Learning Life Skills is Critical for Tween Success
Source: Ellen Langas
Every June, as middle school students look forward to a summer 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 emotional and social skills can set the stage for improved relationships, personal and professional success, and enhanced emotional intelligence.
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 Scott Allen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Management at John Carroll University.
Summer break is an ideal time to stimulate development of valuable skills that will help them excel at school, on the soccer field, and eventually at college and 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. For instance, the next time you are planning a long drive for an outing, put your tween in the lead by assigning him to plan the route and help navigate. In preparation for a vacation, engage your child in planning and assigning tasks such as preparing packing lists, travel routes, and polling family members to select attractions. The kitchen is an ideal place to practice leadership skills. Allow your child to lead family members or a group of friends to make a favorite recipe. This is also a great age to encourage an entrepreneurial venture. Help your child brainstorm ideas, plan the necessary steps and create a business such as pet sitting, watering plants, washing cars, as a mother's helper or weeding. 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 or expanding an entrepreneurial idea to a group effort. Help kids hone their skills by suggesting they collaborate on projects from cooking to working together on a community outreach project. Encourage them to reflect on what they are learning by considering the significance of how team or group members contribute to achieve better results. These activities also help build and maintain strong social connections over the summer. 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. While mobile devices have enhanced the ability to stay in touch, they have reduced the face-to-face interaction necessary to make real connections. Reinforce and rehearse the proper way to introduce friends to each other and to adults, discuss and practice telephone manners, review appropriate ways to meet and greet professionals and how to shake hands and make eye contact. Don't forget the simple basics of saying please and thank you, and guide children to write sincere thank-you notes when warranted. Make sure you set guidelines for "netiquette" by discussing e-mail and social network practices. And to keep vocabulary growing over the summer, introduce a "word of the day" that everyone in the family can use and learn.
Conflict Resolution: Learning how to handle disagreeable and highly charged moments helps kids become resilient, at home, at school and eventually in the workplace. Social acceptance is high on the list in middle school and while attempting to achieve it, kids sometimes make poor choices. As your tween becomes more independent, it's important that she understands 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 particular phone 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 Skills are a great precursor to efficient time management, and can reduce stress when tasks increase in complexity as children grow. I take one look at my daughter's room and sometimes doubt that I am qualified to offer sage advice in this department! Getting rid of clutter helps, and putting tweens in charge of these decisions will help them take responsibility for and develop a sense of pride in their rooms and belongings. Introduce short, focused projects such as cleaning out a drawer a day. Oftentimes, if you add a goal of holding a garage sale or donating unwanted items to a charity, kids become more engaged with the tasks. To help with time management, students are encouraged to utilize planning agendas at many middle schools. Keep up the continuity over the summer. Encourage your child to schedule daily activities and tasks as well as upcoming events. She should be responsible for noting times and days that she is required to participate in sport practices and games, doctor appointments, music lessons, activities with friends and family functions. Believe it or not, it won't be too long before your child will be on her own and managing her schedule will be critical to success.
A final reminder: Parents should not discount the value of interaction that happens during unstructured time; 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 tween develops, though not reflected on a report card, will serve him or 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. 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. Ellen is the proud mother of two teenage daughters.