Teaching elementary and middle school aged children social skills is more crucial today than ever before. One recent survey shows that seventy-seven percent of people polled think social skills are worse now than they were just twenty years ago, and seventy-two percent of respondents believe cell phones have encouraged a lack of social skills.
A reliance on texting has certainly struck a blow to the 500,000-year-old art of face-to-face communication. With texting there is no getting around the fact that there is always a device and a time delay between the texter and text recipient. Texting lacks the nonverbal facial and body cues necessary for deep, meaningful connections. All the emoticons, capitals and explanation points in the world cannot mimic the sophisticated components of a face-to-face conversation.
The other fallout from terminally texting is that children are not learning how to communicate elegantly. Texting is clunky. Each time they choose to text rather than speak in person to someone, they lose out on an opportunity to practice having a face-to-face conversation. Having actual conversations throughout childhood teaches children the nuances of sophisticated communication. Children learn what works and what doesn’t work by having discussions. If a person seems to bristle, makes a face, looks away, gets angry, laughs, smiles or responds in any one of a thousand different ways, the young speaker learns. Over a childhood of conversations, the child becomes adept at reading cues and interacting with others appropriately. Face-to-face conversations teach children how to create bonds with one another, respect other people’s boundaries, delve deeper into issues, feel comfortable looking into people’s eyes, read the other person’s cues and use language to deftly express their thoughts.
Getting Your Point Across
Sharing one’s opinion appropriately can be one of the more difficult topics to teach elementary and middle school aged children who have been weaned on texting. Opinions can evoke a lot of emotion and emotion isn’t captured very well in a text.
Why should sharing one’s opinion be tricky? After all, aren’t we all entitled to express our own opinions? Yes, it is a free country…but are you entitled to hurt or offend others?
To fully grasp the implications of expressing one’s opinion it is necessary to first define the word opinion and understand the difference between an opinion and a fact.
An opinion is a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.
“Mint chocolate chip ice cream is the tastiest flavor ever created.”
A fact is a thing that is indisputably the case.
“Ice freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Facts can be proven true or false. Opinions cannot be proven true or false. In fact, opinions can’t be right or wrong, they are subjective and often based on emotion.
“Small, white dogs make the best pets because they are so stinking cute.” Try and prove that statement to the owner of a chocolate Labrador.
Sometimes when people express an opinion, they fail to consider one of the key reasons we practice good social skills: to put people at ease. They blurt out their opinion abruptly, like it is a fact, and they do not stop to consider how the other person will receive that opinion. It is not good social skills to upset the listener. People who value their relationships speak responsibly.
The following tips will help even the most opinionated, text-savvy, eleven-year-old express his opinion politely and effectively.
Five Tips for Expressing Opinions Politely
1. Begin with a key phrase. “In my opinion…”, “I think…”, “In my view…”, and “I feel…” are phrases used to take ownership of the upcoming opinion. These phrases also clearly identify that what is coming is an opinion and not a fact.
In my opinion, Mabel (my dog) is just a little bit cuter than the chocolate lab. Key phrases soften opinions so that the listener is less likely to feel accosted by an opinion.
2. Consider the audience. If you say, “I hate raspberries, nothing good has ever come from someone eating a raspberry. They are sour, hairy, and have small seeds that get stuck in my teeth and to make matters worse, they get moldy overnight,” to a raspberry farmer, chances are you will offend the farmer.
People with good social skills take the feelings of the listener into account before blurting out an opinion. Rarely is an opinion so important that the listener must be burdened. Take a moment to consider to whom you are expressing your opinion. Maybe that conversation about politics should be shelved because you know that raising the topic will get the other person fired up. If you know that you get your feelings hurt when people don’t agree with you about a certain topic, maybe choose not to discuss the volatile subject. Sometimes getting something off of one’s chest is actually just shifting the burden to someone else or maybe, just maybe a little jab.
3. Weigh the importance of expressing your opinion. We all like to be heard however is expressing our opinion always necessary? Use the Rotary Club Four Way Test to help you determine whether stating your opinion is a good idea.
This simple test compels the speaker to stop and think before speaking. When a person is thoughtful about his speech there is less opportunity to offend the listener. Nobody wants to live with the regret of having said something they wish they hadn’t.
4. Skip the All or Nothing Statements. “If the Patriots lose the Super Bowl it will be the worst day of my life!” “You always interrupt people when they are speaking.” “Cheese pizza is the only pizza worth eating, all other pizza is gross!” “This is Armageddon!” “It’s the end of the world!” Avoid unconditional terms like never, and nothing and overly dramatic descriptions that do not suit the situation or argument.
Opinions are better understood when put into words that are reasonable. Judgmental words can make opinions sound like actual facts. In some situations, it can be irresponsible to express an overly dramatic opinion. Consider the following quote posted by someone on Facebook.
“No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes…the truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders.”-John Taylor Gatto
John Taylor Gatto’s opinion (which he presents with certainty) actually sounds foolish because he uses all or nothing thinking: “no one believes”, “the truth is”, “schools don’t teach anything”. Gatto slips in judgmental words like, “the truth is”, in an attempt to manipulate the listener into believing his opinion is actually a fact. Gatto is not interested in his listener actually thinking about the topic, he is more interested in swaying his listener to think as he thinks.
5. Have an Informed Opinion. People’s opinions are interesting when the person is informed about the topic. Solid evidence that can be backed up makes for a far more compelling opinion than one with no real knowledge behind it. A child who has an opinion about politics based on snippets of conversation he hears in passing is less informed than a seasoned adult who reads newspapers and watches the evening news. You may prefer the side of the aisle that the child seems to lean better than that of the adult, however that doesn’t make the child’s opinion more reliable. If you asked the child to defend his opinion with fact it is likely his argument would fall apart.
It is hard to take someone’s opinion seriously if the person appears to be making statements that are incompatible with observations and reality.
Steven Covey wrote in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:
“Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it. When we open our mouths to describe what we see [or voice our opinion] we in effect describe ourselves, our perceptions, our paradigms. When other people disagree with us, we immediately think something is wrong with them, But, [as I have shown in this book] sincere clearheaded people see things differently, each looking through the unique lens of experience.”
Opinions are wonderful because they allow us to understand more deeply how the wheels are turning inside other people’s heads. We become vulnerable when we open up to others and express our opinions. It is necessary though to be sensitive and tactful when expressing our opinions when we value our relationships. Using good social skills provides us the tools to express our opinions while strengthening our bonds with those around us.
If you believe that teaching children good social skills and good communication skills is important than choose our Children’s Social Skills Trainer Program and our Communicator Trainer Program. Start a business training children and teens to be the best version of themselves while you become the best version of yourself!