Charm school for kids

Lucien at his most charming

Lucien at his most charming

The CEO of Barclays, Anthony Jenkins, says our kids aren’t adequately prepared for adult life. He has said that many of our young people spend so much time in front of a screen they have forgotten how to shake hands or look people in the eye. And such things matter. Social confidence, he pointed out, is crucial in the international race for jobs. He says he learned how to engage with people, when working in a corner shop on Saturdays as a schoolboy. Well, how many children have Saturday jobs these days? Very few. Equally, children whose Saturdays are taken up by helicopter parents ferrying them to this class or that training squad (yep, that’s me), also have precious few moments of ordinary, social interaction with adults.

Social confidence is one thing in which Americans are world beaters. Commander in Chief for handshaking charm is President Obama, whose ‘double’ handshake (he uses the right for the shake, and the left for a reassuring touch on the hand or arm) is a formidable weapon in diplomatic circles. (As anyone who has read Primary Colours knows, this technique was first developed by President Clinton, a man whose charm is so overpowering it almost needs its own press office).

For those of us who are not American,  Jenkins advises parents start charm school right away, by shaking hands with their children over the breakfast table. This sounds a bit like pretending we all live in Downton Abbey, but I know what he means. I might not shake hands with my children very often, but I am always reminding them to maintain eye contact when speaking to an adult, not to drift down into conversation with their shoes, and say goodbye when they leave. It makes them furiously embarrassed, but they comply, if only to save embarrassment next time. You could also bite the bullet and drag your child along with you in your adult world. Then your child will not only have to shake hands and appear civilised as you meet various peers, but they will also have to remain silent and look interested while doing so, a key skill but a tough one to master. So there you have it.  Take your offspring with you. It might make your friends privately curse you, but you will be doing your child’s future a huge favour.

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