Considered the founding father of the Socratic method, Socrates believed that the pursuit of wisdom mattered above all else. He would walk around Athens, interrogating those he met on the streets about how one could lead a life of integrity. That was way back in the 5 century BC, but every generation has sought to discover the most important skills for success.
Scott Adams once said: “Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.” The skills your child develops in childhood lay the foundation for his future success.
Experts now agree that a major difference between children who thrive and those who do not, is that the former have acquired valuable skills that help them get along with others, do better academically, and behave in a socially acceptable manner. But mastering a skill can only be developed in specific situations and circumstances. With this in mind, several studies have focused on the skills that are most likely to contribute to academic and social success. They have found that the lack of certain skills can make your kid lag behind, socially, academically, and psychologically. But there’s good news: most of the life skills your child needs can and should actually be developed at home, and this begins even before he or she starts school.
Which skills, then, should you equip your child with? And perhaps more important, how, exactly, do you help your child to develop those skills? Here are five skills that will help your child thrive, and a few tips you can start applying from today to help him develop them.
Every child benefits from being held accountable for his actions. Being held accountable has nothing to do with punishment. It is simply a way of teaching your child that it’s okay to mess up, but what really matters is how he reacts to that mess.
The most important thing you can do to increase your child’s accountability is to stop rescuing him. We (parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and adults in general) tend to believe kids need rescuing, that they always need our help. We’re wrong. Give your child a cloth and let him wipe the water he has spilled on the table. That’s not punishment, it’s accountability. It teaches him that “spilling water happens” but that’s okay and I can deal with it next time it happens.
Expecting your child to participate in age-appropriate household chores also goes a long in fostering his personal accountability.
No one, anywhere, has learned to control everything in his or her life. No one knows how things will work out beforehand. But we can control how we respond to the problems we encounter on our path.
Problem-solving is an important skill for kids to develop, both in and outside the classroom. And the only way your child can develop this skill is through practice, through a succession of relatively small steps that all point toward the same direction. Providing opportunities that enable her to find solutions is therefore pivotal if this skill is to be developed.
Perhaps the easiest way to get your child to practice her problem-solving skills is to make her the “Chief Problem Solver”. This means making her own her problems and making her an active participant in finding the solutions to those problems: “What do you think could work”? “What do you think you can try next time”, “What else can you try?”, “How many different ways can you approach this”?
3) Emotional regulation
What drives you up the wall? What makes you angry, sad, anxious, jittery? How does your body feel? What do you do when all those uncomfortable emotions strike?
Most adults have already determined their own personal coping mechanisms they can use to deal with strong emotions. You know that a long bath, or a good book, will help ease your stress. Kids have not necessarily identified the mechanisms they need to cope with difficult emotions. That’s why instead of taking a long bath or reading a good book, they’ll act out, struggle with concentration issues, act aggressive, come off as hyperactive, and generally portray what we define as “bad” behavior.
Emotional regulation is perhaps the most important skill you can teach your child, because the inability to deal with difficult emotions has a direct impact on his behavior.
A first step toward your child’s emotional intelligence is to teach him to identify his emotions. Take advantage of images in books or even on his favorite TV episodes to talk about emotions: “why do you think he looks so sad”? “What would you do if something like that happens?”, “What do you think about how she reacted to that situation?” “How would you react?” “Have you ever felt like… ”.
A second step is to help him identify the situations that make him feel particular strong emotions. A third step is to give him multiple tools he can start using to help him manage those emotions in a socially appropriate manner.
4) Communication skills
A few years ago, Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur, wrote on his blog : “Communication makes the world go round. It facilitates human connections, and allows us to learn, grow and progress. It’s not just about speaking or reading, but understanding what is being said – and in some cases what is not being said.”
Your child’s ability to communicate is an important skill that will determine her ability to not only express herself, but also to listen to others. Even with a crazy schedule, you can take advantage of “little moments” when you’re in the car or waiting in a queue to talk to your child. Talk about your day and ask about theirs.
Avoid conversation killers such as “how was your day” and ask questions that will get the conversation going such as: “What was the best part of your day?” Make it a habit to ask for your child’s opinion and treat her opinions as valid.
Dealing with a kid without self-control can feel like being on a roller-coaster ride without quite knowing what to expect. Self-control has been associated with school-readiness and academic success. It refers to your child’s ability to do what is required of her rather than what she wants to do. If she lacks self-control, she is likely to struggle with rules and limits all her life.
Professor Adele Diamond believes that to help young children develop self-control skills, they must be taught cognitive skills. Failure to do so can place them on a negative trajectory which can be extremely difficult and costly to reverse. She teaches that children’s lack of self-control is directly influenced by an absence of emotional regulation skills and that the first step is therefore to teach your child to identify her emotions and provide an environment in which she can freely express those emotions. Research has also found that playing games such as “Simon says” can also help your child learn self-control.
Even before age six, your child has already developed a certain number of skills and those skills determine her academic and social success. But the good news is that it is never too late for a child to develop those skills. You can achieve this by being responsive to her needs and by providing an environment in which she learns that she can control how she responds to much of what happens to her.