You are not alone.
We’re trying to be employees, teachers, and parents, and it’s burning us out.
My sister, a teacher of 18 years (with three preteens of her own) said she is getting panicked emails from parents worrying they are not doing a “good enough job,” that “they are still on chapter 5,” and they are “emotionally exhausted” trying to teach, parent and work (while stressing about finances).
Parents have got to give themselves a break. Because the life lessons your children are learning right now are some of the most valuable skills they can learn, ones that a classroom cannot necessarily teach.
They’re life skills that only life can teach: The so called “soft skills” of life.
My sister, Mrs. Megan Michea, and I are here to share a teacher’s and a social worker’s thoughts on the important life lessons you can (and will!) teach your kids during COVID-19.
What are “soft skills?”
“Soft skills” is a term that corporate worlds use to describe skills such as communication, critical thinking, leadership, mindfulness, attitudes, flexibility, and teamwork, just to mention a few. Whereas “hard skills” are used to explain the expertise required for a personal to do the job.
In other words, soft skills are the “humanness” of work, and hard skills are the educational and technical knowledge. And although hard skills are important, they can easily be learned throughout your child’s life. It is the soft skills that are built through experience, role-modeling, and real-life challenges.
Ask yourself … do you really remember 9th grade algebra, or do you remember the teacher who taught you about compassion, laughter, and self worth? Do you remember a 5th grade history lesson, or a life lesson you learned from recess?
These so called “soft skills” are the building blocks of character.
Of the future.
Why soft skills are a necessity …
Did you know Stanford University’s most popular business school course is teaching students these soft skills? The course, literally nicknamed the “touchy-feely” course, is one of their most sought after electives.
With so much focus on the hard skills and not enough focus on the soft, the mental and emotional health of our children is declining. Studies show that 1 in 3 adolescents will experience an anxiety disorder, and 63% of college students feel overwhelming anxiety.
This is why it is more important than ever for children to learn these soft skills — not only to be successful later in life, but to have the skills needed to better manage their emotional health, mental health, and communication skills while increasing their emotional intelligence.
And this is the perfect time to help develop them.
Kids learn soft skills in two ways.
The two best ways to teach your children these skills are through role-modeling and personal experience.
Kids copy what they see; subconsciously, their minds are taking in others’ responses, reactions, and communication skills and soaking up how the people they love deal with situations. And when it comes to personal experience, we have to let children deal on their own with certain situations that may be uncomfortable in order for them to really embrace the life lesson and the soft skill.
Before you start getting more stressed that you have to add one more thing onto your already packed plate … remember that the beautiful thing about soft skills are that they are taught through the everyday ebb and flow of your life.
Whether you are aware of it or not, your kids are learning soft skills from you day in and day out.
So instead of getting caught up on not being in level 5 of the textbook, or not getting that unit in algebra completed, recognize you are teaching them some of the most important life lessons now, through you. By simply spending time with them. Talking to them. Learning with them. Role modeling for them.
10 life skills your children are learning during the pandemic:
- Conflict resolution – Parents, kids, pets stuck inside for prolonged periods of time naturally leads to this. There are going to be times someone loses their cool, when there are disagreements and frustrations. Let them unfold, and be sure to talk about it with your children once things have cooled off. You are teaching your children the importance of conflict resolution, apologizing, and forgiveness.
- Compromise and negotiation – Electronic usage is going to be up right now, but there can still be limits on it and it can be used as a tool for compromising. Mrs. Michea uses this negotiation tactic regularly with her 7, 11, and 13-year-olds. “You can have more electronic time, TV time, etc. if … you help me with the one chore a day, go for a walk outside without complaining when I ask, etc.” You are teaching your children that not everything will go their way and they need to be flexible, be able to compromise, and find a middle ground.
- Resiliency and coping skills – If you or your children are feeling anxious, teach them skills to help them cope. Go for a walk outdoors, go into your backyard, open your windows, listen for sounds of life returning in the spring, acknowledge and discuss fears and anxiety, find an app that works for them. Mrs Michea recommends the Calm App to parents (limited access is free). You are teaching your children how to manage their anxiety and emotions, and develop strategies on how to cope with them.
