Ask any parent out there, and he or she will say the same thing: Of course I want to raise my kids to be polite and well-mannered. But what specific habits should we be teaching our kids that will help them be successful in their futures?
We decided to ask Barbara Gilmour, founder and owner of Cool Kind Kid, a social-skills education firm. "Kids can't go anywhere in their lives without social skills," says Gilmour. "Children with strong social skills are more confident in any situation, and they're more likely to become leaders."
We want our kids to be polite, confident and successful in their future endeavors. So what's the secret? Gilmour tells us there are six traditional social skills that give your child an advantage -- not only in school and at home, but also when they're ready to leave the nest to fly solo.
1. The Basics
Teaching your child to say "please," "thank you" and "you're welcome" is about as basic as you can get, but these simple social skills help cast her as friendly and cooperative -- traits that will serve her well in her future. A study conducted by Christy Lleras from the University of Illinois found that high-school students who had been described as conscientious and cooperative by their teachers were earning more ten years out of high school than their classmates who were not.
"My findings show that the most successful students are those who have not only high achievement test scores, but also the kinds of social skills and behaviors that are highly rewarded by employers in the workplace," Lleras said in a press release. "[The best schools] socialize students and provide the kinds of learning opportunities that help them to become good citizens and to be successful in the labor market."
2. Making Eye Contact
The simple act of making eye contact (paired with the previous skills of saying "hello" and "goodbye") are a win-win for a kid. If your child sees a neighbor out walking and takes the time to look him in the eye and say hello, when it comes time to find someone to mow the lawn or feed the cat for a few bucks over the summer, your kid will be the first one the neighbor thinks of, Gilmour points out.
Eye contact, and body language in general, are also important on interviews. Studies have shown that interviewees make a defining impression within the first 30 seconds of a meeting, so appearing confident with a firm handshake and a direct gaze is crucial -- and that teaching starts when they're young.
3. Phone Politesse
Telephone skills are even more crucial today then they were when your phone had a cord and was nailed to the wall. The ubiquity of mobile phones means we communicate using those devices more and more. Teach your child to speak clearly and in a friendly tone when he answers the phone -- and remind him to say "hello" instead of "hey" or "what's up?" A surly phone manner can make that babysitting gig disappear in a flash.
And here's a new one for the modern age: teach your child to turn cell phones off in a social setting. At dinner, a networking event or a business meeting, it's important to give your full attention to the matter at hand.
4. Good Listening Skills
Kids are prone to interrupting, and it's our job to teach them how to listen and wait their turn to speak. Being a good listener shows respect and helps build strong relationships. The ability to engage in a conversational volley is essential, especially when your kid grows up and tries his hand at job interviews.
5. Saying Thank You
Everyone likes getting mail -- and sending out handwritten thank-you notes is a time-honored tradition that still holds weight today. In a recent survey, 22 percent of hiring managers said they were less likely to hire a candidate if they didn't receive a thank-you note after an interview.
Unfortunately, this skill seems to have fallen by the wayside in today's email-obsessed society. Another survey found that just 30.7 percent of parents require that their kids always write thank-you notes, while 27.6 percent said they never do. You can start kids off on the right foot when they're little by asking them to draw a picture and send it to gift-givers, but as they get older, there's no reason kids who can write on their own shouldn't be sending out thank-you notes for everything from birthday gifts to helpful conversations they had with their teacher.
6. Proper Table Manners
Having a meal with the entire family sitting together at the table at least once a week will do wonders for your kids -- not least because you'll have a chance to teach them how to behave while eating. They'll learn to engage in social conversation, and gain important etiquette skills like putting napkins in their laps, chewing with their mouths closed and keeping their elbows off the table. On top of that, kids in families who eat together are more likely to stay away from smoking and alcohol, and they get better grades in school, among other things.
"Additionally, research shows that the missing link when it comes to understanding how bullying happens is social skills," says Gilmour. "Kids who [who have frequent conversations with their parents] just feel better about themselves in any situation, and are better able to stand up for themselves." (We talked more about the effects of bullying here.)
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