Here are some key aspects of “street smarts” along with some techniques to help you instill these basic principles in your children while they’re young.
Your child goes to school to learn to read, add up numbers, and understand how an electrical circuit works. These skills enrich your child’s life, enliven her mind, and help prepare her for the future. However… what would happen if your child was lost in a city? Can she find her way home? Can she stay safe? Does your child have those elusive and essential “street smarts”? School doesn’t prepare us for those kinds of things. Usually, only experience does. So, how can you help?
Street smarts are about more than “navigating a dangerous neighborhood.” They’re a matter of situational awareness, confidence, and savvy. These skills come into play in every situation. They help us know whether a teacher is sympathetic to our excuse or whether a sale is going well at work. Street smarts help us to get the support of others, travel safely, and get out of sticky situations. It means we learn to think quickly on our feet, and adapt to new environments. You can be the brightest kid in class, but still have a hard time hacking it in the real world if you never gain some basic street smarts. Read on to learn some vital aspects of “street smarts” along with some techniques to help you instill these basic principles in your children while they are young.
Know how to read people
This is one of the most essential skills that a person can have. Humans are social, and our survival has always depended on recognizing those people you trust, and those you don’t. It can be hard to disrupt a child’s innocence by telling them that they can’t believe everyone around them, but it’s a lesson they have to learn at some point.
Some tips to help children learn how to read people:
- Teach children stranger safety early on. This article has some great tips for introducing the topic and covering your bases.
- Make sure that your child spends a lot of time with a diverse social group (rather than just one or two siblings with the same background.)
- Leave your child alone to play with other kids, as the relationship dynamics are very different without direct adult supervision.
- Give children a strong sense of that support group that they can rely on. This makes them better at spotting counterfeit as they progress through life. Research has shown that when we train to spot lie detection, what’s more accurate is that we first learn to spot truth-telling, trust, and sincerity.
Have experience with diverse places
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a city if all you’ve ever seen your whole life is a single isolated, rural valley. Traveling with children is hard, but it’s important to embrace as many opportunities to show your children different walks of life as possible. Street-smarts are very experience-specific, and so if you work hard to give your child as many constructive and diverse experiences as possible, he or she will be much better at adapting to and understanding different situations.
Some tips to help give children experience with diverse places:
- Travel with your child, and travel deeply. When we say “deeply” we mean that you really take time with a place. Talk with locals, and try to understand them. Actually sit down in that lifestyle instead of staying in a resort the whole time.
- Take advantage of opportunities to visit friends and family out of town. This helps your child be more connected with the very different environment, and it also allows them to learn how people in different places are essentially similar to them.
Sense of direction, transit, landmarks
Did you know that a “sense of direction” is something that we can train ourselves in? Just as you can cultivate an eye for color or understanding of a language, direction is something that can be learned. This sense of direction can be a lifesaver, or at the very least, a way to save time and spare you inconvenience.
Some tips to foster a sense of direction, transit, and landmarks:
- Encourage games that teach children to read and understand maps quickly. Make sure that this has some interaction with the real world to it so that they can see if their spatial awareness actually translates to an ability to find their way.
- Teach your child to recognize and work around landmarks. For example, can your child find his or her way to the customer service desk if they get lost at a grocery store? As they get older, can they find their way to a meet-up landmark at a fair if they get separated from the group, or if you decide to split up for a time?
- Quiz your child regularly by asking them which direction they're facing (north, south, east, west) and which way the road is, the interstate is, or home is.
- This sense of direction is especially important to teach your child as they learn to drive. While you’re teaching, take them around in circles and then challenge them to find their way back to a known checkpoint. Read here for more information about effectively teaching driving skills that will help your child be safe.
Trust in your own judgement
In the end, street smarts come down to one thing: confidence. While book smarts rely on someone else’s view of the world and experience, street smarts are intensely personal. They’re developed through experience, awareness, and trust in your own judgement.
In order for your child to learn confidence and trust in their own judgement, they need to first receive confidence and trust from you. This means that you give them responsibilities and trust them to take care of certain things themselves. It means that you let them solve their own problems before you step in and take care of things for them. Instead of just taking the easy way and doing a job for them (like laundry) you invest the time to really teach them how to do it themselves and allow them to have the satisfaction that comes from work and self-reliance. It even means that you eventually trust them to manage their own time with things like school work. This might mean letting them make some mistakes and then guiding them to correct those mistakes and avoid them in the future.