Why Build Life Skills in Children in Early Years?

In today’s world, there’s a huge gap between what children learn in the classroom and the skills required in the real world. The focus has moved from an academic-based education to a more holistic, life-based learning. If we want our children to be able to cope in this new world and make a positive contribution then this gap needs to be bridged. LIFE SKILLS are what bridge that gap! 

What Are Life Skills?

Life skills are the skills we need to effectively negotiate the challenges in everyday life, whether at school, at work, or in our personal lives.

Dr. Roma Kumar, a Clinical Psychologist & Co-founder of Emotionally, with over 3 decades of experience in the field of Psychology and Mental Health, defines life skills, “as a set of some basic skills, which are acquired through learning or acquired through direct life experiences that help individuals, children adults and groups to effectively handle issues, and any kinds of problems that they encounter in daily life.” Life skills include creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision making, and also the ability to communicate and collaborate along with any of the personal and social responsibilities that each one of us needs to take, she adds.

Why Do We Need Life Skills?

There is often a mismatch between what students acquire in the classroom and the demands placed on the outside of the classroom. Besides entrepreneurial spirit and leadership skills, a CEO should also know how to resolve conflicts and be a responsible world citizen. Companies while hiring look for team players and solution providers over mere academic achievers. Universities look for diversity and what a student brings to the campus. All of this cannot simply be acquired with a school/university education. The needs of the world have changed from an academic-based education to a more holistic, life-based learning. Skills like emotional intelligence, stress management, and having an empathetic attitude are just as important. Life skills are what bridge the gap between education and real-world life!

In addition, building life skills 

  • Prepares the children to be responsible citizens and care for their environment.
  • It helps them to develop self-confidence and successfully deal with significant life changes and challenges, such as bullying and discrimination.
  • It gives them a voice at school, in their community and in society at large.
  • It enables them to make a positive contribution by developing their expertise and experience. 
  • It helps them learn to assert their rights and understand their responsibilities.

What Are The Core Life Skills Strategies And Techniques? 

In the year 1999, World Health Organisation (WHO) defined life skills as “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, empathize with others, and cope with and manage their lives in a healthy and productive manner. Life skills may be directed toward personal actions or actions toward others, as well as toward actions to change the surrounding environment to make it conducive to health.”

WHO lists the ten core life skill strategies and techniques as:

  1. Problem Solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Effective Communication Skills
  4. Decision-Making
  5. Creative Thinking
  6. Interpersonal Relationship Skills
  7. Self-Awareness Building Skills
  8. Empathy
  9. Coping With Stress
  10. Coping With Emotions

Why Is It Important To Build Life Skills In Early Years?

Inculcating good habits, age-appropriate responsibilities, instilling good civic sense and responsibility for the environment and country needs to begin at a young age. 

Dr. Roma explains, “Life skills go hand-in-hand with growth and development, and can help children in being able to succeed later on in life, whether academically, in their careers, or in their personal life or relationships. So, it’s important to teach children these life skills as it’ll help them focus and have some amount of self-control. It will also help the children in their abilities to communicate, comprehend, and make certain choices and social connections for themselves. It also works on the critical thinking area and helps children to take on challenges.”

I have fond memories of helping my mom in the kitchen. I made chapatis in funny shapes and watched in awe as she made choley bhaturey and dahi bhallas plus its many ingredients from scratch at all our birthday parties. She always found joy in cooking even though it looked laborious to me even as an 8-9-year-old. But it brought her happiness and I loved that. So when I was about 10 years old, I learned how to make tea for her just the way she liked and it felt like a huge accomplishment!

When I became a mom, I wanted to share the same bond and experience with my daughter, but between school, playdates, and garden time we just never got to it. I saw my opportunity during the pandemic when we had nowhere else to go. I made fun stuff with her – pancakes (in the cutest of shapes), chocolate walnut brownies, pizzas, pasta, and the whole gamut. At 6.5 years of age, she even knew the proportions and the order of ingredients needed.

Not only that, seeing my husband and me juggle office and housework, she became an enthusiastic contributor to household chores. She started taking care of cleaning the dishes after lunch, dusting, and taking special care to put her books and playthings back in their place. More than a year into the pandemic, she now puts her clothes back in the cupboard and keeps her bookshelf and toys organized. She is also in charge of her laundry, making her bed, and watering the plants every day. 

