Shawn, an inquisitive, blond 10-year-old, knows everyone in his sub-division. He is always the first to visit newcomers. He is a source of information for parents who want to know who carpools and for children who want to know when the park is open.
Like Shawn, your child already has a network, although you may not realize it. A network may be composed of relatives, friends, classmates, teachers, neighbors, and other acquaintances. But what is networking, and why is it important?
A Way of Thinking
Networking is a way of thinking about the relationships in your life and of broadening your community. By being genuinely interested in others and willing to share information wherever you are—at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office—you build a network. Networking is not apple polishing, nor is it a system for “using” people for any reason. To be meaningful, relationships must be built on mutual respect and must benefit both parties. They may be maintained via personal contact, telephone, U.S. mail, or e-mail.
The benefits for gifted children are numerous. Networking
- enables new friendships,
- increases one’s understanding of the world,
- provides opportunities for social and language development, and
- fosters confidence in building relationships.
By tapping into the knowledge of others, children can learn about choosing a summer camp or finding scholarships, for example.
In this amazing technological age, your child can network with others anywhere in the world and learn from those who have experienced the same problems. Help is as close as the nearest computer.
Teaching Networking Skills
The parent’s role in teaching networking is to model success in maintaining relationships. Greeting people with a smile, making daily personal contacts, and using correct etiquette, both in person and online, are activities that should be demonstrated by parents and expected of children.
To determine if your child is a successful networker, ask the following questions:
- Do I see evidence of an open, tolerant mind?
- Do I hear my child saying nice things about others?
- Is he or she trustworthy and sincere?
- Does he or she greet people appropriately?
Some parents think that if their children are not talkative, then they are not good at networking. Actually, quiet children may be excellent networkers, because they may be more willing to listen to others. If you’re concerned about a child’s apparent lack of social skills, engage in role-playing to cultivate them.
Networking Skills to Teach
Teach your child how to do the following:
- Greet people appropriately by smiling, speaking, and repeating the person’s name.
- Join in a conversation by approaching the group, listening without interrupting, making eye contact, then beginning to speak.
- Use good telephone etiquette by speaking politely and clearly.
- Send thank-yous for gifts or for information.
- Set goals related to summer opportunities, lessons for talent development, scholarships, and college choices.
- Use Web networks, but take care to ensure your child’s safety and make sure that people are who they say they are.
- Keep a notebook or set up a Web site for contacts, and organize it according to interests or career aspirations.
Teachers and parents can infuse networking skills into the existing school curriculum or program by providing opportunities for volunteering, matching mentors with students, arranging parties for school graduates, starting networking chains, and matching students with similar interests. Resourceful teachers may have a list of contacts for students working on individual or group projects. Community professional and business leaders, elected officials, and college and university faculty members are usually honored to share their knowledge with children. Members of parent organizations (PTO or PTA) are excellent sources of information, too. While working with schools and other organizations to provide networking opportunities for children, parents may suggest before- and after-school programs, such as drama, problem solving, or chess club. Such activities foster networking experiences.
So don’t wait. Plan opportunities for your child to extend his or her community through networking. Together, visit a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. Invite a different friend over for dinner each month. Build relationships, enjoy the experience, and watch for the unexpected rewards for your child.
—Bettie Posey Bullard, PhD, and Sherri Bullard Slusher
Bettie Posey Bullard is assistant professor and director of the gifted program at the University of South Alabama. She has taught gifted education in the public schools and has given private piano and organ lessons. Sherri Bullard Slusher teaches English as a second language in the Galveston, Texas, Independent School District. She holds a master’s degree with an emphasis in gifted education and is the mother of two gifted sons.
- Nonstop Networking: How to Improve Your Life, Luck, and Career, by Andrea R. Nierenberg, Capital, 2002
- Masters of Networking: Building Relationships for Your Pocketbook and Soul, by Ivan R. Misner and Don Morgan, Bard, 2000 (contains a section titled “Networking for Kids”)
- Successful Net Networking
- “Planetary Networking for Kids: High School Students from around the Globe Use Electronic Networks,” by Matt Holland, In Context, Winter 1993