Just like the arts, there may be something missing from your student’s education: life skills. The World Health Organization (WHO) has addressed life skills-based education since the 90s, and others are now taking notice.

What are life skills?

You might think of life skills as things like learning finances, doing laundry, and cooking. And they are, but life skills education goes much deeper than that.

WHO defines life skills as “the abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with demands and challenges of everyday life.”

Life skills include things like social, emotional, and thinking skills—such as self-awareness, empathy, critical thinking, decision-making, and coping with stress.

Why is life skills-based education important?

Life skills “can help people to make informed decisions, communicate effectively and develop coping and self-management skills that may help an individual to lead a healthy and productive life.”

These skills are often taught to adolescents, as they can help them successfully transition “from childhood to adulthood by healthy development of social and emotional skills.”

Life skills based education can:

1. Help in the development of social competence and problem solving skills, which in turn help adolescents to form their own identity.

3. Promote positive social norms that have an impact the adolescent’s health services, schools, and family.

4. Help adolescents to differentiate between hearing and listening, thus ensuring less development misconceptions or miscommunications regarding issues such as drugs, alcoholism, etc.

5. Delay the onset of the abuse of tobacco, alcohol, etc.

6. Promote the development of positive self-esteem and anger control.

In addition, according to WHO:

Empathy can help us to understand and accept others who may be very different form ourselves, which can improve social interactions.

Self-awareness helps us to recognize when we are stressed or feel under pressure. It is also often a prerequisite for effective communication and interpersonal skills.

Critical thinking contributes to decision making and problem solving by enabling us to explore available alternatives and various consequences of our actions or non-action.

How do I approach life skills education?

Teachers and schools may not be able to teach life skills as much as they’d like. But as a parent, there is a lot you can do to teach life skills on your own.

Here are some tips from Thriving Family on how to teach your kids decision-making skills:

—Look to the future. Ask each of your children to make a list of all the big decisions they will make over the next 10 to 15 years of their life, such as college, career, car, apartment, city, marriage and children. Discuss together the factors that constitute each big decision.

Brainstorm together. Your child needs to choose a science project. He doesn’t know where his interests lie. On a piece of paper write the word science in a cloud, and as you discuss science topics, draw branches of ideas stemming from the cloud. As you fill in the major subjects, encourage your child to think of subtopics within those areas. Maybe the study of animals strikes a chord with him, and he remembers a longtime love of guinea pigs. Voila! He now approaches the project with enthusiasm and a sense of ownership.

List pros and cons. Let’s say your child has to choose between playing soccer and taking ballet lessons. List the pros and cons of each option to help her reach a decision.

Rosenya Faith suggests some great group activities to help teens develop critical thinking skills:

Ask for a difficult explanation. Arrange for your group of teens to flex their critical thinking skills with a unique writing activity. You can divide a large group of teens into smaller groups of three or four and present each group with a scenario such as, “Explain an object (car, television or cellphone) to someone who has never seen one or even heard of it before.” Give the groups a predetermined amount of time to write their explanations. When time is up, have each group read their descriptions aloud to see if the other group(s) can guess what object they are describing. You can also use this activity to have each team describe a place, such as a vacation destination, or a person, such as a famous inventor or film star.

Click here to read more of Rosenya’s tips to develop critical thinking in teens.

For developing self-awareness, Carolyn Robbins suggests things like:

Giving your teen a journal to record thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Encouraging teens to experiment with the unfamiliar, such as joining a book club if they’re normally into sports.

Asking teens to list their values—forcing them to identify what’s important to them.

Read more of Carolyn’s suggestions here

While life skills education may be targeted at adolescents (in some schools), it’s never too early to teach children the same abilities:

Read some great suggestions about fun activities to do with your kids to teach them decision-making skills.

Here are five great ways to teach kids empathy.

Read these seven tips to help your child cope with stress.

Of course those other skills like cooking and balancing a budget are important, too, so check out these tips on how to teach kids some basic life skills like time management and organization.


Image credit: martinak15/CC BY 2.0

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