Skills for life!

Many of us take for granted that our children simply pick up on cues from ourselves in learning important life skills. It would be great if our children were genetically pre-programmed to have all the life skills they need, but sadly this is not yet the case. In the ever quickening pace of life, we need to remain focused on providing our children, both littlies and teens, with true to life skills and street smartness.

Below are simply a few essential life skills our children seem to be needing more and more :

SELF AWARENESS is a skill that helps your child tune in to his feelings, thoughts and actions. It’s more than just being able to recognize these things. It means understanding that how he acts on his thoughts and feelings affects himself and others. There are two kinds of self-awareness. Private self-awareness is when your child is aware of something about himself that other people might not be. For example, say your child has to read in front of the class. Recognizing the feeling of butterflies in his stomach as a signal that he’s nervous is private self-awareness. Public self-awareness is when your child is aware of how other people are seeing him. This can be hard for kids who have trouble reading social cues. For example, say your child stands very close to other kids while talking. Noticing that he is making others uncomfortable and taking a step back is an example of public self-awareness. Private and public self-awareness work together to help your child understand that what he’s thinking and feeling—how he’s “seeing” himself—might not always be the way other people see him. When your child has good self-awareness skills, he: * Recognizes his strengths and weaknesses * Can identify what he needs to do to complete a task * Recognizes errors in schoolwork and makes edits or changes * Can understand and talk about his feelings * Recognizes other people’s needs and feelings * Sees how his behavior affects others. Kids who have self-awareness do a better job self-monitoring. That means your child is able keep track of what he’s doing (either in learning or socially) and figure out what’s working and what’s not working. Self-awareness also leads to self-reflection—thinking over things that happened in order to find ways to make things work better next time. Self-awareness is important for kids with learning and attention issues. Your child might be aware of his challenges, but being aware of his interests and strengths is important, too. Knowing more about how he thinks and how he comes across to others gives your child a better sense of how to face and work around his challenges. It helps him learn from mistakes and begin speaking up for what he needs. Helping your child gain self-awareness can start in small ways. Talk to your child about learning and attention issues. Helping your child learn more about himself and his strengths can put him on the road to advocating for himself.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS help us to relate in positive ways with the people we interact with. This may mean being able to make and keep friendly relationships, which can be of great importance to our mental and social well-being. It may mean keeping good relations with family members, which are an important source of social support. It may also mean being able to end relationships constructively. This is a building block of self awareness.

EMPATHY is the ability to imagine what life is like for another person, even in a situation that we may not be familiar with. Empathy can help us to understand and accept others who may be very different from ourselves, which can improve social interactions, for example, in situations of ethnic or cultural diversity. Empathy can also help to encourage nurturing behaviour towards people in need of care and assistance, or tolerance, as is the case with AIDS sufferers, or people with mental disorders, who may be stigmatized and ostracized by the very people they depend upon for support.

PROBLEM SOLVING enables us to deal constructively with problems in our lives. Significant problems that are left unresolved can cause mental stress and give rise to accompanying physical strain. To help children move from trial and error to more systematic attempts at problem solving, adults can encourage them to describe and think about the results of their actions. They can make comments and ask open-ended questions to help children consider other alternatives. It is just as important for children to be aware of when a solution works as it is for them to recognize when a different approach is needed.

