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-esteemand 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
Children don't naturally know how to make good choices. Life skills help children know what to do in everyday situations as well as how to make good decisions about more abstract, long-term choices. If you work with your child to teach her life skills, you prepare her to manage peer pressure and and make good decisions as she grows into adulthood.
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Life skills run the gamut from the concrete skill of deciding what to wear to the more abstract decision about choosing friends. The key life skill is good decision-making. This skill is not innate, says Dr. Jim Taylor, a childhood specialist in psychology. It is learned through repetition and practice. Some other types of skills you can help your child learn include money management, personal hygiene, study skills, social skills and how to make healthy food choices.
Life skills help your child through the turbulence of adolescence and help him steer clear of irresponsible decisions throughout his life. Good life skills enable your child to manage money responsibly, make healthy food choices, stand up to unhealthy peer pressure and be a good parent in the long-term.
Help your child learn life skills by practicing the basics at home. Children as young as 3 can be offered simple either/or choices to practice their decision-making skills. Use grocery shopping trips as an opportunity to educate your child about nutritional choices. Open a bank account with your child and teach her about saving. As she gets older, teach her how to use a checking account and debit cards. Teach teenagers about credit cards so that they can understand the advantages and the downside. As a family, talk about what's happening in the community, and ask your child her opinion. Watch popular TV programs and movies with your child, and talk openly about poor choices you see so that your child can learn to watch with a critical eye.
Younger children are guided very directly by their parents. However, as children get older, they become more independent and life skills become more critical. By working with your children in their younger years, you have more opportunity to practice the skills that will help them as they get older and face more difficult choices. In addition, discussing things with you can become a habit with your kids, keeping the dialog going throughout their lives and enabling you to guide your kids with your experience as well.
If you use rigid, authoritarian parenting, providing your children with no choices, you risk not only alienating your children, but also leaving them without basic coping skills as they become more independent. If you never let them make decisions as children, they won't know how to make good decisions when they get older.
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