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If You Could Give Your Child Only Three Skills (considering skills of the future)

A young character wondering which skills they need

As a parent, I have often pondered what I need to do to set my children up for success in life. To be honest, I often felt overwhelmed when I contemplated the challenging job market and the fast pace of change in the world. 

As a talent development professional, I made it my mission to research, contemplate, discuss and test different theories. I’ve read dozens, if not hundreds of articles and research papers, searching for the skills of the future. 

As a serial entrepreneur, I have seen first hand which life skills are most likely to help a junior team member succeed. Some skills previously held in high regard, proved to be less important. New skills emerged that, at least in the context of my businesses, helped young talent grow in confidence and performance and outshine their peers.

When I combine my perspectives as a father, a talent development professional and an entrepreneur, a shortlist of a few “fundamental skills” emerge.

Before I share my list, let's quickly recap what other parents and colleagues are saying. I recently ran a quick poll on LinkedIn, asking the following question:

“Imagine you raised your kids on an island and soon you need to send them off into the world to fend for themselves. If you could send them off with only THREE SKILLS, what would they be?”

From a variety of thought-provoking responses, here are the top three (most interesting) themes:

  1. Ability and Desire to Learn

Imen Latrous called it “Continuous learning”, while Darryn Van Den Berg added the beautiful phrase “Ability to remain curious”. I believe curiosity lies at the heart of any learning experience. It is useful as mental preparation at a brain physiology level, and also as motivation stimulus from a behavioural science perspective. Ruqaya Ibrahim summed it up with a phrase that is gaining significant mainstream traction: “Growth Mindset”.

  1. Managing Boundaries

Keanan Fisher, who himself is still a student, said young people need to “Learn to say No”. Lawrence Jacobson stimulated my mind further with the phrase “Turn others off and themselves on”. He went on to explain that “there are a lot of voices competing for our attention. It can get difficult to hear me in and amongst all of this.” These views tie in well with a barrage of literature highlighting the challenges young people are facing regarding demands on their time and attention. Young talents are in desperate need of the support and skills to manage their own boundaries, which include physical, mental and emotional boundaries.

  1. Resilience

Adele Beetge and others contributed “Resilience”. It is the ability to bounce back from adversity, challenges, or setbacks, and to thrive in the face of difficult circumstances.  As parents we know and fear the fact that our children will have to deal with many setbacks and problems in their lives. We also know we can not always be there to overcome these for them. Syd Bosman said they need to “Prepare for hardships” and I agree.

All three of the themes or skills above would be in my shortlist of skills, and I will exercise author’s liberty by adding my own three to the list:

  1. Building Social Capital

In today's interconnected world, building social capital is essential for fostering relationships, networking, and creating opportunities for success. Teaching our children the importance of cultivating meaningful connections, collaborating with others, and contributing to their communities lays the groundwork for building social capital. Encourage them to develop strong interpersonal skills, communicate effectively, and show empathy and kindness towards others. By instilling the value of social capital in our children, we empower them to forge meaningful relationships, access resources, and thrive in both their personal and professional lives.

  1. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are essential for navigating the complexities of the modern world and making informed decisions. Encourage your child to question assumptions, analyze information critically, and approach challenges with creativity and resourcefulness. Teach them how to break down complex problems into manageable steps, brainstorm innovative solutions, and evaluate the potential consequences of their actions. 

  1. Emotional Intelligence   

Emotional intelligence plays a pivotal role in personal and professional success. Cultivating emotional intelligence in children involves teaching them to identify and express their feelings in healthy ways, regulate their emotions in various situations, and empathize with the experiences of others. Encourage your child to develop self-awareness by recognizing their emotions and understanding how they influence their thoughts and behaviors. Teach them strategies for managing challenging emotions, such as deep breathing exercises or mindfulness practices. 

In conclusion, if you could give your child only three skills, select from the list of six above. Some might call these innate attributes and some may even say these can not be taught. Rest assured, all of these are skills can be developed and the best way to help your children is to model these as behaviours. Let them learn from you. By instilling these essential abilities in our children, we empower them to navigate life's challenges with courage, creativity, and compassion.


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