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION means that we are able to express ourselves, both verbally and non-verbally, in ways that are appropriate to our cultures and situations. This means being able to express opinions and desires, but also needs and fears. And it may mean being able to ask for advice and help in a time of need. Here are 6 tips to effective communication in children: * Make eye contact. It is important that children be taught to establish eye contact with the person with whom they are speaking. Looking directly at the other person in the conversation shows interest and gives respect. Children need to be taught that looking away is a sign of disinterest and is not good manners. * Speak clearly and correctly. Using good pronunciation, not rushing speech and using good grammar are all aspects of communication that parents should model for children. Parents should pay attention to how their children are speaking and gently correct without embarrassing. There is no need to correct mistakes in front of others, doing so may cause children to feel self-conscious, inhibiting their speech in public. *Take turns and don’t interrupt. Children must be trained not to jump into a conversation just because they feel like talking. It is important that parents curb this behavior and teach children self-control. When a child interrupts, the parent should stop their conversation, firmly tell the interrupting child to wait their turn, and then pick-up the conversation where they left off. * Pay attention and respond appropriately. Modeling good listening skills to children is the best way to teach good listening. When conversing with children, parents should listen attentively and repeat key phrases back to the child so that the child feels heard. Ask appropriate questions of the child and allow the child to respond. Show interest in what the child has to say. The best conversationalists are those who listen well. * Enter conversations politely. There is a correct way to join a conversation that uses good manners. If parents consistently demonstrate how to politely enter a conversation, overtime, children will learn the practice. Parents should show children how to approach the group quietly, smile to those in conversation, listen to what people are saying, and wait until they are spoken to before speaking. It is also important for parents to teach children how to behave politely when someone joins an active conversation. Those in the group should smile and nod to recognize the person joining them, when the speaker finishes, the group can greet the newcomer and make introductions. * Post notes that one should end conversations pleasantly. Walking away from a conversation with good manners is a crucial skill to possess and one that parents should work hard at teaching to their children. Parents should encourage children to leave a conversation saying some pleasantry such as, “I promised my cousin that I would throw the ball with him and so I need to go now, but it was really nice talking to you.” Other important skills that parents should focus on when teaching children basic communicational skills are controlling volume, not using “potty talk” and keeping private matters private.

MANAGING EMOTIONS involves recognising emotions in ourselves and others, being aware of how emotions influence behaviour, and being able to respond to emotions appropriately. Intense emotions, like anger or sorrow can have negative effects on our health if we do not react appropriately. Here’s how a child actually learns to control his emotions: * We model healthy emotional self-management by resisting our own little “tantrums” such as yelling. Instead, we take a parent time-out to calm ourselves down. If our child is too young for us to leave the room, we do as much processing at other times as we can, so we can stay more calm while we’re with our kids. After all, children learn from us. When we yell, they learn to yell. When we speak respectfully, they learn to speak respectfully. Every time you model in front of your child how to stop yourself from acting when you’re angry, your child is learning emotional regulation. (Most of us are still working on this!). * We prioritize a deep nurturing connection. Babies learn to soothe their upsets by being soothed by their parents. But even older children need to feel connected to us or they can’t regulate themselves emotionally. When we notice our child getting dysregulated, the most important thing we can do is try to reconnect. When kids feel that we’re delighted with them, they WANT to cooperate — so that happy, fun connection eliminates most “misbehavior.” * We accept our child’s feelings, even when they’re inconvenient (as feelings often are). (“Oh, Sweetie, I know that’s disappointing….I’m so sorry things didn’t work out the way you wanted.) When empathy becomes our “go to” response, our child learns that emotions may not feel good, but they’re not dangerous, so she accepts and processes them as they come up, instead of stuffing them, where they get uglier. She knows someone understands, which makes her feel just a bit better, so she’s more likely to cooperate. She doesn’t have to yell to be heard. And when our support helps her learn that she can live through bad feelings and the sun comes out the next day, she begins to develop resilience.

CREATIVE THINKING contributes to both decision making and problem solving by enabling us to explore the available alternatives and various consequences of our actions or non-action. It helps us to look beyond our direct experience, and even if no problem is identified, or no decision is to be made, creative thinking can help us to respond adaptively and with flexibility to the situations of our daily lives. One definition of creativity focuses on the process of “divergent thinking,” which involves: * the breaking up of old ideas * making new connections * enlarging the limits of knowledge * the onset of wonderful ideas. When we encourage divergent thinking, we help to maintain children’s motivation and passion for in-depth learning. Encouraging children to keep on generating new ideas fosters their creative-thinking abilities. When children learn how to become comfortable with ambiguities, they are developing complex thinking skills. For example, Joey, an older toddler; was glad to be invited to his friend’s birthday party, but he also felt grumpy because he did not get the toy train that his friend received as a birthday gift. Children need help to understand that it is not only possible, but acceptable, to hold contradictory or opposite ideas and feelings in their minds at the same time. Give children experiences in playing with ideas that may be ambiguous or uncertain.

