It's Not All Hard
BY MARY GAUKEL FORSTER
Last month’s article defined hard skills, their connection to specific careers, and how they can be encouraged and taught. Hard skills are important such as knowledge of anatomy for a doctor or building codes for an architect. A parent can do much to teach or foster the growth of a child’s hard skills but the majority of child development studies indicate that the parent plays an even more important role in developing a child’s soft skills.
The top 10 soft skills include communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem solving, creativity, work ethic, interpersonal skills, time management, leadership, and attention to detail.
For most careers, soft skills are considered just as important and necessary as hard skills for employment and job success. How a parent helps their child develop and strengthen soft skills can be fun, bonding, and rewarding for both the child and the parent. Below are sample activities and practices you can use with your child to help them develop and strengthen soft skills.
This one starts with the parent modeling no technology, eye contact, and paying full attention. For young children the traditional game of “I spy with my little eye” begins with back and forth communication. The parent or child is “it” and chooses an object and states, for example, “I spy with my little eye something green.”
The parent or child makes guesses based upon observation of the environment until the correct object is identified. For older children, draw a simple picture or pattern. Without letting them see the diagram, tell them what they need to do so they can draw a picture that looks as similar to yours as possible. After giving detailed instructions, without naming the shape or object, see how accurately the pictures match up. Trade and have your child draw and give directions.
Teamwork and Problem Solving:
Non-competitive games where players work together to meet a challenge can develop both teamwork and problem solving. “Hoot Owl Hoot” has three different levels, which encourage conversation and teamwork to solve how to move six little owls to their nest before sunrise. Adults in our family have enjoyed the game as well preschoolers and up. Look for ways to increase teamwork for all ages by asking for help when completing a task. End with, “nice teamwork” to increase your child’s awareness of the importance of teamwork.
Adjusting to the unexpected can easily be developed throughout a child’s day while also including the important soft skills of communication and problem solving. The ice cream shop is closed, becomes, “What can we do now?” As your child answers prompt with “or we could…”. After several suggestions you can ask your child which one would they choose, which one would “work.”
Reflect back that finding and “doing” a solution when something changes is called adaptability. When the Lincoln Log cabin topples what can be changed or “adapted” in the design? Opportunities to foster adaptability are endless.
Attention to detail:
If you need to change a light bulb, share out loud each step you are taking: “I think I should turn off the electricity to safely change this light bulb. Let’s go and find the switch in the breaker box. This is a 50-watt light bulb, I am going to check and see if I have any 50-watt bulbs in the cabinet. This light bulb isn’t coming out, am I unscrewing it in the right direction? There is a little poem to help me remember: Rightie tightie, lefty loosie. Now that it is out and I put back on the electricity, I want to recycle the bulb. I better check the hours at the dump.”
Once you get started you will become more and more aware of how you can help your child build and improve their soft skills through everyday and intentional actions. In next month’s article, I will share real world practice for those soft skills, “Getting the First Job”.
Career questions have been a part of Mary’s life since she was first asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She began teaching elementary school, had her own children, taught in middle school and high school, became a high school principal, finally a grandparent, and currently, the executive director for the non-profit organization, Your Future Is Our Business. Your Future Is Our Business partners with schools to link students to career explorations. Reach Mary at [email protected]