NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 24

Time to explore soft skills in children

The recognition of the significance of early learning on a child’s life is not a new phenomenon. According to experts, social and emotional skills known as soft skills are equally important as academic skills – also called hard skills in the early learning years. However, it is a pragmatic fact that social and emotional development of children has not been critically incorporated in economic plans and investments.

It has been observed that children, who exhibit in their early years’ traits such as being more likely to share, cooperate, or be helpful with other kids, were also more likely to be successful as young adults. On the other hand, children or students who exhibited weaker social competency skills were more likely to drop out of schools, adopted abusive behaviours or got addicted, and required greater assistance to cope in life.

While a child may be learning ABCs and numbers at their preschool or kindergarten, one thing that schools have a difficult time teaching are soft skills, especially communication and emotional intelligence. A classroom environment can help a child learn basic communication skills, such as how to raise their hand, say “please” and “thank you”, and listen to instructions. However, many important communication skills and other soft skills cannot be taught at schools.

Particularly in underdeveloped countries like Pakistan, it is a sad fact that because of larger classroom sizes and lack of personal connection with each student, most teachers cannot devote the one-on-one, personalized time it takes to demonstrate the soft skills to everyone in their classroom. Kindergarten is a great first step, but it alone won’t teach a child how to voice their emotions, practice active listening, or fully develop their language skills. It is important to realize by educators as well as parents that soft communication skills are vital to success later in life. Numerous studies indicated that communication skills, empathy, emotional intelligence AND understanding social cues are all soft skills that are most wanted by future employers hiring.

If a child understands and possesses the soft skills effectively as early as possible, they are much more likely to be hired, find a job they love and be successful in their future career. Soft skills are very beneficial for a child’s personal and emotional well-being too. Educating communication, empathy, emotional awareness, and self-esteem bring clarity and understanding to family, friends, and romantic relationships and tend to make us more satisfied with our lives in general. But while learning soft skills there is one major catch and a common consensus that you can’t teach soft skills, at least not like you would teach your child their basic literacy skills or other hard skills. Soft skills aren’t teachable because these are not really “skills”, as we commonly define them. Soft skills may be better explained simply as personal benefits that come from possessing an intelligent awareness of emotions of ourselves and others.

While hard skills are trainable behaviours, like how to use a computer or how to memorize any information text, soft skills are defined as “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” In other words, it’s difficult to teach soft skills because they are personal behavioral traits, not skills. On top of all that, soft skills are very difficult to measure, whether in school or education environments or the career field. This makes it very difficult for educators and school board members to tell whether their efforts are making a difference.

But there are many things parents can do while keeping the current mental health condition of children in view by encouraging their child to develop or learn these soft skills on their own. It just requires providing some creative environment, parental supervision and getting much better results. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, parents are in a more supportive position to help their child develop these all-important soft skills of communication, emotional intelligence, and sociability by spending more healthy family time together. The best thing you can do is be an example to your child and take every opportunity to help them discover what ways of good communication are. Your child is always watching, learning, and imitating behaviours and words around them, whether that’s from you, their peers, or the media they watch. You can take advantage of that to demonstrate soft skills that will be valuable to them later in life.

Encourage your child to unplug, instead of letting them have unlimited time to watch TV or play games on a tablet or phone, regularly allow and provide your children with some exposure to real-life experiences beyond the screen. Explain to them about the benefits of keeping good hygiene and saving others’ lives too. Make them practically participate in performing some empathetic activities while helping others who are sick or have a shortage of food. Letting your child spend time interacting with peers and adults will allow them to become familiar with social cues and good forms of communication. Letting them spend some “quiet time” playing by themselves will also help them develop better emotional self-awareness.

Most children love creative, imaginative role plays and fairy tales. Pretending to be a doctor, a leader, the president, or even a princess, are not only sources of fun and joy, but also great ways to learn important life skills. Whether parents play with their children or take them to a friend’s house or a school so they can interact and play with peers, giving a child the gift of imaginative play will help them develop better soft skills.

Listening to a child is one of the most important things one can do to contribute to their personal development. There are several ways that one can create a safe and fun environment that will help a child learn to communicate their emotions and ideas. Listening to a child as they tell a story, talk about their ideas, or try to express a feeling will help them develop great soft skills through practice and affirmative action. And it all starts by simply listening to them and encouraging them to express themselves through open-ended questions.

Educational toys and games can help a child develop Soft Skills. A great way to supplement make-believe games and real-life peer and parent interaction are to use toys and educational games.

Playing with dolls, stuffed animals, or learning toys can help a child learn language skills. This playtime will then translate into improved communication with others. With the right toys and games, parents can create a fun, no-pressure context in which to talk and bring up real-life conversational situations. By simply playing with toys, one can introduce children to important life concepts that will translate into soft skills. By responding to vocal statements and interactive questions, answers activity will encourage various soft skills like communication, positivity, self-esteem, and love of learning and exploring. Parents can enjoy playing “peek a boo” while exploring each other and looking for different hiding places also can have imaginative role plays with children to support developing innovative ideas and imagination.

Parents must keep their children closer to the real world and nature by introducing them to different pets, plants and trees. Plan an exciting nature walk with children, let them experience real birds and animals, touch plants and flowers and discuss their habitat and food they eat. This all can help children to observe and discuss things around them and build communication skills, emotional intelligence, and self-confidence. Such activities are best to practice during the current situation and social distancing is also greatly affecting the healthy social and emotional development of young children. So, under the current global, environmental and health situation it is the best time and core responsibility of parents to work more on developing the emotional intelligence and communication skills of their children.