What are Life Skills?
The World Health Organization has defined life skills as, “the abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life”.
UNICEF defines life skills as “a behaviour change or behaviour development approach designed to address a balance of three areas: knowledge, attitude and skills”. The UNICEF definition is based on research evidence that suggests that shifts in risk behaviour are unlikely if knowledge, attitudinal and skills based competency are not addressed.
What are the Core Life Skill Strategies and Techniques?
UNICEF, UNESCO and WHO list the ten core life skill strategies and techniques as: problem solving, critical thinking, effective communication skills, decision-making, creative thinking, interpersonal relationship skills, self-awareness building skills, empathy, and coping with stress and emotions.
Self-awareness, self-esteem and self-confidence are essential tools for understanding
one’s strengths and weaknesses. Consequently, the individual is able to discern available opportunities and prepare to face possible threats. This leads to the development of a social awareness of the concerns of one’s family and society.
Subsequently, it is possible to identify problems that arise within both the family and
Society. With life skills, one is able to explore alternatives, weigh pros and cons and make rational decisions in solving each problem or issue as it arises. It also entails being able to establish productive interpersonal relationships with others.
Life skills enable effective communication, for example, being able to differentiate
between hearing and listening and ensuring that messages are transmitted accurately
to avoid miscommunication and misinterpretations.
What are the main components of Life Skills?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) categorizes life skills into the following
a) Critical thinking skills/Decision-making skills – include decision-making/ problem solving skills and information gathering skills. The individual must also be skilled at evaluating the future consequences of their present actions and the actions of others. They need to be able to determine alternative solutions and to analyze the influence of their own values and the values of those around them.
b) Interpersonal/Communication skills – include verbal and non-verbal communication, active listening, and the ability to express feelings and give feed back. Also in this category, are negotiation/refusal skills and assertiveness skills that
directly affect ones’ ability to manage conflict. Empathy, which is the ability to listen
and understand others’ needs, is also a key interpersonal skill. Teamwork and the ability to cooperate include expressing respect for those around us. Development of
this skill set enables the adolescent to be accepted in society. These skills result in the
acceptance of social norms that provide the foundation for adult social behaviour.
c) Coping and self-management skills refers to skills to increase the internal locus of control, so that the individual believes that they can make a difference in the world
and affect change. Self esteem, self-awareness, self-evaluation skills and the ability to
set goals are also part of the more general category of self-management skills. Anger,
grief and anxiety must all be dealt with, and the individual learns to cope loss or
trauma. Stress and time management are key, as are positive thinking and relaxation
Life skills approach can be successful, if the following are undertaken together:
a) The Skills -This involves a group of psychosocial and interpersonal skills (Critical thinking skills/Decision-making skills, Interpersonal/Communication skills, Coping and self-management skills) which are interlinked with each other. For example, decision-making is likely to involve creative and critical thinking components and values analysis.
b) Content – To effectively influence behaviour, skills must be utilized in a particular
content area. “What are we making decisions about?” Learning about decision-making will be more meaningful if the content is relevant and remains constant. Such content areas as described could be drug use, HIV/AIDS/STI prevention, suicide prevention or sexual abuse. Whatever the content area, a balance of three elements needs to be considered: knowledge, attitudes and skills.
c) Methods – Skills-based education cannot occur when there is no interaction among
participants. It relies on groups of people to be effective. Interpersonal and psychosocial skills cannot be learned from sitting alone and reading a book. If this
approach is to be successful, all three components, life skills, content and method
should be in place. This effectively means that life skills can be learnt through the use
of certain methods and tools.
Criteria for using Life Skills
UNICEF has identified the following criteria to ensure a successful life skills-based education:
* It should not only address knowledge and attitude change, but, more importantly, behaviour change.
* Traditional “information-based” approaches are generally not sufficient to yield changes in attitudes and behaviours. For example, a lecture on “safe behaviour” will not necessarily lead to the practice of safe behaviour. Therefore, the lecture should be substantiated with exercises and situations where participants can practice safe behaviour and experience its effects. The adult learning theory emphasizes that adults learn best that which they can associate with their experience and practice.
* It will work best when augmented or reinforced. If a message is given once, the brain remembers only 10 percent of it one day later, and when the same message is given six times a day, the brain remembers 90 percent of it. Hence the need to repeat, recaps, reinforce and review.
* It will work best if combined with policy development, access to appropriate health services, community development and media.
What does Research say about the Outcomes of Life Skills-Based Education?
Programmes aimed at developing life skills have produced these effects such as
Lessened violent behaviour; increased pro -social behaviour and decreased negative, self-destructive behaviour; increased the ability to plan ahead and choose effective solutions to problems; improved self-image, self-awareness, social and emotional adjustment; increased acquisition of knowledge; improved classroom behaviour; gains in self control and handling of interpersonal problems and coping with anxiety; and improved constructive conflict resolution with peers, impulse control and popularity.
We think and manage with our head. Resilience, keeping records, making wise use of resources, planning/organising and goal setting is ‘head’ related managerial functions. Service learning, Critical thinking, problem solving, decision making and learning to learn were related to our thinking processes, which we manage with our head.
Functions of the heart are relating to people and caring. How do we relate to people? We relate to people by accepting differences, conflict resolutions, social skills, cooperation and communication. The second function we do through our heart is caring. We care through nurturing relationships, sharing, empathy and concern for others.
We give and work through our hands. Community service, volunteering, leadership, responsible citizenship and contributions to group effort — are our way giving back to society. We work through our marketable skills, teamwork and self-motivation to get the things done.
Living and being comes under the functions of health. Healthy lifestyle choices, stress management, disease prevention and personal safety are our prime concerns for better living. Self-esteem, self-responsibility, character, managing feelings and self-discipline must be practiced without fail for our well-being. In a nutshell, the essence of life skills is to share well, care well and fare well.