Your children will be making first impressions throughout their lives: through kindergarten, high school, camp, college, the workplace ... How they come across to others is important not just for showing good manners, but for social success.
The following five skills can help your child make a good first impression:
1. A Sincere Smile
Why it matters: A smile says you're happy to meet someone, and everyone loves to feel like people are happy to meet them.
Practice the skill: Ask kids to show you a genuine smile, and then a disingenuous smile, and then introduce yourself to your children without smiling to highlight the point. Ask the following questions: Which of those people would you like to meet and make friends with? Which person would you like to sit next to? Which first impression would you prefer to make?
2. Good Body Language
Why it matters: Body language can reveal whether someone is happy or sad, mad or playful, quiet or excited. When children learn to read the body language of the people around them, their friends will find great comfort in knowing that your child cares enough to know how they feel.
Practice the skill: Try this activity: put on a DVD -- not a cartoon, but something with real-life characters. Mute the sound, and ask your kids to write down what they think each person is feeling. Then replay that scene with sound and see if the assessments are accurate. Talk about what specific body and facial expressions that make someone seem happy, sad, excited, angry or nervous.
Here is another activity: ask your children to show you, without speaking, that they really, really want the pen in your hand. Or that they don't want to go to school today, or that they're sad because a friend said something really hurtful. Try acting out each scenario to emphasize how powerful body language can be.
3. Eye Contact
Why it matters: Explain that it's not always easy to make eye contact, but that it is an important indicator of both confidence and respect, and that it also conveys engagement in the interaction.
Practice the skill: Ask your child to hold eye contact with you or a sibling for 15 seconds and count as you look at each other. (Also let them know that they can blink, so that it doesn't turn into a stare-down!) This exercise bolsters confidence in making eye contact for future introductions. Use the timer on your phone or a stopwatch to make the activity even more fun.
I always share the story of the "Belly Button Observer" with younger kids. I once met someone who looked only at my belly button, and I show kids how awkward it feels to meet someone who doesn't look at your eyes when meeting you and just looks at your belly button. With older children, I ask if they've ever met someone who didn't make eye contact while talking, and then I point out that it conveys to the other person that something or someone else is more important than the person standing right in front of them.