Summer, that magical season of warm days, no school, and family vacations, is here. For a few months, reading, writing, and ’rithmetic can take a backseat. But there’s a fourth “R” that’s every bit as important as the traditional three: relationships. And the good news is summer is a wonderful time to help your kids hone in on this essential skill.
As we move forward into the future, we can’t honestly predict what the job market will look like for our kids—other than that it will be different from what we know now. One thing’s for sure: In times of uncertainty, problem solving, innovation, and collaboration are going to be critical to success. And the abilities to forge relationships and communicate effectively are at the heart of all of those skill sets.
Over the next few months, your family won’t be so overwhelmed with school and related activities. Take advantage of the extra time—and attention spans!—to help your kids develop their ability to communicate comfortably and effectively with others.
Read on for six great “learning lab” opportunities to seize on your summer vacation:
Order at a restaurant. When you’re on a family vacation, it’s likely that you’ll eat at several restaurants, ranging from quick pit stops on the road to a special “fancy” dinner at a restaurant your destination is known for. While you might be tempted to facilitate the whole process, from making reservations (if necessary) to ordering for everyone, use restaurants as an opportunity to help your kids interact with others while managing and communicating several specific details.
Under your supervision, of course, have your kids call and make reservations, speak with the hostess, and order their own meals—complete with requests to get their salad dressing on the side. You can also prompt your child to thank the waitress when his meal is delivered and encourage him to engage with her in positive ways when she checks in throughout the meal. This is a good chance for kids to see firsthand which words and tones get results, as well as how important it is to be clear and accurate. You can also point out that you get better treatment—more attentive service and maybe even free dessert—when you are polite and respectful as opposed to demanding or rude.
Check in at the hotel. After a long day of travel, it’s tempting to ask your kids to stand quietly—or even stay in the car with your spouse—while you check in to your hotel. But hotel stays are full of great opportunities for connecting, from check-in to check-out. For example, your child could take the lead at check-in by saying, “Hi! I’m here to check in for the Smith family. We had a reservation from tonight to next Saturday, and we need a rollaway bed. And if you have one available, could we stay in an oceanfront room?”
You can also coach your kids to call down to the front desk with specific requests—for example, extra towels. And at the end of the stay they can even compliment the manager on what a great trip it was or give a specific employee, like the concierge, a great recommendation. Your kids will be really proud of their ability to successfully navigate an “adult” situation. Even better, when you accustom them to these tasks early on, they’ll be much less timid and uncertain as they venture out on their own in the years to come.
Make friends at the pool. Travelling is the perfect opportunity for meeting interesting people and making new friends. If you are staying at a resort or hotel, it’s likely there will be plenty of other children around for the entirety of your stay. Encourage your kids to take a break from texting their friends back home so that they can make a new buddy (or two) to have as playmates for the week. You can coach your child on how to introduce herself and guide her through making plans to meet tomorrow for another game of Frisbee on the beach. And at the end of the week, you can suggest that your child gather her new friend’s contact information so that they can become pen (or e-mail) pals.
You’ll be doing your kids a big favor if you help them to become confident in introducing themselves to and getting to know new people. This is a skill that will help them not only on vacations, but at school, in sports leagues, and, later in life, in the workplace. Just think of how many opportunities might open up for your child throughout his life through a simple, “Hi. My name is Michael. I’d like to get to know you better!”
Arrange an activity. One of the things that make vacations so fun is the opportunity to participate in fun, out-of-the-ordinary activities. But whether you’re renting canoes, going to an amusement park, or touring a historical site, those activities don’t happen on their own. They take research, planning, organization, time management, and (usually) payment to get off the ground. And when more than one person is involved, the responsibility grows! With that in mind, let kids pick an activity they would like to do during your vacation and ask them to orchestrate the entire thing.
The details will vary according to the activity, but in general, your kids can call to make reservations for tickets (and maybe even negotiate a better rate!), pick them up, and plan the day. Make sure to help them organize the whole itinerary, including when you need to leave and what to take with you (a picnic lunch, sunscreen, towels, etc.). I promise, your children will enjoy the activity that much more knowing that they made it happen from start to finish!
Take lessons. If your kids enjoy extracurricular activities at home, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t continue to schedule those things on vacation. Sign them up for tennis lessons or sailing lessons, for example. And if you’re sticking close to a budget, you can still see if you can sit in on a local Girl Scout meeting or attend a local church or temple, for example.
Getting involved in activities at your vacation destination is a great way to connect with people who have similar interests and talents. Just like making friends at the pool, this can be an awesome networking opportunity for your kids and can expose them to interesting people outside of their normal circle. They’ll also see that it pays off to step outside of their comfort zones by proactively asking to participate.
Send letters (or e-mails) home. No matter how “wired” our society becomes, being able to express yourself in writing will always be a crucial skill to have. From school assignments to writing résumés and cover letters to e-mailing their future bosses, your kids’ success will depend (at least partially) on their ability to write clearly, effectively, and persuasively.
Sit down with your kids and help them to pen a postcard—or type an e-mail—to grandparents or friends. Encourage them to describe your trip by using details and interesting stories. Writing home in one way or another is a great opportunity to hone writing skills and e-mail etiquette, and it’ll probably be more fun for your kids than working on a report or paper for school. Plus, people love to receive “wish you were here!” messages.
Remember, summer is supposed to be fun, so don’t worry about aggressively scheduling these learning labs into every minute of your child’s vacation. Just keep your eyes open and encourage him or her to connect whenever the opportunity arises. Also, be aware that your kids might not “take” to engaging others immediately. But be insistent and consistent. Gradually, they will become more and more comfortable, proactive, and effective at communicating. And that skill will positively influence them for the rest of their lives.
Maribeth Kuzmeski, MBA, CSP, is the author of six books including …And the Clients Went Wild! and The Connectors (Wiley), and is a frequent national media contributor and international speaker. Maribeth and her firm, Red Zone Marketing, Inc., consult and train businesses from financial services firms to Fortune 500 corporations on strategic marketing planning and business growth. She has personally consulted with some of the world’s most successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and professionals. Maribeth lives in the Chicago, IL, area with her husband and two teenagers. Lizzie Kuzmeski is a teenager and a natural connector. She enjoys theatre, horseback riding, and, yes, Facebook.
“The Engaging Child: Raising Children to Speak, Write, and Have Relationship Skills Beyond Technology” (Red Zone Publishing, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-9717780-3-0, $18.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers. For more information, please visit www.theengagingchild.com.