How to Teach People Skills to Your Child

In today’s technology-driven world, our children hardly have face-to-face interactions with those in the community around them. As a result, they lack people skills. Here’s how to teach it to them.

By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj

How to Teach People Skills to Your Child

A few months ago, a friend had invited me to her place for dinner. I got there a few minutes before the appointed time. I parked my car and walked up to her house and lifted my hand to knock … I stopped, rather, I had to. From the other side of the door, I could hear my friend’s tween questioning her with irritation in her voice, “But, Mamma, why did you invite her? Why should we have guests? I hate guests. I am going to stay in my room.” My friend sternly replied, “She is my friend and I have invited her. You had better behave yourself. And, make sure you stay in the living room.” This was followed by my friend’s husband, “Yes, you’d better be here; you see, I need to finish my report for tomorrow. I’m going to my room.” It was quite embarrassing (of course, mind you, it was nothing personal against me,but guests in general!); however, there was nothing I could do, but knock on the door. And, knock I did…

Well, after my visit, I pondered over why my friend’s daughter had felt the way she did. I realised that it was because my friend and her husband hardly ever had guests at home. Neither did they visit family or friends often. Thanks to their busy schedules, most of their shopping too was done online. Therefore, in the absence of a ‘physical social world’, my friend’s daughter had begun to shun people altogether. There was the risk of her lacking ‘Social Intelligence’. And that reflected in the way she handled people and situations.

Importance of people skills

“Social Intelligence? What’s that?,” you might ask. Dr Karl Albrecht, a top management consultant, in his book, ‘Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success,’ defines it as, ‘The ability to get along well with others and to get them to co-operate with you.’ Well, if social intelligence is an ability, you might wonder what constitutes this ability. Daniel Goleman, the American psychologist states, ‘The ingredients of social intelligence … can be organised into two broad categories: social awareness, what we sense about others — and social facility, what we then do with that awareness.’

So, that’s what it finally boils down to - an awareness of others (their feelings, perceptions, etc.) and what we do with that awareness. For, social intelligence aka people skill or interpersonal skill is an essential life skill for communication and interaction with those around us. In an age of technology, children hardly interact with others. We should, therefore, provide them with enough opportunities for interaction. Only then will they learn to make friends, resolve conflicts, tolerate differences, work together as a team, respect and cherish relationships.

As parents, are we making efforts to create this awareness in our children so that they are prepared to skillfully handle their relationships in life? Here’s what we need to focus on to ensure that our children possess effective people skills and grow up into socially intelligent individuals.

Top ten people skills to be developed in children

Listening: This is the most important interpersonal skill. Teach your child to be an ‘active listener’. Only then will your child fully participate in conversations. Tending to get distracted, pretending to listen, and composing replies while the other person is speaking – all these do not contribute to good people skills.

Communication: Today’s children are glued to gadgets. Encourage them to speak, especially in real-life situations. Let them interact with the extended family, service providers, counter-attendants and neighbours. Teach them to use appropriate forms of greetings and make polite requests. Effective communication forms the core of interpersonal skills.

Body language: Verbal communication alone wouldn’t suffice. We should teach children to pay attention to gestures and eye contact. They should make sure that their overall body language is neither aggressive nor passive. Both will hinder interpersonal skills. They should also maintain eye contact with the speaker. Only then would they be able to establish a rapport with the other person.

Tolerance: Teach your children that each individual is important in her own right. Each person is entitled to her attitudes and opinions. Therefore, we should be tolerant towards others. Teach them to accept differences, respect views and acknowledge rights. Let them remember Helen Keller’s words - “The highest result of education is tolerance.”

Conflict resolution: Children should be made to realise that rather than having confrontations whenever there are conflicts, it is better to go for resolutions. Teach them to use negotiation and compromise as appropriate tools for peaceful conflict resolution. Sibling interactions, which invariably feature quarrels, offer a great starting point for improving this skill.

Empathy: Being aware of and sensitive to others’ feelings, needs and interests is the key to understanding people. Empathy involves putting ourselves in others’ situation and experiencing what they feel. This will ensure that your child is able to understand various perspectives.

Sharing: We all know what happened to Oscar Wilde’s ‘Selfish Giant’ who refused to allow children to play in his garden. Spring refused to enter his garden, while Winter refused to depart. Yes, in this age of materialism, our children are likely to be selfish. Therefore, we should take extra efforts to teach them to share what they have. Sharing will go a long way in building bonds. I remember an incident when I was hardly five. My cousin had come home from her play-school crying that she had no friends. I had replied that all she had to do was to give a candy bar or a pencil and make friends. Little did I realise then, that I would, one day, give tips on people management as a communication skills and soft skills trainer.

Managing emotions: Losing control over our emotions, especially negative ones such as anger, can endanger relationships. Teach children that applying reason to emotion is the key to handling relationships.

Good manners: This has a direct bearing on interpersonal skills. People will automatically be drawn towards those who are polite and courteous. They will steer clear of those who are rude and inconsiderate. Therefore, teach children good manners. Let them never hesitate to use the three magical words, ‘Please, Sorry and Thank You’ in their interactions with others.

Team work: “No man is an island,” said the poet John Donne. Living amicably with others and working together is what life is all about. To begin with, encourage your children to take on responsibilities in the family. Let them participate in household chores. This will teach them the importance of co-operation. You can also encourage your children to participate actively in community or social groups and work for a cause.

With these tips, I’m sure we can all raise good-natured children who will grow up to be people-friendly adults.