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By Maria Dismondy

Soft skills (interpersonal skills, or “people skills”) are character traits like empathy, kindness and generosity. These skills have been found to be missing in the workplace in our current day and age. On the other hand, hard skills are specific abilities and knowledge you need to perform a job, like knowing how to use a piece of computer software. These are usually quantifiable skills that are easily defined and evaluated.

Emphasis is heavily placed on teaching hard skills rather than soft skills to our children. This raises some red flags for me, especially when you turn on the news and see the scary stuff happening in our schools. There’s no doubt we need to develop children’s social and emotional skills just as much as we need to teach them how to read and write.

Today I will share three ways we can develop and strengthen children’s soft skills.


At a very young age, children start learning about emotions. They begin to recognize the face of anger, sadness, and love in their parents’ faces.

Emotional intelligence is referred to as EI and has been defined by Peter Salovey and John Mayer as, “The ability to monitor one’s own (and other people’s) emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”
Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, went on to develop a framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence:

Self-awareness - Individuals with a high EI understand their feelings. They have an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

Parent Tip: Teach your children the names of a number of emotions so they have a vast vocabulary.

Self-regulation - This is the ability to control our emotions. Instead of lashing out, a person may self-regulate their emotions by counting to ten to get themselves back to a healthy state.

Parent Tip: Model different strategies to help control your emotions like deep breathing, counting, meditation and more. Another great tip is to read books without words and pay attention to the character’s facial expressions.

#2 Practice EMPATHY

I travel to schools across the nation teaching, and I encourage empathy through the powerful messages found in my picture books. I read this strategy years ago called TRY-SAY-DO. To practice empathy in its fullest capacity, it requires these three steps.

TRY to understand how someone else is feeling.

“My friend was left out of the game at recess; that would make me feel upset.”

SAY something to them to acknowledge these feelings. “You must feel sad.”

DO something to offer kindness and friendship.

Remember that actions speak louder than words. This step doesn’t require more talking. Walk over to your friend and hand her the ball to play four-square with you. Smile at the same time.

If we want to raise kind and caring individuals, empathy is the first step. Discuss empathy when you’re out in the world with your children, while driving in the car, while playing at the park, etc.

#3 Practice Active Listening

Another part of empathy is ACTIVE LISTENING. That is, saying something to someone else and acknowledging their feelings through engaging conversations. Paying attention to their facial features and hearing what they’re saying. So, how do we teach our children this?

We ask children to put on their watchful eyes and listening ears. Remind children when they are in conversations with others that they need to make eye contact with the other person. They need to listen and engage in the conversation. They need to ask questions about what the other person is saying (helping that person feel heard) and reply appropriately.

Learn the names of different emotions and how to recognize them. Think about how others are feeling and become a great listener. Three ways to increase children’s soft skills in your day to day parenting. You’ve got this parents!