DECISION MAKING helps us to deal constructively with decisions about our lives. This can have consequences for health if young people actively make decisions about their actions in relation to health by assessing the different options, and what effects different decisions may have. You can help your children learn good decision-making by coaching them through decisions. Steps to good decision making: * Teach them to stop before they leap. With a few seconds of hesitation, your children can prevent a lot of bad decisions from being made. Help your children by “catching them in the act,” meaning that when you see them about to jump without thinking, stop them and guide them through the decision-making process. * Think before they act. Your children should ask themselves, “Why do I want to do this?” You want your children to understand what motivates their decisions. One problem is that children are often faced with conflicting motivations. They may know that doing something is stupid, but they may feel peer pressure to do it anyway. * What are my options? Children often have several possible choices when put in any given situation. * What are the consequences of my actions? or, in their language, “How much trouble will I get in?” They need to judge the risks and rewards of their decisions. * How will my decision affect others? Because of their natural egocentricity when they’re young, children may not even think about who else they might be effecting. Teaching them to ask this question can help them make decisions that are most beneficial to both themselves and others. * Is this decision in my best interests? Understanding what is in their best interests and having these concerns outweigh competing interests is the culmination of the decision-making process.

CRITICAL THINKING is an ability to analyse information and experiences in an objective manner. Critical thinking can contribute to health by helping us to recognise and assess the factors that influence attitudes and behaviour, such as values, peer pressure, and the media. Tips for teaching critical thinking: * Provide opportunities to play. It is during play that children test their thinking whether dropping a spoon over and over again off the side of a high chair tray; rolling two marbles down a chute to see which is faster; seeing what happens when you dip chalk in water; or mixing cornstarch and water to make “goop”. Providing space for playing, including time for outdoor or pretend play, can provide open-ended opportunities to try something and see the reaction; try something else and see if you get a different reaction. This informal process of testing how things work is crucial to critical thinking. * Help children view themselves as problem solvers and thinkers by asking open-ended questions. Rather than automatically giving answers to the questions your child raises, help them think critically by asking questions in return: “What ideas do you have? What do you think is happening here?” Respect his or her responses whether you view them as correct or not. You could say, “That is interesting. Tell me why you think that.” Use phrases like “I am interested to hear your thinking about this.” “How would you solve this problem?” “Where do you think we might get more information about this problem?” * Don’t solve all problems immediately for children. Instead ask some of the questions above and provide enough information so children don’t get frustrated, but not so much information that you solve the problem for them. * Help children develop hypotheses. “If we do this, what do you think will happen?” “Let’s predict what we think will happen next.” * Encourage thinking in new and different ways. By allowing children to think differently, you’re helping them hone their creative problem solving skills. Ask questions like, “What other ideas could we try?” or encourage coming up with other options, “Let’s think of all the possible solutions.” * Support your child to research further information. You can help your children develop critical thinking skills by guiding them towards looking for more information. Say, “Now how could we find out more? Your dad knows a lot about this. Shall we ask him? Or shall we try searching on the computer?”

COPING WITH STRESS is about recognising the sources of stress in our lives, recognising how this affects us, and acting in ways that help to control our levels of stress. This may mean that we take action to reduce the sources of stress, for example, by making changes to our physical environment or lifestyle. Or it may mean learning how to relax, so that tensions created by unavoidable stress do not give rise to health problems. Tips to reduce stress: * Help children put words to their feelings. Ask them if they feel nervous, scared, or worried. Ask them what is making them feel that way. * Acknowledge your child’s feelings and encourage the use of positive statements. Often children do not understand the outcome of an action or change. Instead of realizing their favorite teacher will be back tomorrow..they might think she is gone forever. Create positive statements for the situation. * Introduce stress management techniques to children. Parents and teachers can easily teach and use techniques like breathing, positive statements, and visualizing on a regular basis. * Establish a bedtime routine that helps kids relax. Soothing music or relaxing stories. * Spend reassuring quality time with children. Parents and teachers can laugh and play together. Singing songs like This Is The Way We Laugh And Play and If You’re Happy And You Know It can be a liberating and fun stress reliever that you and your children can enjoy together.

