One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to get on with others. It will impact on every aspect of their lives whether at school, at the park, in the home they are going to have to interact with other people. They need to learn how to develop people skills that will enable them to communicate effectively in order to make friends and “rub” along with the people they meet, resolving and managing conflicts as required.
When most people think of people skills they think of the “human resources” department in companies, but people skills are a way of life for everyone, not just those at work.
The idea of people skills is nothing new. In the Old Testament, Leviticus says: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against your people, but love your neighbour as yourself”. Even Solomon’s was wise enough in Proverbs to remark that: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”.
So how do children learn how to develop people skills?
People skills are made up of a whole host of social life skills your children need to acquire that includes things such as self-control, kindness, sharing and empathy.
Learning all of this starts at home through how your child interacts with you and his/her siblings.
- Make sure your “little Johnny” receives the attention and love he needs from you at home. Praise him when he does good and behaves in appropriate ways in order that he begins to “get” what achieves him positive responses.
- Set guidelines for appropriate behaviour and hold “little Johnny” accountable for his actions.
- Allow “little Johnny” to resolve his own differences with a sibling or a friend (provided it stays within acceptable boundaries, try not to step in and resolve it for him). If a big fight does break out, discuss ways “little Johnny” could have got what he wanted more appropriately.
- Teach “little Johnny” how to ask for what he wants and to understand what his options are if he doesn’t get what he wants, i.e., asking again later, choosing an alternative option, waiting.
- Put names to the feelings that “little Johnny” experiences. This way you’ll be showing him that you understand how he feels and that it’s okay to feel that way, e.g., “I can see you’re frustrated that you can’t have an ice-cream”. If he can start to understand his own feelings, he’ll be able to build empathy and understand the feelings of those around him.
- Share your own emotions with “little Johnny” by telling him when you’re angry or upset and then explain how you’re going to help yourself calm down or cheer up. It will all go into his little “bank of experiences” that he’ll draw on later to deal with his own emotions.
- Walk the talk by modelling appropriate behaviour and explaining your actions whenever possible.
- Pull faces and ask “little Johnny” to guess what you’re feeling.
- Make “little Johnny” aware of body language and how it affects the people around him. Play a game where you put your body in a particular position and ask him how it makes him feel, i.e., arms crossed and tapping your foot or lent forward looking intently at him. You can do this with pictures in books and magazines too. One of our favourites is people watching when we’re waiting for something or in a restaurant/café; we look at how people are standing, talking, gesturing and try and figure out what kind of mood they are in.
Learning to understand other people is an absolute minefield because people often lie by not saying what they are actually feeling. Try and help your “little Johnny” by giving him as many tools in his communications toolbox as you can. These tools will support him hugely as an adult.
What games do you play with your “little Johnny or Jane” to help them recognise the emotions and behaviours of the people around them? We’d love to know via a CANDo email or comment.