Developing and Teaching Life Skills

Whether building personal skills or guiding others through the process, developing and teaching life skills must focus on individual strengths, needs and circumstances. Self-evaluation of personal values, strengths, weaknesses, goals and dreams helps an individual determine what changes should be made in his or her life. It also helps in identifying the life skills most important in making those changes.

Ownership of the skill-building process allows the individual to shift thinking from theory to a plan of action: From "These are the skills they want me to have." to "These are the skills I want to develop to achieve more personal success."

This ownership and control of the process is empowering. It makes creating and implementing a personalized plan for success much easier. And with continued personal development growth, comes increased confidence in the ability to meet future challenges and achieve future goals.

It is this confidence and hope for the future that becomes the driving force behind the desire to build basic life skills.


Six vital steps in developing or teaching life skills that focus on the individual:

1. Assess Current Strengths

Nothing builds self-confidence quicker than realizing we have value as an individual and the potential to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Assessing strengths, or creating a personal inventory, involves making a list of all current skills and abilities no matter how small or fundamental. Everyone is good at something. Examples of possible strengths could be as simple as I keep myself clean and neat, I always try to do my best or I like to read, draw or do puzzles.

If teaching life skills, certainly any of the standard assessment tools could be used.

2. Outline Basic Beliefs and Values

Character - What we believe and what we value in life - provides a foundation for building basic life skills. The word skill implies action. If we have a skill it means we can do something. Therefore, developing life skills means putting our beliefs into action. If our beliefs and values are solid and well-founded, effective life skills will be easier to achieve. There are many values that could be considered. Examples of values on which beliefs could be built and around which priorities could be set might include honesty, respect, self-reliance, determination, wealth, power and fame.

When teaching life skills it is important to remember that the values of the person we are guiding may be very different from ours. We can - and should - discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each value considered. We cannot, however, dictate which values are to be strengthened.

3. Explore Current Barriers to Personal Growth

In addition to assessing strengths and outlining beliefs, current barriers to personal growth must be eliminated or minimized. Possible barriers could include physical or mental challenges, addiction, a criminal record, lack of education and language or cultural differences.

It may not be easy but dealing with potential barriers up front will keep them from becoming more of a problem in the future. Suggestions for overcoming barriers could include finding a role model or reading about people who were successfully in spite of similar barriers. Remember, if you are determined to succeed, you will find a way to do it. There are always options. You just have to find them. There are many community resources available. Some offer services for free; many others offer services for a fee that is based on income.

When teaching life skills to group with a common barrier, more specific suggestions and options could be given.

4. Respect Learning and Application Differences

Though similar in many ways, we all come from different backgrounds and experiences, which can give each of us a very different perspective. We may also have a different learning style and personality. Respecting differences makes it much easier to personalize basic life skills and apply them to everyday situations.

When teaching life skills it is also important to present information in a way that can be easily adapted to each participant's situation. This is especially important when facilitating teen groups.

5. Create a Plan

True success comes from within and basic life skills build on each other. Start by building self-worth, self-confidence and self-control (personal strengths or skills). Then add relationship skills (image/perception, anger management, cooperation), using personal skills as a foundation. And finally, develop project skills (organization, innovation), which incorporate both personal and relationship skills.

Be sure to create a plan that excites you. Although it may seem hard to believe, building life skills can actually be fun.

6. Focus on the AREA of Control

Every person has an individual AREA of Control. And knowing that each of us has the final say with regard to our actions, reactions, emotions and attitude can be empowering.

7. Keep It Simple and Be Flexible

When creating a personal plan for success, be sure to include patience, forgiveness and flexibility. Fundamental changes take time. Build skills slowly, but deliberately.

Become more accepting of human frailities - in yourself and in others. Most people are doing the best they can and everyone makes mistakes. Consider all mistakes as learning experiences.

Make changes in the plan as needed. If one thing doesn't work try another. What is most important is that progress is being made. As long as you are accomplishing goals and feel good about yourself, the plan is working. Be happy with your successes.

Developing basic life skills is truly a personal journey. By the same token, teaching life skills might better be described as facilitating life skills, since the participant's input is just as important. Unless each participant is fully involved in choosing, developing and adapting skills to meet his or her individual needs, knowledge about these skills may never be put into action.