Even though we all grow up to become adults, at our core we are still the child we were all the way back when.
In the world of psychology it has been said that we are 80 per cent formed by the time we reach eight years old – this includes our beliefs, values, self-esteem and many patterns of behaviour. Those early years create a foundation on which our adult years are built.
If this is the case then there are certain “soft skills” that I believe every child needs to learn to help them become happy, well-adjusted adults. Learning these soft skills as a child will help set the person up for the greatest chance of “success”. When I say success, I mean the ability to move through life with relative ease and grace and also to remain empowered in the face of adversity.
For me, the three most important soft skills are:
Resilience– Resilience is simply the ability to bounce back from adversity. It means being psychologically fit enough to cope with hardship and stress and not only come out the other side, but grow from it. I remember many years ago seeing Maggie Dent (a leading parenting expert) speak. She told the audience to go home and buy their small child a pet. Not a dog – they live too long – but maybe a rabbit, mouse or fish – that is, something that would die relatively soon. She then went on to recommend that when the pet dies, parents should let the child decorate the coffin (ie. shoe box) and have a back garden ceremony where the child can cry and the pet’s life can be celebrated.
Her reasoning was that kids need opportunities to experience situations which will “exercise their emotional range”. How on earth can they develop resilience when we shield them from experiences that may cause them distress?
Allowing kids to experience disappointment is good for them (everyone does NOT get a ribbon in my world!) because guess what? Disappointment is inevitable and if we shelter them from it until they’re young adults, it follows that they have had no practise and therefore have no strategy in place to deal with it. That’s when it can become catastrophic.
Resilience is built in our children by giving them opportunities to deal with change (such as changing schools or sporting teams), experiencing loss (such as losing the family pet), disappointment (as in not getting the role in a play or having a podium finish at the athletics carnival) and hearing honest feedback (from a parent, coach or teacher).
When I work with young people, it is so easy for me to tell who was given the opportunity to learn resilience and who wasn’t. Normally, the biggest indicator of that is how happy and comfortable the young adult is when things go wrong.
Courage– Kids love characters who show courage! Harry Potter, Ilsa from Frozen, Moana, Spiderman and Superman just to name a few. For courage to show up there must firstly be fear.
So what exactly is courage? It is the ability to control fear and be willing to do something that is difficult, unpleasant, scary or maybe even dangerous. Like resilience, it is so important to create moments in our children’s lives where they have to step into courage.
I remember four years ago, I was taking my nieces to Italy to meet their parents. It was their first big trip overseas and they were so excited and, understandably, a bit nervous. We arrived at the airport and I said “Right, I am giving the passport and tickets to you and you are going to lead us through this process”. My nieces initially freaked out and countered with “But we’ve never done this before, we don’t know what to do!!”. I replied by saying “You girls are very smart, just think logically and I am right here if you REALLY can’t work it out”.
They worked it out, which I knew they would.
They were so proud of themselves that they did it, and it was great practise at doing something new – which in turn reaffirmed their ability and confidence. A small example, but a big lesson.
It can be hard to learn courage when the people around us make life easy and comfortable all the time. I am not saying give your child a horrible childhood – what I am saying is to prepare them for life by stretching them.
Some examples would be family activities that require them to be brave such as abseiling, scuba diving or ropes courses. Alternatively, encouraging your child to participate in activities at school where they get butterflies – such as competitive sport, debating or drama. It could be as simple as teaching them to speak up in times of conflict or apologising to someone they have upset.
Empathy– Roman Krznaric, author of the book Empathy, believes this trait is going to save the world. When we have the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes it becomes much harder to treat people (or the planet for that matter) poorly.
Empathy is the awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. It is a key element of emotional intelligence – the link between self and others – because it is how we as individuals understand what others are experiencing as if we were feeling it ourselves.
Being empathetic creates bonds. It enhances intimate relationships, strengthens friendships and makes the workplace so much nicer to be in because people have a genuine care for those around them.
Humans are pack animals and on some level we all have a desire for connection. Some people want connection with a whole range of people, others only want it with a few. Either way, when we are able to behave with empathy, those interactions are of a high quality.
Empathy is a critical skill for an individual to have if they wish to lead – whether it be their family, community, society or a business. Yes, people without empathy can still run those groups, however the groups generally aren’t healthy and become unsustainable. If people don’t feel cared for or appreciated, they tend to leave after a period of time.
Curiosity is linked to empathy. If we have a genuine care for people we have a genuine desire to learn about them. We ask questions, listen to them share their answers and learn about who they are. This then fosters an even greater sense of empathy – and so the circle goes on.
Examples of how to build empathy would include getting out of your usual environment and travelling, trying different foods, engaging with strangers, volunteering, learning a new skill, or joining a group with new and different people.
There are many soft skills our kids need to develop and I am sure you can add a few of your own to my three. It’s all about training our children to become “life fit” because then we are really setting them up for the greatest prospects of success.