Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life.
This concept is also termed as psychosocial competency. The subject varies greatly depending on social norms and community expectations but skills that function for well-being and aid individuals to develop into active and productive members of their communities are considered as life skills.
Enumeration and Categorisation
The UNICEF Evaluation Office suggests that “there is no definitive list” of psychosocial skills; nevertheless UNICEF enumerates psychosocial and interpersonal skills that are generally well-being oriented, and essential alongside literacy and numeracy skills. Since it changes its meaning from culture to culture and life positions, it is considered a concept that is elastic in nature. But UNICEF acknowledges social and emotional life skills identified by Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Life skills are a product of synthesis: many skills are developed simultaneously through practice, like humour, which allows a person to feel in control of a situation and make it more manageable in perspective. It allows the person to release fears, anger, and stress & achieve a qualitative life.
For example, decision-making often involves critical thinking (“what are my options?”) and values clarification (“what is important to me?”), (“How do I feel about this?”). Ultimately, the interplay between the skills is what produces powerful behavioural outcomes, especially where this approach is supported by other strategies.
Life skills can vary from financial literacy, through substance-abuse prevention, to therapeutic techniques to deal with disabilities such as autism.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1999 identified the following core cross-cultural areas of life skills:
- Decision-making and problem-solving;
- Creative thinking (see also: lateral thinking) and critical thinking;
- Communication and interpersonal skills;
- Self-awareness and empathy;
- Assertiveness and equanimity; and
- Resilience and coping with emotions and coping with stress.
UNICEF listed similar skills and related categories in its 2012 report.
Life skills curricular designed for K-12 often emphasize communications and practical skills needed for successful independent living as well as for developmental-disabilities/special-education students with an Individualized Education Programme (IEP).
There are various courses being run based on WHO’s list supported by UNFPA. In Madhya Pradesh, India, the programme is being run with Government to teach these through Government Schools.
Skills for Work and Life
Skills for work and life, known as technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is comprising education, training and skills development relating to a wide range of occupational fields, production, services and livelihoods. TVET, as part of lifelong learning, can take place at secondary, post-secondary and tertiary levels, and includes work-based learning and continuing training and professional development which may lead to qualifications. TVET also includes a wide range of skills development opportunities attuned to national and local contexts. Learning to learn and the development of literacy and numeracy skills, transversal skills and citizenship skills are integral components of TVET.
Parenting: A Venue of Life Skills Nourishment
Life skills are often taught in the domain of parenting, either indirectly through the observation and experience of the child, or directly with the purpose of teaching a specific skill. Parenting itself can be considered as a set of life skills which can be taught or comes natural to a person. Educating a person in skills for dealing with pregnancy and parenting can also coincide with additional life skills development for the child and enable the parents to guide their children in adulthood.
Many life skills programs are offered when traditional family structures and healthy relationships have broken down, whether due to parental lapses, divorce, psychological disorders or due to issues with the children (such as substance abuse or other risky behaviour). For example, the International Labour Organisation is teaching life skills to ex-child laborers and at-risk children in Indonesia to help them avoid and to recover from worst forms of child abuse.
Models: Behaviour Prevention vs. Positive Development
While certain life skills programs focus on teaching the prevention of certain behaviours, they can be relatively ineffective. Based upon their research, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services advocates the theory of positive youth development (PYD) as a replacement for the less effective prevention programmes. PYD focuses on the strengths of an individual as opposed to the older decrepit models which tend to focus on the “potential” weaknesses that have yet to be shown. The Family and Youth Services Bureau has found that individuals who were trained in life skills by positive development model identified themselves with a greater sense of confidence, usefulness, sensitivity and openness rather than that of preventive model.