- Compassion and empathy – It is likely that you and your children are missing loved ones that you cannot see, and are feeling sad about this. So what can you do? You can call them on the telephone, FaceTime them or host a Zoom chat, draw, and create pictures and cards that we can (hopefully) mail to them. You can explain that the reason they can’t see their friends, grandparents, etc. is because the world is working together to not only stop the spread of the virus, but to also help others with compromised immune systems or other medical conditions stay safe and healthy — because they also have people they love and miss, too.
- Creativity and collaboration – Explain to your children that you know this is not how you expected to spend spring break, but collaborate together to come up with ideas on how to make the most of it. Things like playing multiplayer video games, board and card games, doing a puzzle, creating an online video, learning more about each other, sharing memories, doing art or mechanical projects, learning something new together, asking them to teach you something. You are teaching your children critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.
- Emotional intelligence – Ask your children what and how they are feeling. What do they feel in their bodies and in their minds? Ask them to explain it to you, and then validate that what they are feeling is normal, they are not alone, and it’s okay to feel however they’re feeling. By validating them, you are teaching awareness of their feelings, creating emotional intelligence and emotional resiliency.
- Self awareness – When your child is upset or has thrown a tantrum, encourage self awareness by asking them why they think they reacted that way. Show empathy towards them, acknowledging that you understand they are feeling “trapped.” Ask them what is something they can do to make them feel better — do they need fresh air, do they need to go read in their room, do they need to get in the shower? Help them to discover coping strategies that work for them when they feel themselves getting rallied up. You are teaching them emotional resiliency and self awareness.
- Mindfulness – Let them be bored. Learning how to be bored is a skill. It is teaching them how to be in the present, how to use their imagination, how to problem-solve the way they want to fill their time, how to manage emotions that are probably going on because they are bored. Being bored is fine. Through boredom, they are learning mindfulness, and how to sit in the present moment.
- Patience – Most likely the kids will be getting antsy at certain times of the days and weeks ahead. They want to be back in school, with their friends, or just “back to normal” … just as adults will most likely be feeling the same. This is a lesson in patience for all of us. Remember the old adage, “This too shall pass.”
- Growth mindset, questioning, and curiosity – Now is the perfect time for your child to engage in something they have always wondered about. Maybe they want to learn guitar (hello, online guitar lessons), or maybe they want to know random facts about everything – (hello, Google). This is self motivated and engaged learning at its finest. You are teaching them how to follow their passion, encouraging a growth mindset, and teaching them to always chase curiosity.
Recognizing and acknowledging the life skills your children are learning by just being part of these times will hopefully relieve some of the pressure you are putting on yourself and your children to “learn a certain way.” Because in the grand scheme of life, you are instilling critical skills into your children that are just as valuable, if not more, than completing 9th grade algebra.
As Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.”
To better support your children’s development (and your own mental wellbeing) over the coming weeks:
Recognize that learning is going to be more practical than structured at this time, and your kids can, and will, learn essential life skills through daily activities you are all engaging in.
Try and keep some sort of loose structure and routine in your day. Just as we do, children work well on routines and knowing what is coming next.
Keep a morning routine: Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up. Brush teeth. Keep lunch around the same time (12-1 pm) to avoid not eating dinner and complaining of being starving before bed.
Keep a consistent bedtime. We all need our sleep, especially children — and parents need alone time when kids are asleep. Even if it is a bit later than usual, try and keep it consistent.
Pick one goal for the day with your family. Whether it is starting your plants indoors, organizing a room in the house, going through closets, purging/switching over sizes, winter to spring/summer clothing, cleaning bathrooms, doing the laundry. Have one “family task” each day that everyone can contribute to.
Your children’s little minds are in a time of exponential emotional growth. Don’t worry about the things they aren’t learning from textbooks and lesson plans — because right now you’re giving them the valuable soft skills that will serve them for a lifetime.