation without concern of how the outcome may affect others.
Sure, you learn what 2y is in Algebra, but there are so many real life scenarios that school kids aren’t usually prepared for – like what to do when the power runs out or how to gather help from fellow employees on a difficult task. Employers often look for independent problem solvers2.
Centering around sharing, controlling emotions, such as angry outbursts or even interrupting people, self-control is a vital soft skill that should be taught from an early age.
No one is born charismatic and overflowing with high self esteem. This comes from learning to be happy with yourself and realizing that ‘you are enough.
You taught your kids their ABC’s, how to remember their address and phone number, and how to ride a bike and now you have to teach them soft skills?! Before you tear your hair out, children learn a lot of soft skills by example. It’s easy to incorporate them into your daily life – in fact you may already do most of them.
Do you find yourself saying: “Don’t slouch. Don’t mumble!” Kids tend to drop that ‘not’ out of everything – so instead of telling them what NOT to do, instead guide them towards what they should do: Stand tall. Speak clearly.
You don’t have to send your kids to etiquette school to learn good manners. Accentuate manners within your life. Always say please and thank you. Hold the door open for people and use ‘excuse me’ and ‘you’re welcome.’ And expect your children to follow suit.
Have your kids look directly at the person with whom they are communicating. Ear buds out of ears. Cellphone tucked away in their pocket. They should focus on the person and really listen and respond appropriately. This will aid them to build good rapport with people as well. If they sit in enough adult conversations – with their electronics confiscated -, they will become aware of the give and take in good conversations.
All kids should learn a little empathy. Teens all too often shout out ‘get a job’ to a homeless man on the street corner and call other kids names, without even thinking there might be a story behind their situation. The girl who smells at school may be homeless and without running water. That beggar on the corner may be a decorated veteran out on his luck.
Expose your children to other people’s lives. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate items to the Salvation Army, adopt a kid for Christmas, or help put together food baskets for needy families over the holidays and deliver them together.
Involving your child in the day to day problems of life can help build their problem solving skills. Clean up messes together, replace batteries in things, catch a fish, teach them how to run the washing machine and expect them to help washing up.
You can also try Geo-caching, a world-wide treasure hunt. Put them in charge of the GPS and directing the way. Alternately, you can test skills in an Escape Room – a popular trend where a handful of people must team up to solve a series of puzzles and riddles in order to ‘escape’ before the measured time is up.
By far one of the most vital soft skills, self-control does not come easy for children. They have to learn no is no and how to share. Start them young on this. Arrange play dates with friends or join a local parenting group with other parents and their children.
It’s hard for some kids to see other kids playing with their toys, so stay alert, but eventually, when they realize the other child isn’t going to take off with their favorite toy truck, they may just get the picture.
Try not to give in to a temper tantrum and when faced with an angry child, a time out is a good idea and break out the bubbles. Blowing bubbles makes it hard for kids to stay focused on their anger.
You may want to include short meditation (1-3 minutes) into their daily routine to keep them calm.
Kids all too often use things like good grades and popularity as metrics to measure their self-esteem. That’s like trying to shoot a harpoon to the moon – you’ll always fall short of that goal. One day there will be a more popular kid in school, or they’ll face a D on a test or worse. They need to be taught those things really don’t matter in the long run.
If your child gets a bad grade, tell them “it happens” and try not to make a big deal about it.
Have adventures with your kids to build their self esteem and lift their self confidence, like rock climbing, biking, camping or kayaking a river. Set a goal and achieve it together.
Once they start achieving goals outside of the classroom, they may realize that D on the math test was not such a big deal, or so and so may be more popular but heck, they just kayaked an intermediate run!
Your kids may not be taught soft skills in the classroom, but by teaching them these essential skills yourself, and incorporating them into your daily lives, you may find yourself connecting with your kids over stuff that really matters.