Our family recently stumbled upon a television series called ‘Humans’. I am not normally a sci-fi fan, but this has really fascinated me. It gives us a sneak peek into our world in the not-too-distant-future where Synths are common household robots who politely and efficiently perform mundane, everyday tasks for their owners.
So where am I going with this? It jogged my memory that I had read an article about how valuable ‘soft skills’ will be going forward. In fact, Grace Rubenstein states on the Ted Talks Ideas website that ‘as more and more jobs are becoming mechanised, so-called soft skills – which include persistence, stress management and communication – are seen as a way to make humans irreplaceable by machine.’ In essence, our more human attributes are becoming increasingly important. Well of course, you say! Yet, it does pose the question of whether we need to put far more energy into this area with our kids. Not instead of encouraging their academic development, but by putting them at least on the same level of importance as each other.
This may be a big mindset change for some of us. If we were brought up in a family where academic achievement was the priority, then where would we start with increasing our kids’ soft skill levels?
For interest, I googled ‘Helping children develop soft skills’ and the top few search results I got were ‘How to help your child develop soft skills for success’ (oh dear! Why do we throw that word in as a carrot under every parents’ nose?), ‘Helping youth develop soft skills for success’, and the list went on… One site suggested that problem solving, time management, communication and leadership were most important for kids entering college, another suggested that at primary school level social skills and self-control were very important. Learning the consequences of our actions and developing empathy were also mentioned. Other sites offered programmes to be implemented in educational settings. Hopefully you are beginning to see a theme emerge: This is not a job just for educators, it should also come to rest firmly in the lap of every parent out there. So what do we do?
6 ideas for parents:
- Don’t look at this as another ‘exercise’. It should be natural and common sense. You can’t really have a master list of soft skills that you work your way through systematically, ticking off as you go. Like all significant things, we grow and learn best when the opportunities come out of real life situations, borne out of genuine care and concern.
- Don’t be tempted to neglect the social and emotional areas within your family life, presuming that your children’s needs will be catered for by others. That may be true for a small part of the puzzle, but ultimately their most memorable and meaningful lessons will be within the home environment.
- Rather than asking kids how they feel about things, ask questions like: “If that happened to your friend, what would you say to them? What would your advice be?”, “What ideas do you have about how this problem could be solved?”, “How did you see this going? Was it different than you’d expected?”. (Asking kids to talk in ‘first person’ can be a more comfortable ‘mode’ for them to analyse what they would do.)
- To make things more palatable for teenagers, try to stay away from ‘touchy feely’ phrases, especially with boys. Keep things factual. They don’t necessarily want to feel like they’re being ‘counselled’ by their parents.
- If we think about leadership skills, a good leader understands those they lead, so empathy and listening skills are important, not just the ability to tell people what to do. If you want to be a good leader in the future, you need to be a good friend in the present. Likewise, a good problem solver gathers information first, and that happens through both observing and listening. Give your child opportunities to exercise these skills.
- Don’t be thrown by this. It really is just a broad new term for a range of skills which we should already be modelling in our homes. And if we do want to be confident that our children have plenty to offer society and be employable in the future, we need to pay attention to more than academics.
Rose Stanley has worked in schools for the past 8 years caring for children, firstly as a Student Support worker and most recently as a tutor through the Lifewalk Trust. She has just published three books to aid children with emotional literacy.