Teaching Soft Skills
I was recently watching very interesting speech Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, delivered to the world economic council. In the interview he was talking about how in a society that was becoming increasingly saturated with technology, how important it is to change how we educate children. Mr Ma spoke about how important it is for our children to learn “soft skills”.
For those who are new to this terminology, hard skills are knowledge based, they are the “things” you know. Soft skills are the intangible skills such as values, teamwork, independent thinking, resilience, adaptability, belief, creativity, empathy, kindness and caring for others.
So how do we teach our children to kind, caring members of our community?
Mr Ma spoke about the importance of teaching children art, music and sport. Although these things are great I think it starts way before they go to school. I am sure that we have all heard the quote, “Charity begins at home.” Well I believe that the same holds true for kindness. Our children are constantly watching us and downloading information from us about what it means to be human. Children learn way more from who we are than what we are trying to teach them.
The first three years
It starts from when they are wee babes. Infants form an a attachment with their parent or primary caregiver and connect with them via an “emotional bluetooth”. Most parents have witnessed first hand how sensitive their babies are to the emotions of others. During these early stages babies learn about love, empathy and kindness from their parents. When they cry they are comforted, when they are hungry they are fed. When the baby needs to be changed, bathed or to be put to bed these needs are met. It is during the respectful meeting of an infant’s basic needs that they learn that the world is a safe place that they can trust.
Lack of early attachment has been shown to correlate
with poor social competency, lower teacher ratings of educational competence
and other outcomes in teenage years.
The experiences essential for activating neurons and promoting synapse
formation need to be the right ones. When a child is nurtured, played with,
sung to, cuddled and stimulated positively, he or she will be programmed in a
positive fashion. This type of experience sets a child up for life. Dr Claire Dale.
The science of kindness
It is during these early years that children learn how to have empathy for others. They learn this by having empathy shown towards them. When children watch compassion and kindness in action has beneficial brain effects.
A Harvard study tracked the serotonin levels (the chemical found in Prozac and other antidepressants) of students watching a video of Mother Teresa caring for poor people in Calcutta, and found increased levels of serotonin in their saliva. So what do we learn from this study? That what you watch matters.
Watching others perform acts of kindness has the same effect as performing the kind acts. Endorphins and hormones like oxytocin are released. This boosts our sense of connection, love, trust and optimism, which increases our serotonin levels and reduces our cortisol levels. Children who regularly witness acts of kindness and empathy are way more likely to be kind and empathetic themselves.
Lessons in kindness.
- Build your child’s kindness toolbox with the language of kindness. Make your praise of them meaningful, avoid using “good boy”, “good girl”. Tell them why you are praising them. Be mindful of the language you use – your words will become their inner dialogue. Hold each other accountable for disrespectful language. No one can serve from an empty cup, make your child’s overflow!
- Admit when you are wrong, this teaches children that mistakes are okay. They will be way more likely to be compassionate and forgiving of the mistakes of others.
- Prioritise kindness and service to others. Be a strong moral example and hold your children to high ethical expectations.
- Practice gratitude daily – start a family gratitude ritual where you discuss as a family what you are grateful for.
- Hold your child accountable for unkind behaviour, teach them that their actions have consequences.
- Teach your child the value of focusing outwards. In a world that is increasingly focused inwards (hello Selfies!) and everyone is wondering “what is in this for me”. Teach them to be kind for the sake of being kind and not for recognition. Help them to practise kindness, firstly within your immediate family and then teach them to expand their circle of concern to their sports team or school community and then to the wider community.
- Plan random acts of kindness together. Volunteer or support a local charity.
- In an instant world, teach your child the value of delayed gratification and patience.
- Train them to be mindful of their feelings and manage destructive behaviours. Teach your child that although the feeling is okay the behaviour is not. Practise calming breathing and meditation together. Be mindful of your own emotions and behaviour and remain calm during the process.
When little people are overwhelmed with big emotions. It’s our job to share our calm and not to join their chaos. L.R. Knost
Are you inspired by the kindness of others? Do you want to practise more kindness in your daily life? Do you have a kindness story to share, that will inspire others?
Join The Kindness Project Facebook group.
It is new and just starting out, but I am hoping that if we all share our kindness stories, random acts of kindness and thoughts on being kind then we can truly change the world one kind act at a time.