The ability to work well with others is arguably the single most important skill necessary for success in life. Of course, we have all met that one wildly intelligent doctor with terrible bedside manner. And while he may be successful, the truth is that not many patients want to see him. It doesn’t matter to them how intelligent he is if he cannot communicate in a compassionate and effective way. This is true in almost every line of work. While there are a few jobs in which people work alone, most careers involve interactions with other people. And that requires communication and team work. In the working world, these skills are referred to as “soft skills” and employers value these skills just as much, if not more, than they value a prospective employees GPA, IQ, or academic intelligence. Unlike IQ, soft skills are things that your children can learn and develop. Soft skills include the ability to communicate effectively, to listen to other people and ideas, and to work together with others as a team. There are countless opportunities to teach your children soft skills.
How can I teach “soft skills” to my children?
For big families with a number of children, some of these skills are learned almost subconsciously as your children navigate living with a variety of different personality types. For smaller families or families with only one child, these skills can still be learned through consistent interactions with their peers. While much “soft skill” knowledge comes naturally, you can also be intentional about teaching these skills through games and practices.
Interpersonal and Communication Skills
Trust building and teamwork games are some of the best ways you can teach your children soft skills. And the best part about teaching with games is that your kids won’t even know they are learning. They’ll be having too much fun with the game to even realize they are picking up on vital life skills. The internet is full of examples of these games and activities, but there are a few really good ones worth mentioning.
The Human Knot
The human knot is one of the best teamwork games. For this game, you do need a good number of participants. If you have a big family, it is possible to play this game on your own. If not, you may want to save this game for a get together with another family. In this game, you stand in a circle holding hands, and you mix yourselves up by stepping over and under arms, and turning this way and that until you have created a human knot. The one person left outside of the circle tells each person what to do in an attempt to untangle the knot. This game requires listening skills, communication, and the ability to follow directions exactly.
The Blanket Game
Another game you can play is the blanket game. In this game, your children stand on a blanket and they have to figure out how to flip the blanket over without moving their feet. It is more difficult than it sounds, and it requires communication and teamwork.
There are a lot of games your children play on their own that are also promoting these soft skills. Any rendition of the age old game “house” usually requires a working out of who will play whom, what situation they are playing out, etc. Playing with other children is one of the best ways to teach your children communication and personal skills. If you do not have a big family where your children are exposed daily to the need to communicate through play, you will want to be intentional about play dates and allowing your children to be exposed to situations in which they will need to communicate and problem solve with their peers.
This game requires at least two players, but is more competitive with at least four. In your livingroom or yard, set up a number of objects sporadically. Pair up your students and have one of each pair wear a blindfold. The child without the blindfold has to direct her partner through the yard or Livingroom without allowing them to step on a mine. When there are at least two pairs of players, there can be a winning team. This activity encourages effective listening and communication skills.
Practice Listening and Communicating Feelings
This is just a good habit for all of us to get into. Few people really know how to listen to others. If your children know how to listen attentively, they will stand out from their peers. Here are a few great ways to get started.
This is an easy way to get started because if there’s one thing you know about raising children, it’s that there will be disagreements and arguments. It’s just a matter of time. When these conflicts arise, rather than being frustrated that your kids aren’t getting along, you can see it as an opportunity to mediate in a way that will help them learn the soft skills of communication and listening. When you mediate, encourage each child involved to speak his truth, one at a time, while the other child listens. Praise your child’s listening skills as much as you praise the communication of feelings. Teach your children how to use “I” statements, explaining how something makes them feel. If you can teach your children to listen empathetically and speak their emotions clearly, you will be well on your way to raising children with excellent interpersonal skills.
I Notice and I Prefer
This verbal activity gives each of your children a chance to voice their complaints against their siblings in a non-threatening way. The goal is for the person with the complaint to use “I notice” and “I prefer” statements. This way they are not condemning the other person’s behavior as wrong, but they are still stating their preferences. For example, your child could say “I notice that you used my paint set today, and I prefer that you ask me first”. This may seem very advanced for young children, but even kindergarteners and first graders can use these words. They are empowering because they give the child a voice and a chance to be heard. These statements also teach your child to think of possible solutions to go along with every complaint they have. This helps them develop problem solving skills which will help them to become productive members of society. This verbal activity can teach your children that they do have a right to speak up when something bothers them, but that they can speak up in a respectful way with solutions in mind.