Consider the saying, “Our children are the future.” If this is true, we may be headed for a crisis. In today’s unapologetically celebrity-obsessed culture, disrespectfulness, defiance and rejection of common courtesy have become the norm. Kids are growing up in a world of ESPN highlights and reality TV, where it is acceptable and almost expected to be rude and self-promoting. Contemporary pop culture is increasingly leaving no room for strong character, people skills and the development of self-confidence in our children.
Why are these traits important?
Ask any parent what they want most for their children, and self-confidence will likely top the list. Sure, academic and athletic success are notable characteristics that most parents appreciate their children having, but above all, self-confidence is the most important trait a child can posses. Without confidence, it is hard for children to accomplish goals, resist peer pressure and deal with adversity.
Where does self-confidence originate? Though love and affection from family members play a vital role in a child’s development of self-confidence, it is only a foundation on which children’s confidence can grow. Kids need additional skills to aid them in social situations where they may feel uncomfortable.
People skills and a strong character are basic assets that we often take for granted. Yet, a recent study by BOOSTKIDS showed that the ability to communicate properly accounts for 75 percent of an individual’s career success. Clearly we need to place a greater emphasis on people skills and character development when our children are young.
What exactly are people skills & character development?
The ability to greet people properly, look people in the eye and use a firm handshake are basic people skills. Listening well and asking informed questions are abilities children can learn to become successful in life. Although we should not diminish the importance of reading and grasping basic math skills, a high percent of adulthood success is based on how well a person can interact and communicate with others.
Character development deals with developing a child’s personal integrity and internal compass of acceptable behavior. Being honest, resisting peer pressure and respecting others all relate to character development. Some children may appear supremely confident, but they lack the strong character necessary to resist temptation and peer pressure. Not having a strong character ends up limiting the depth of such children’s interpersonal relationships, and potentially limits their future successes.
No Child Left Behind means well to force schools in the United States to advance children in basic skills, such as math and science. At the same time, however, most school programs dedicated to developing people skills and character are simply not priorities.
Increase Your Child’s People Skills
There are specific techniques you can teach your children at an early age to enhance confidence and people skills. Get your kids on track with these simple basics and they will thank you later!
- Greeting People. We meet and greet people every day. Teach your kids how to do it properly. When you see an acquaintance, be the first to say “hi” and always use the person’s name. It is amazing how just by saying someone’s name after “hi” makes the person feel more comfortable with you. Show your children that by saying hello first and using the person’s name makes you appear confident and friendly, and that a firm handshake creates an instant bond and tells the other person that you are sincere, warm and pleased to see him or her.
- Making Eye Contact. Anytime you are having a conversation with one person or a group of people, maintaining eye contact is crucial. Young children may be uncomfortable making eye contact because they might be shy or feel vulnerable. Let your kids know that even if they are shy on the inside, making eye contact with someone they are talking to makes them appear confident. Looking someone in the eye makes the other person feel like the most important person to you at that moment.
- Asking Questions. The ability to ask thoughtful questions is one of the most vital skills you can teach your children. Thoughtful questions help portray children as interested in what others are saying, as well as help build children’s listening skills, which translates into an increased attention span and ability to retain information in the future.
Asking questions allows you to gather information while showing that you care what someone is telling you. As parents, the best way to stress this skill is to talk to your kids before approaching a social situation. For example, if you are on your way to a family reunion, tell the kids what is happening with members of the family. Give them specific questions to ask. These questions should be open-ended, requiring more than a simple “yes” or “no” response. Your family will be impressed that your children show such confidence.
- Saying “Thank You” Properly. Saying “please” and “thank you” is something children are taught at a young age. But there is a difference between saying thank you with no emotion and saying it sincerely. Teach your kids that saying thank you with enthusiasm shows a person that you truly appreciate what he or she has done. Instead of a simple “thanks,” try saying “thank you for _______” with a lot of emotion and feeling behind it. The giver should then feel your sincerity.
Parents, stress these skills daily. Be aware of opportunities to build confidence, character and etiquette in your kids. When your child interacts with another person, emphasize the importance of people skills before and after the interaction. This will familiarize your child with the concept of good communication, and help your child remember to apply what he or she has learned about etiquette in different social situations.
Be a good role model. Kids notice how their parents conduct themselves in various situations. If you don’t show patience with a sales clerk, how can you expect your child to show patience with siblings? If you are having trouble relating to your children, perhaps introduce a third party. As kids— particularly teenagers— tend to tune out adult authority figures, a third party may help take a teen’s natural resistance off of a parent. Someone else advocating etiquette also reinforces what you are teaching and gives kids a chance to further learn these key skills.
Our fast-paced society is raising a generation of children who may lack the skills needed to feel good about themselves when confronted with challenges, hardship and competition. However, by teaching our kids how to be good people and fostering an environment where good communication skills are common practice, today’s children stand a greater chance to grow into adults who respect themselves and are respected by others— who set and accomplish goals and are comfortable with themselves.