TIME MANAGEMENT SKILLS is the act of planning the amount of time you spend on which activities. You may also introduce your toddler to time sequences: morning, noon, evening. Today, tomorrow, yesterday. Cut out or draw pictures to make a visual timeline of his daily routine. As your child matures, he should have his own alarm clock. This shifts responsibility to your child, and the morning battle becomes between child and the clock and not between child and Mom and Dad. Encourage your child to stay organized with schoolwork. Your child may be noting daily responsibilities in a planner, especially if her school encourages students to track homework assignments and long-term projects. Make sure she’s also turning in her assignments on time and that she stays on task while searching the Web for class projects. From time to time, compare the pace at which your child operates with the pace required for her daily commitments. If your child is feeling rushed, find ways to alleviate stress through family time and adequate rest. Your child’s time-management skills will be a cardinal asset as he enters adulthood and the workforce.

ORGANISING SKILLS involves the ability to establish the tasks that you need to do, by when and how. Part of organisation is understanding the requirements of the task. Being ‘organised’ is a crucial skill not only for academic success but for life. Organisation is an important aspect in play, language, social interaction, personal management (e.g. self-care tasks or bringing home all
their belongings from school), and academic task performance (e.g. homework, project planning and performance). Organisation is typically a skill that needs to be specifically modelled, supported by sensible structures (such as diaries or visual charts, labelled storage containers) and reinforced by realistic routines (pack away one toy/task before commencing another). Organisation is important to develop a structured and consistent approach to tasks at all times, but is even more important for those with poor planning and sequencing, language challenges, attention difficulties and learning difficulties. Building blocks necessary to develop organisation skills include * Executive Functioning: Higher order reasoning and thinking skills. * Self Regulation: The ability to obtain,maintain and change one’s emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation in a socially acceptable manner. * Sensory processing: Accurate registration, interpretation and response to sensory stimulation in the environment and one’s own body. * Attention and Concentration: Sustained effort, doing activities without distraction and being able to hold that effort long enough to get the task done. * Motivation: The desire to be involved in interventions and improve skill level.

BASIC HOUSEHOLD SKILLS including making the bed, preparing a meal or two and then washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, doing laundry (sorting clothes for colours or whites, hanging up and taking down laundry and for the brave parents even ironing clothes), making grocery lists and I could go on all day. My children have always been subjected to household chores as I would like them to be able to leave home and fend for themselves on a basic level – feeding, dressing and cleaning.

REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE involves fixing any sort of mechanical, plumbing or electrical device should it become out of order or broken. Once your children have proven they can take care of their belongings, they can help with the big things that require regular maintenance. Include your children in everyday household and vehicle upkeep, preparing them to be more self-reliant. Each of our kids has enjoyed trips to the hardware store holding Dad’s strong hand. Because my husband and I quickly discovered that we possess few repair skills between the two of us, we’ve learned the following lessons about home ownership: * Have a sense of humor. Something always breaks. Cleaning three inches of water out of the basement might not be your choice for the day, but it can be an opportunity to teach teamwork. * Be willing to learn. When your children see you try something new, like how to apply caulk, they learn that it’s possible to acquire new skills, even if those abilities aren’t in their area of strength. * Be willing to ask for help. If a home project is over your head, you can teach your children a valuable lesson by simply asking for help and then working together to accomplish the task. Beyond home repairs, remember that basic tasks such as mowing the lawn or weeding the garden can be great learning experiences for your kids.

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