Written by Aumee Bhuiyan
I had a friend who was accepted to a prestigious computer science program in California. His parents, Bengali immigrants living in Canada, we’re extremely proud of this achievement. They hosted a party in the park that summer and invited the entire community to celebrate with them. I was sad about the prospect of losing touch with my friend but happy to see him move on to bigger and better things. I didn’t realize at the time though that I would be communicating with him more while he was 2,500 miles away than I ever had while he was living just around the corner. You see, my friend had been living with his parents his whole life and didn’t feel the need for child development skills during the first 18 years of his life. This experience showed me the importance of child development skills.
During his first week on campus, he would call me every night to tell me about the exciting takeout that he had ordered. During the second week, he would call to complain that he had already burned through his monthly food allowance on takeout. During the third week, he would call to ask how to make basic curries. He was reluctant to ask his father for more money and too preoccupied to learn one of his mother’s complex recipes. By the end of the first month, he was knee-deep in preparations for midterm exams, short on cash for supplies, and extremely hungry. He struggled to make friends because he was so used to interacting only with people from his own community. He was too proud to ask for help because he was used to getting straight A’s on secondary school exams. He was too afraid to communicate his problems to his parents because they had put too much pressure on him to succeed. Ultimately, my friend couldn’t cope. At the end of his first year, he dropped out of university and, instead of returning home, moved away from everybody. I never hear from him anymore…
Financial management. Cooking. Multitasking. Stress management. Making friends. Dealing with parental pressures. These are only but a few of the skills that my friend was lacking when he arrived on campus, skills to teach to children. High school taught him how to calculate the speed of light in water, but not how to calculate how much money he should be spending on groceries every week. He knew how to find the hypotenuse of a right triangle, but not how to find resources to help him manage all the stress. My friend understood how to keep his parents happy at home, but not how to deal with their disappointment from thousands of miles away.
In primary school, children spend their mornings and afternoons in school learning basic arithmetic, reading and writing, history and geography, and general science. In secondary school, they may have the opportunity to take a broader range of subjects such as business, information technology, and visual arts. Nevertheless, many children do not have the opportunity to develop practical and life skills in their public or private schools. Instead, there is a focus on learning formulas, memorizing facts, and demonstrating this comprehension on exams. There is no doubt that essential math skills, basic literacy, and scientific knowledge are necessary in the real world, but we are beginning to understand and appreciate the importance of child development skills and life skills education as our children begin to navigate the complex and competitive institutions and work environments of the 21st century. My friend was a prime example of someone who excelled in his academic pursuits but struggled to navigate these waters. Perhaps if he had had some guidance on how to develop certain skills before setting foot on campus, he would be thriving in his dream job in Palo Alto right now.
There are so many useful skills to teach your child. Let’s take public speaking as an example. Public speaking is a daily function in many careers, whether you want to be a courtroom lawyer, politician, or even a scientist. From an early age, children should learn how to project their voice, modulate their tone, convey their emotions, and speak with confidence in front of others. Even if they end up in jobs in which public speaking is not required, effective interpersonal communication between colleagues and bosses is almost a universal requirement of any job.
Many children are pushed into STEM programs because their parents are convinced that it is the only way to secure
a good job and to raise a family. This forces children into career paths that aren’t suitable for them. Some like to draw. Others like to sing. A few want to
act. This should not only be allowed but actively encouraged as they are contributing to child development skills. Children need to be given the opportunity to explore pathways in the arts so that they can become truer versions of themselves. As a parent, you may think it’s a pointless endeavor because only a handful of children grow up to sing at a concert or work in Hollywood. Sure, not every child can become the next Beyonce or Brad Pitt, but even if your child finds their passion through the development of drawing skills, singing ability, or performance art, then they will be happy in their career no matter where they end up. This will also give them a competitive edge over others because they will be pursuing a career for which they truly have passion. To add to this, there are many well-paying career paths within the arts that do not require someone to reach the heights of celebrity status.
Teamwork skills are now more important than ever before, and children benefit tremendously when they’re able to develop them
explicitly. One of the earliest questions in a job interview is: “Can you tell us about a time when you resolved a conflict with a team member?” Today’s employees are expected to work effortlessly with colleagues with diverse personalities, on multiple teams, from numerous countries, and do all this remotely. A failure to communicate effectively with different personalities or resolve conflicts with colleagues can often be grounds for termination. But teamwork skills are almost never developed explicitly in primary or secondary school. Instead, children are expected to develop teamwork skills implicitly alongside physical development skills through extracurricular sports activities as well as group activities, but the message is hardly reinforced. Proper development of teamwork skills requires the same level of explicit training as math, biology, and English. Teamwork training can help children develop problem-solving skills and resolve conflicts more effectively.
These are just a few examples of specific skills that, when taught alongside academic courses, would benefit children tremendously. But beyond the development of specific skills, a skills development program helps children in so many other ways. What are the benefits of learning a new skill through a program? In general, an everyday skills program helps children develop a more positive attitude towards problems and find ways to solve them creatively. It also increases their self-esteem and confidence. Programs that incorporate knowledge about car
repair or aim to develop survival skills can help children build strength and endurance. Skills also help children understand why they are learning academic subjects in school thereby allowing them to develop a positive attitude toward learning. Children who learn how to cook from an early age can also develop a more personal connection to lessons in biology that teach them about human anatomy and about nutrition, as well as lessons in chemistry which teach them about chemical reactions and substances.
Finally, skill development helps children to counter negative emotions that may lead to anxiety and depression if left untreated. By teaching your child how to manage their time and prioritize tasks, you are effectively teaching them how to reduce the buildup of stress from a complex academic and personal schedule. This helps them to focus on important tasks and also develop an understanding of what is important to them thereby allowing them to understand their own values and purpose. Another underappreciated self-awareness skill is the ability to have a sense of humor about things. It may be difficult to find humor in any situation, but humor helps us deal with pain, stress, and problems, and can also help us find a silver lining during a crisis. Skills such as active listening, expressing respect and love appropriately, accepting compliments and criticism graciously, and showing gratitude effectively will do wonders to improve your children’s relationships with others. They will be more capable of building robust interpersonal networks and be able to rely on these networks when they need guidance or emotional support. We teach children to apply first aid when they suffer a physical injury, like a cut or a bruise. The same importance should be placed on emotional first aid, remedies being in the form of mindfulness, self-reflection, outdoor activities, and proper nutrition, for example. All of this starts with positive parenting skills at home.
There is no need to set aside academic coursework for education skills development. A good skills development program should work to complement academic education, not take time away from it. Ultimately, it should help your child become more well-rounded and truer versions of themselves. After all, success and fulfillment in life is about so much more than just grades and jobs.
Aumee Bhuiyan is a curriculum developer at Shiminly.