by Mary Kay Smith
Homeschooling parents spend a lot of time making sure they find the right curriculum, schedule, perhaps co-op, and extra-curricular activities for their children. When it comes to high school, we have the added responsibility of making sure they get the right number of credits in each subject, keeping track of their grades, and getting that transcript right!
That’s a lot of work, but we generally do that well. One thing we don’t do as well is make sure that our kids are up-to-date on their “soft skills”—those skills that make people good employees no matter how educated they are, what they do, or where they work. These skills are attitudes, behavior, and habits that make them valuable team members and a joy to work with.
You might be surprised to have me say that. After all, we are people who are hugely concerned with spiritual formation and character training. But we still give our kids a lot of leeway in their choices, and they get used to having a say about coursework and school schedules and activities. They also often get used to saying whatever they’re thinking or feeling. We need to be sure to develop in them good manners and soft skills. Here are some important ones:
A Positive Attitude
A positive attitude is one of the more important skills you can cultivate and one of the most valuable for employers. Teach your kids to curtail their negative thoughts and statements and take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). Teach them to count their blessings and to “compare down” rather than up, so they can create a positive spin on their situation, bosses, professors, and co-workers. Teach them to be energy givers rather than energy takers. Positive attitudes can be contagious, and their employers will thank them for creating a wonderful working atmosphere. Remember to stress good manners of all types. Those are the commonly accepted standards that make everyone around you feel comfortable. Better to be “overly mannered” than fall short.
A Strong Work Ethic
A strong work ethic is necessary to the success of the employer and will make the difference to your child when it comes to his performance reviews. I can’t tell you the number of times my husband comments on a young employee, saying he or she might be well-trained but just doesn’t know how to work well. It’s a real problem with the generation that prefers to spend time on their toys rather than on their work. But guess who goes first when jobs are cut? Teach your children to work hard, put their phones away, ignore their e-mail and Facebook, and do what it takes to get the work done.
Are you still waking your kids up for school? Reminding them when assignments are due? By high school, they should be able to manage their own time. Teach them to make lists and keep referring back to them. Teach them to prioritize and plan each activity to get the best job done in the least amount of time. Employers want people who show up on time every day and who work hard while they’re there. Good time-management skills are key to getting assignments and projects finished on time—in college, at work, in the military, and in the home.
Communication and Interpersonal Skills
To succeed in the workforce, your kids need to know how to communicate clearly and listen intently in order to work effectively with supervisors, co-workers, and clients. They need to be understanding, patient, fair, and compassionate in the way they talk to others. Make sure they’ve practiced a good, strong handshake while looking people in the eyes.
Since problems are inevitable, employees who can think out of the box and find solutions to challenges that arise are very valuable to companies. This is where the creative thinking of homeschooled kids works greatly to their benefit. Make sure your kids’ curriculum and activities include creative problem solving.
You would think being flexible would come naturally to our kids because, by its nature, homeschooling is flexible. The problem is our kids begin to think that everything is flexible their way, and they should be able to have their say and make the rules. At some point very soon they are going to run into college professors, sergeants, or bosses who demand things a different way. Our kids are going to be the ones then who need to be flexible and adapt. If they don’t, they will see grades slip and promotions denied.
The worst assignments my kids had in college were the dreaded team projects. There is usually someone who doesn’t keep to schedule, doesn’t return e-mails or texts, doesn’t work hard—just doesn’t care all that much. So what happens? The conscientious students do everything. Guess what? Those dreaded team projects are here to stay. Most jobs require them to some degree, so it would be good for your children to learn how to work well in a team while they are young. This is also where leadership skills come in. Companies want employees who can supervise and direct other workers.
Ability to Accept Constructive Criticism
No one enjoys being told they need to improve in an area or change something they have done. Our kids might be used to that when they receive grades, but it doesn’t change when they go into the work force. If anything, it’s more brutal. No employer or commander is going to say, “This is C work” and leave it at that. They make you do something over and over until it is right. Make sure your children become the employees who can take constructive criticism and use it to improve their performance.
Of course, as parents and homeschoolers we already know that we are training our children not just in specific subjects but in life skills, too. In fact, many subjects shift as more knowledge in the field is accumulated, so specific knowledge isn’t even the most valuable thing we can impart. To prepare for life, we need to be aware of those soft skills that turn us into the type of people we would like to work with. Hmm. Doesn’t that sound a little like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!”