Life skills are essentially those abilities that help promote mental well-being and
competence in young people as they face the realities of life. Most development
professionals agree that life skills are generally applied in the context of health and
social events. They can be utilized in many content areas: prevention of drug use,
sexual violence, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS prevention and suicide prevention.
The definition extends into consumer education, environmental education, peace
education or education for development, livelihood and income generation, among
others. In short, life skills empower young people to take positive action to protect
themselves and promote health and positive social relationships.
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
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.
a) Critical thinking skills/Decision-making skills – include decisionmaking/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
Criteria for using Life Skills
It should not only address knowledge and attitude change, but, more
importantly, behaviour change.
ß 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.
ß 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, recap, reinforce and review.
ß It will work best if combined with policy development, access to appropriate
health services, community development and media.