Doing all these tasks every day has helped her develop practical life skills and made her more responsible, confident, and independent. These life skills are the building blocks of life that’ll allow her to process and apply the information learned at home to real-world problems and situations. 

How To Build Life Skills?

The development of life skills is closely linked to the pedagogy of active learning. We can build life skills through stories, role-play, discussions, situation analysis, and one-on-one problem solving to actively engage children in their own development process. 

Life skills can be grouped into three basic categories, which complement and reinforce each other:

Social or Interpersonal Skills: communication, negotiation/refusal skills, assertiveness, cooperation, and empathy. 

As children engage, play, and grow with other children at school, playground and other social situations they develop a range of interpersonal skills. They learn to listen, pay attention, share toys, express ideas, learn to negotiate, work together as a team, and learn to share their feelings and a lot more. These skills form the foundation of their personality and enable them to build stronger relationships, deeper friendships, and caring nature.

Cognitive Skills: problem-solving, understanding consequences, decision making, critical thinking, and self-evaluation.

Dr. Roma elaborates, “One of the best ways to develop critical thinking in young children is through very open-ended play. Make sure that your child plays daily. Also, it’s not necessary to play only with friends. The child also has to engage in just being with themselves and not needing someone to play with them all the time. Playtime should also include taking on roles, pretend play, building structures like working with Lego and board games. This kind of play helps develop their critical thinking. Equally important are physical sports and games or just running and learning how to do some activities outside. Even playing hide and seek is a very good skill to learn. All of this helps children take risks and also understand how to accept failures in life and that it’s not essential to always win, and how to accept if you don’t win a game. We learn that we make mistakes and we will build up our own ideas and we’ll find solutions and these are all essential items in the building up of critical thinking.” Another important point that Dr. Roma mentioned is to encourage children to learn new skills. She emphasizes that, “a child who loves learning becomes an adult who’s rarely bored in life.”

Emotional Coping Skills: managing stress and feelings; self-management and self-monitoring.

Kids feel a vast array of emotions just like adults – excitement, boredom, joy, happiness, anger, fear, anxiety, and much more. Simple coping skills can help children embrace their emotions and help them face their fears, calm themselves down, and cheer up. Dealing with feelings, learning how to manage stress, taking control of a situation, or knowing how to accept when situations cannot be changed are some of the very important coping mechanisms. My daughter when angry or upset turns to her books to calm herself down. She actually announces, “I’m going to read my book” before stomping off. Parents can play a very important role here by acknowledging their feelings, discussing why they are feeling a certain way and what’ll help them feel better or improve the situation. Without healthy coping skills, kids are likely to act out because they feel completely out of control. Kids who do not learn how to positively deal with their feelings are also more likely to turn to unhealthy coping strategies like alcohol or food as they grow older.

One magical tool that naturally builds these three categories of life skills is STORYTELLING! It is the easiest and the oldest way.  

How Do Stories Build Life Skills?

Stories are the most powerful way to activate the brain. They can stir up feelings of awe, wonder, inspiration, and a whole range of emotions. Stories teach children adaptability, flexibility, and resilience. Research in neuroscience has shown stories can connect both sides of the brain to trigger the release of specific neurotransmitters and cause real change – to our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It’s easy to weave stories into real-life situations and find answers. Storytelling models good character, strong morals and develops empathy; creating the foundation of social-emotional intelligence that is so important in early education. 

Rohini Vij, professional storyteller, educator, parenting coach, and founder of NutSpace explains further how we can use stories to build life skills in our children.

No matter what we call them – life skills, 21st-century skills – children who are able to understand and apply these skills, along with their educational qualifications, will be able to lead a much-fulfilled life both personally and professionally.

Developing life skills is a lifelong process. But building life skills at an early age gives children a head start and makes it easier for them to deal with the challenges of life. 

Photo of author

Deepshikha Sharma

Deepshikha wears many hats - she is a Senior PR executive for companies based out of the U.S., a freelance content creator, and a nurturing and loving mum to a tiny human and an adorable cat. The foodie in her can whip up a mean batch of chocolate walnut brownies, and dancing, working out, or sleeping top her list of favorite things to do. She is a former television newsroom junkie and loves road trips especially the ones leading to the mountains!

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