A More Complex Example: Developing Relationship Skills
Let’s take a more complicated topic: how to be a good friend. By 3 or 4, most kids are starting to find people they think of as special friends. At 4, if kids get into a tussle about something, adults need to help. But even at 4, parents can ask them to think about what is fair.
As children get older, parents can help them learn to be generous, considerate, and thoughtful, and to negotiate conflict with more and more sophistication. During the years between 10 and 12, friendships get more complex. Parents need to help children see that there are rarely just good guys and bad guys; that most people have a mix of qualities that we do and do not like.
Teens need to be reminded that you don’t have to love people to work with them. Teamwork requires focus on the sport, problem, or task, not on popularity. Successful people know that there are many levels of friendship and operate accordingly. With this kind of training, a child will know how to maintain and nurture eventual adult friendships successfully. Knowing how to be a good friend also lays the groundwork for choosing a mate.
If your child is 16 and you are just beginning to think about these things, you may need to develop a few “crash courses” in growing up. Enlist your teen and figure out how you can do a speedier version so she or he gets needed education in basic life skills.
Can We Do It All?
Can we really conscientiously and systematically teach every skill our children will need in adulthood? Probably not. But there do seem to be a few key issues. When kids are gradually taught how to manage time, money and possessions as well as how to relate well with others, they are much more likely to be successful adults.
What about self-esteem? People often argue that building self-esteem is more important than a clean bedroom or knowledge about how money works. I have found that positive self-esteem grows from feelings of competence. A positive self-image develops naturally as children learn how to get along with people and to get along in the world. Once set in motion, these areas become part of a wonderful positive loop: The more competent I feel, the better I feel about myself. The better I feel about myself, the more willing I am to take risks to develop more competence. And so on.
Families that have dedicated time and effort to skills building derive a great deal of confidence through this process of readying children to enter the adult world. Parents experience the satisfaction of knowing they have done their job and done it well. Kids feel self-assured and prepared for what lies ahead. For these families, a child’s leaving home is not a shock or an ending — it is simply the next logical step in a process that everyone has working toward from the beginning.