Developing Soft Skills at Secondary


by Louise Bingham – Speech and Language Therapist
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At school, there is a lot of emphasis and importance placed on what are called ‘hard skills’. These are the types of skills that students are routinely taught in school, and they are easy to measure through progress and grades. This includes proficiency with foreign languages, technology know-how, and maths skills, which are skills likely to make students more successful in finding a job.

Focusing solely on developing ‘hard skills’, however, is not enough, and in order to succeed once they are out of school, students need to have developed their ‘soft skills’. By ‘soft skills’ we mean the interpersonal skills and characteristics of a person that determine how they interact with others and the world around them. These skills are much more difficult to measure, such as being a team player and having good communication skills. Employers place more value on these ‘soft skills’ because they are much harder to acquire; if a new employee needs to develop their technology skills, they can learn this on the job, but this isn’t true for being able to interact with colleagues successfully.

There are calls for schools to put more emphasis on developing students’ ‘soft skills’, which are not usually explicitly taught in the same way that ‘hard skills’ are. As ‘soft skills’ are developed through experience interacting with people in different situations, young people are actually more likely to develop these skills outside of school, learning through their family and friends. This can be more challenging for students with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), because communication skills underpin the development of ‘soft skills’.

The good news is that there are lots of ways that you can support your young person at home to develop key ‘soft skills’ that will enable them to be more successful both at school and later in life.

Communication

Communication skills underpin the development of ‘soft skills’ and the best way to support your child is to develop these skills is through lots of practice. Engage them in conversation (although this can be challenging with teenagers) about a range of topics that they are interested in. Talk about scenarios in their favourite TV shows, films and games; what might happen next, what are the characters feeling, who is your favourite character and why?

A big part of communication is being able to read and use social cues; this can be really difficult for some young people as it’s like another language altogether. As parents, it’s really beneficial for you to model what is appropriate in different situations, to support your child to learn in real-life contexts. If your child struggles to know what to do in different social situations, try giving them a specific role, for example when people visit your house, they could take drinks orders.

Negotiation

Negotiation is a key skill for resolving conflicts and is something that can help you to get ahead in the workplace. Disputes will naturally arise between siblings, friends, parents and, eventually, colleagues so it is important that young people have the skills to try and avoid conflicts and maintain important relationships.

A great task for developing these skills at home is by holding a planned argument or debate. Choose a topic such as whether you should have to wear school uniform to school, or whether teenagers should be able to vote. Your child picks one side and you, or a sibling or friend, pick the other and come up with arguments to defend your points of view. Someone watching the debate decides who has been the most persuasive and given the most evidence to back up their opinions.

There will be lots of times when your child wants something and, instead of you making compromises with them, let them start the negotiations. If they want to buy a new games console, let them think of ways that they could earn money at home. If they want a lift to a party, let them offer something in return, such as doing the washing up. This will help them develop those negotiations skills by seeking solutions that benefit everyone.

Leadership

Developing your child’s leadership skills helps them to pursue their goals and develops their confidence. You can do this by increasing your child’s responsibility at home; ask them to plan and prepare a meal once a month or ask them to find out information about different broadband providers so you can get the best deal. Identify a new skill they could develop based on their interests; they could work out how to cook a new recipe, use a new computer program, or learn how to play a new game. Help them to research and follow the steps they will need to go through to learn the new skill.

Adaptability

As adults, we need to be able to adapt when faced with new or changing circumstances (which we have all had to do a lot over the past two years). Developing your child’s adaptability ensures that when a sudden change occurs, or unanticipated problems arise, both at work or at home, they are better able to respond and problem solve.

Involve your child in suitable day-to-day problems at home, such as replacing batteries, checking the oil in the car, or cleaning up messes. Play games with puzzles, such as escape room activities and try not to jump in straight away and help them; let them struggle a bit sometimes so they can try and identify the possible solutions themselves.

The best way for anyone to develop adaptability is to learn from their mistakes; experiencing consequences that have happened due to their own decision-making can have a big impact on future decision-making. After a conflict or challenging situation has occurred, help your child to reflect on the situation. You can use visuals such as comic strip conversations to draw out what happened including what was said and felt by your child and others involved. Discuss what they did well, what they could have done better and what they would try and do next time, which you could practice through role-play.

You can find lots more ideas and activities for developing language and communication skills of secondary-aged students here. https://speechandlanguage.info/parents/activities/language