Introducing yourself is much more than saying your name; it’s a way to connect with someone new by exchanging words and often, physical contact. Introducing yourself to strangers can be tricky because what you say depends entirely on the context. You may introduce yourself differently depending on whether you are addressing an audience before you give a speech, meeting someone at a networking event, or just starting a conversation with a new person at a party. What is important is to introduce yourself in a way that is appropriate and makes people like and remember you.
Because of my research on the importance of good social skills and positive relationships for a flourishing life, in recent summers I’ve focused on training camp counselors to think of themselves as their campers’ “Friendship Coaches.”
Last week at our staff meetings, I asked counselors to review this list of social skills and assess these skills in their campers. I told them to give lower ratings to skills they saw as areas for camper improvement and higher ratings to skills they saw their campers mastering quite well.
There were a number of skills in which counselors felt campers needed coaching:
Introducing other people
Avoiding trouble with others
Dealing with being left out
Concentrating on a task
While some of these skills — like understanding the feelings of others and dealing with someone else’s anger — require empathy, practice, and — sometimes — an increased level of maturity, there were some that stood out as simple skills that could easily be addressed during a few weeks at camp.
Introducing yourself (Can you approach people on your own and meet them?) and introducing others (Can you help people meet one another?) are very basic and useful social skills, especially at summer camp, where kids are meeting lots of new people. These friendship skills (among others) are ones we are intentionally coaching our campers on this summer.
Here are seven steps I reviewed at this week’s counselor training on how to coach kids to introduce themselves and others. Parents can use these same guidelines for coaching their own kids on these important skills!
STEP 1: SMILE
Smile and make eye contact with the person you want to meet.
STEP 2: SAY YOUR “OPENER”
“Hi, I’m Sunshine. What’s your name?”
STEP 3: ACKNOWLEDGE AND USE NAME
“Nice to meet you, _________!”
STEP 4: ASK A QUESTION
“Have you been to camp before?”
“How old are you?”
“Where are you from?”
“What activities are you most excited about?”
STEP 5: LISTEN TO ANSWER AND RESPOND
Acknowledge similarities/differences: “This is my first year at camp, too!”
STEP 6: ASK MORE QUESTIONS OR OFFER A SMALL INVITATION
“Do you want to play cards?”
“Let’s sit next to each other at dinner!”
“Will you be my bathroom buddy?”
STEP 7: INTRODUCE TO OTHERS
“Have you met _______?”
“Sam, this is Joe. He goes to my school.”
While these steps may sound simple to adults, sometimes we forget to actually explain the process of introducing ourselves and others to our kids. Like most skills, with a bit of gentle coaching, our kids can improve tremendously in these areas!
At our camper orientation on the first night of camp this week, I reviewed these seven steps with our campers using a big flip chart. When I went over Step 4 (ask a question), I had some of the kids share ideas of good questions to ask someone they were about to meet for the first time. They came up with a lot of great ones. Next, I asked the campers to think of which question they were going to use while meeting their new friend. Every camper then practiced meeting someone new and then introducing that person to someone they already knew in their own cabin group. Counselors are going to continue encouraging kids to practice their introduction skills throughout the camp session.
If you try this with your own kids, I suggest role playing with them ahead of time, which is especially helpful with kids who are less confident socially.
One of my favorite things to do is interview long-time campers about their camp experiences. This summer, I’ve already interviewed more than 50 campers ranging from 6-year-old first-time campers to 16-year-old, 10-year veteran campers.
A social skill that has come up in almost every interview, when I ask campers how they think their time at camp has changed or influenced them, is making new friends. Campers say that because of camp they are much more confident about meeting new people and making new friends. Some mention that they are more confident about starting at a new school or joining a new team or club because they know how to meet people and have learned to be more open and approach others with a smile and simple introduction.
Introducing themselves and introducing others is an important and useful social skill that we can easily coach our kids to master using these simple steps.