Manners and etiquette are important for getting along with others and more than likely, you’ve already got these lessons covered---the pleases, thank yous, and thank you notes and apologies. But, beyond that, there is one skill set that can have an even greater impact on your child’s life. Those are a child’s social and emotional skills. As parents, we tend to overlook, or simply assume that children will “pick up” these skills along the way.
I began teaching at New York University 10 years ago and was quickly impressed by the academic prowess of my students. While that remained a constant, there was something else that really began to concern me as the years went by, particularly with the onset of modern technology. I saw that some of my students were quickly losing the vital social skills for managing the business of life, like conversational skills, self-awareness, motivation, empathy, resilience and understanding of the impact of a first impression and how body language, eye contact and facial gestures play a role in our lives. Since many of my students were heading off to their first job interviews, it made me realize that this was probably one of the most important lessons I could give them--- a lesson about first impressions and about their personal brands, or the way that they represent themselves every day.
I was teaching Public Relations at the time; how to garner media coverage, manage images and build brands. Then it dawned on me, why not use my professional background in media training to teach my students about these skills with their own brands in mind? After all, with the right lessons and tools and a good sense of self-awareness, we can affect not only our brands, but our lives. With my students complaining that they couldn’t get past those initial job interviews, I knew that this was the PR lesson that would leave the greatest impact.
The class, aptly named “The Brand Called You” began with a lesson on our “First Impressions.” I would ask my students questions like, “How long does it take to make a first impression? and “How do you want to come across when you walk into a room?” and “Are you aware of the most vital aspects of the non-verbal first impression you make?” I would then point out that because it takes only seconds to make a first impression, why not spend a little bit of time managing that impression? After all, we make millions of first impressions throughout our lives and they have a tremendous impact on everything we do, EVERYTHING. My students began to realize just how important first impressions were to their personal brands, and gaining these skills led them to be more confident, positive and prepared for that next job interview. I heard back years later from students, saying how that one class was a game-changer for them.
These lessons don’t have to happen at the college level, either, as these are skills that parents can help teach kids. All it requires is to invest a little time on teaching these skills. Here’s how:
Start with a lesson on first impressions.
The earlier that your child is taught about this, the better. Ask your child how he or she wants to come across. Then help them come across that way by teaching them the non-verbal aspects of a first impression-eye contact, facial gestures and body language. Then teach what to say-how to introduce oneself, how to address an adult versus a peer, and finally what to ask to start a conversation.
Work on the digital first impression.
It’s important that parents teach children to be good digital citizens, as now more than ever, a great deal of our interactions and communication with others happens on social media. You can do this by working on a set of guidelines together that your child should follow when using digital devices and on social media, also called a digital contract. After you come to an agreement about the terms of the contract, make sure you both sign it and follow it as much as possible. Remind your child that everything that gets posted online is out there for the world to see, and that if she wants to represent herself in best way possible, she must be careful about what she reveals online. This may also be a good time to talk about the need to be safe online and not to post any information that could put your child in danger.
Discuss the art of conversation.
There are many elements to a good conversation---initiating, asking and responding to questions, showing enthusiasm, active listening and closing a conversation. If you want to teach your child about ways to start, carry on and end conversations with others, hands-on learning can help you achieve this goal. Start by practicing what to say, how to introduce one’s self, how to address an adult versus a peer, and finally what to ask to begin a dialogue with another person. Most importantly, though, is to remind your child that he just need to be himself, even if he is a bit shy, and that being able to express himself naturally and with confidence can help him in whatever conversation he is taking part in. If you’d like to get more specific tips on this topic, take a look at Chapter 3 in my book, where I cover this subject further.
Try the “sandwich technique.”
You can use this technique to teach your child how to approach certain conversations, especially when providing feedback or addressing an issue. In basic terms, this method involves “sandwiching” the feedback or problem in between a compliment and a positive conclusion. For example, if your child feels that a friend treated her unkindly, she could start with a positive comment like, “I value your friendship, and you’re always so great to me,” then continuing with, “The other day when we were at lunch, you yelled at me and that made me mad.” This can be followed with, “I really want to keep being friends, so next time, just tell me if I’m doing something that bothers you and we can fix it before we start yelling at each other.”
Strengthen your child’s relationship skills.
A strong personal brand is also reflected in one’s ability to establish and maintain positive and fulfilling relationships. While the Parent Toolkit has great resources to help you build your child’s relationship skills, my best piece of advice is to work on nurturing his empathy, kindness and capacity to be a good friend to others. Remind your child that putting himself is someone else’s shoes is key to being a good friend, as is being kind, being there for others and taking ownership for mistakes. Active listening is another essential part of a good relationship, and you can help your child be a better listener by setting a good example and stressing the need for him to be present when talking with others and listening intently to what they have to say.
I urge you to take the time to teach your kids these vital social and emotional skills, starting with a lesson on the first impression. If you make this investment in your time, it will go a long way in your child’s life success.
For more information on how to teach these skills, please take a look at my book, socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS: How to Give Your Children the Tools to Thrive in the Modern World