It is important to teach life skills to children and adolescents at school. But exactly are these skills? The World Health Organisation provides the following definition of life skills:
“A group of psychosocial competencies and interpersonal skills that help people make informed decisions, solve problems, think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, build healthy relationships, empathise with others, and cope with and manage their lives in a healthy and responsible manner.”
Life skills include: the ability to manage one’s time, communicate, develop a positive self-image, manage one’s stress, work on self-development, set goals, set the right priorities, stay optimistic, be emotionally intelligent, among others. These skills make our life easier and more pleasant.
Benefits and Importance of Life Skills
It goes without saying that life skills education is crucial for our children and adolescents’ development. According to the existing research people with developed life skills are less likely to use drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. They are also less aggressive and violent.  When it comes to students, there are various benefits of life skills. Let’s have a look at some of them.
Improved Mental Health
When students develop life skills, they have a better understanding of who they are. They become more aware of the world around them and other people’s struggles. They become more sympathetic and understanding.
Importantly, those students who acquire life skills can deal with stress and anxiety. According to the American Psychological Organization, the average stress levels of teens today are significantly higher than the maximum healthy stress level for adults.  So being able to manage one’s stress levels and deal with anxiety are essential skills. The more aware students are of their mental health, the better equipped they are to handle mental health problems.
Life skills help young people build healthy self-esteem
These days young people constantly compare themselves to others. One of the reasons for that is the detrimental effect of social media. Teenagers and adolescents are bombarded with thousands of perfectly curated photos of their peers that they see on Instagram. When they look at these photos, they feel like their lives are worse than those of other teenagers. It is no surprise that many teenagers and adolescents these days have problems with their self-esteem and self-image.
Fortunately, teenagers and adolescents possessing life skills are emotionally intelligent and they are aware that the things they see on social media are distorted realities that they should not take seriously. They are also aware of the fact that excessive use of social media can cause anxiety depression, a feeling of isolation and fear of missing out. So, they use social media responsibly and do not allow the constant flow of information to overwhelm them.
Life skills help students build and improve communication skills.
Students with enhanced and solid communication skills can speak clearly and assertively. They also speak in a way that does not offend other people. Such students and adolescents are also good listeners. They are tolerant and open-minded. They don’t judge the opinions of other people.
When students and adolescents possess great communication skills, they are more likely to build healthy and lasting relationships with their family members and friends. Apart from that, they will also be able to maintain healthy relations with colleagues at work. They will be good at socialising with other people.
People with life skills are better at decision-making.
Learning how to make important decisions and choices is one of the most critical life skills that a person can acquire. It goes without saying that the world we are living in is constantly changing. We are facing a myriad of choices every day and we need to make the correct decision to succeed.
Life Skills Development: Activities to Develop Life Skills in the Classroom
To foster the development of life skills in the classroom teachers and educators should include activities that focus on the following skills:
Encourage students to collaborate with their classmates and engage in problem-solving together.
Encourage students to recognize other people’s emotions and empathise with their feelings. For example, as a teacher, you can show a snapshot of people in interesting and unusual situations. Ask your students to put themselves in these people’s shoes. Ask them the following things: What are your thoughts? What are these people feeling? How would you feel if you were one of those people?
Tolerance and resilience.
To help students develop these skills, teachers should encourage them to participate in classroom discussions on various topics. Teachers should also help their students get comfortable when dealing with other, unfamiliar cultures. Teachers can organise school trips and debates in the classroom.
Communication skills are essential for anyone’s success in life, so teachers need to make sure that they encourage children to engage with one another. Any group activities can be good as well. When students engage in group work, they are learning how to listen to each other. You can also provide your students with explicit instructions on how to have a good conversation. Teach them how to be respectful if they are engaged in heated debates.
Other practical ways of teaching life skills to students
Alternatively, you can devote each class to a particular life skill.
For example, you can start teaching life skills to your students by covering basic household activities. Here you can teach students how to sew basic things, and how to use hammers, screwdrivers, and other domestic tools. Here you can also teach your students how to cook basic meals, how to do laundry, clean the bathroom etc.
During the second class, you can move to another useful life skill – time management. Truth be told even some adults these days are still struggling with managing their time. Teach students how to approach large tasks – tell them to divide such tasks into manageable pieces. Teach them how to plan their rest time, how to keep a calendar, and how to deal with distractions. Tell them about procrastination and how to deal with it.
During the third class, you can talk about money management, which is another important life skill usually overlooked in school curricula. What aspects of money management should be covered? It is up to you. For example, here you can teach students how to budget, save and spend money wisely. You can tell them about credit cards and card ratings. Tell them about the importance of being able to do your own taxes.
During the fourth class, you can focus on developing students’ emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, many educators still have a very vague idea about the whole concept of emotional intelligence and as a result, devote little or no time to this issue in the classroom. But the truth is that emotional intelligence is perhaps one of the most important life skills that should urgently be developed in today’s students.
Emotional intelligence skills are very difficult to acquire and inculcate. So, you can just begin by introducing various emotional intelligence concepts to your students and making sure they understand what you are talking about. You can talk about self-awareness and self-acceptance, romantic relationships and consent, empathy, controlling anger and managing one’s negative emotions, coping skills and strategies for anxiety and depression. Here you can also talk about how to deal with social injustice and bullying.
During the fifth class, you can proceed to another essential life skill – being able to find employment. Those people who find satisfaction in work report higher levels of happiness so teaching students how to find a job that not only pays well but satisfies them. Here you can teach your students how to explore careers that can be of potential interest to them, how to create a resume, apply for jobs online. The skills of sending a professional email and making a follow-up inquiry are no less important. Finally, you can tell them about job interviews and the strategies to employ to be short-listed for a job.
Before you teach these skills to your students you need to find out what they already know. Also, once you cover one topic make sure that you revisit it in the future. Some concepts may take time to sink in. If you don’t feel confident about teaching a particular topic don’t hesitate to rely on outside sources! One of the is YouTube, which has a lot of engaging and useful videos.
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.