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Simple Activities to Help Your Child Build Life Skills This Summer
Simple Activities to Help Your Child Build Life Skills This Summer
By Ellen Langas
Every June, just as students look forward to a summer of play without homework, their parents often express concern that time away from school will shortchange academic progress. But academics are only part of the success equation. An early foundation of behavioral skills can set the stage for improved relationships, personal and professional success, and enhanced emotional intelligence.
"Social and emotional intelligence is not just a topic for adults," says Scott Allen, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor of Management at John Carroll University. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), socially and emotionally competent children are self-aware, regulate their emotions, are socially aware, have good relationship skills and demonstrate responsible decision making (www.casel.org). "Parents and educators alike have an opportunity to model and coach children in each of these five core areas," according to Allen.
In fact, it's never too early for children to start building social, emotional and behavioral skills, and parents can take an active role. "Let language lead the way," says Tricia Ferrara, Licensed Professional Counselor and Behavioral Health Specialist. "As soon as children begin to acquire language skills, around ages two or three, they can begin to develop social skills and will automatically absorb cues from their environments."
Parents can provide age-appropriate learning opportunities as children grow. Once kids enter school, summer break is an ideal time to stimulate development of valuable skills that will help them excel at school, on the playground or soccer field, at college, and eventually on the job. Here are tips to help parents create learning opportunities that are fun and easy, especially suited to summer:
Leadership is a key trait that employers consistently look for in candidates, but every child does not have the chance to be the team captain or class president. You can create simple and fun leadership opportunities at home that fit your child's age and ability. For instance, if a family vacation, outing or party is coming up, engage your child in planning activities and assigning tasks such as who will drive, pack a picnic basket, grocery shop, etc. He or she can plan a timeline and even a budget, and supervise selected activities. This works equally well (though can be much messier!) in the kitchen. Allow your child to take the lead, under adult supervision, with family members or a group of friends to make a favorite recipe. These leadership activities will enhance your child's sense of responsibility and build confidence to guide others.
Teamwork skills can be developed in a variety of settings such as household projects, participation in sports and clubs. Help kids hone their skills by suggesting they collaborate on projects from cooking to building a clubhouse. Use these opportunities as teaching moments. For instance, during a sporting event, explain the importance of cheering teammates or praising their success. Help them reflect on the significance and benefits of working together to achieve better results. Encourage involvement in community outreach projects. Girl and Boy Scout organizations and youth groups are terrific sources for teamwork opportunities.
Communication skills are incredibly important as kids mature; yet, by the time they enter the workplace, many young adults are still lacking in that area according to employers. Learning how to communicate and interact effectively is vital for relationship building, and may be one of the toughest skills to master. An early introduction to vocabulary, telephone manners, proper e-mail and social network practices is a must. Rehearse the proper way to introduce friends to each other and to adults. Teach children how to meet and greet others, and practice how to shake hands and make eye contact. Teach the simple basics of saying please and thank you, and guide youngsters to write sincere thank-you notes when warranted. If your child is active online, now is the time to set guidelines for "netiquette."
Conflict Resolution: "Learning how to handle disagreeable and highly charged moments helps children become resilient, at home and eventually in the workplace," says Ferrara. "Parents who model desirable conflict resolution behaviors will help their children learn how to make real connections with others."
Help your child understand how to articulate a problem and discover solutions. Introduce concepts like compromise and respect. When an argumentative situation arises, suggest your child paraphrase what the other is saying to learn if she truly understands the opposing point of view. Parents can help, not by solving every problem, but by offering problem-solving choices and encouraging kids to weigh the pros and cons of each approach.
Goal Setting can be incorporated into your child's daily life by setting small goals that lead to a larger overall goal. For example, if the goal is to buy a bicycle by the end of the summer, help your child create the action steps required to achieve the ultimate goal, and consider how much time is necessary to accomplish each step. Encourage persistence and follow-through, and celebrate a job well done!
Organization is a skill that can be helpful inside and outside the classroom. I take one look at my daughter's room and sometimes doubt that I am qualified to offer sage advice in this department! Good organizational skills are a great precursor to efficient time management, and can reduce stress when tasks increase in complexity as children grow. Have your child participate in setting up a chart or list of daily activities and tasks. She should understand the times and days she is required to go to sport practices and games, musical instrument lessons, and family functions. This will help her recognize how much time she has to spend with friends and when she is required to be present for other activities.
A final reminder: Parents should not discount the value of interaction that happens during unstructured play; it's the ideal learning laboratory. And parents must be sure to provide good examples. After all, you are your child's most important role model. Remember to practice patience; these are skills that evolve over time, not overnight. Learning should be fun and interactive, not stressful. The cumulative effect of your efforts and theirs will be well rewarded. The behavioral, social and emotional skills that your child develops, though not reflected on a report card, will serve her for a lifetime.
Ellen Langas is a youth career education advocate who is founder of Kids Know How® and author of the national award-winning Girls Know How® book series that inspires children to explore careers and follow their dreams, www.girlsknowhow.com. A frequent speaker and media guest regarding career education, she is editor of the national collegiate SIFE Career Connections magazine, conducts children's career exploration workshops and is President of NouSoma Communications, Inc., www.nousoma.com. Ellen is the proud mother of two teenage daughters.
© 2011 NouSoma Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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