Life Skills for Life

by Dana Smith Bader
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Today, my eldest daughter, my 21-year old will graduate from university after countless years of schooling and four hard years of university.  As I sit here today and think about the celebration we will have tonight, I wonder, hope, and pray, that she has everything she needs to face the world.  I know this is the end of a big chapter in her life, and I know from here on out, she will mostly continue the other chapters independently.  As her mother, I always tried to give her the best I could give her to love her, nurture her development, and ensure her success, but, now, all that I gave her and all that she has earned on her own will be put to the test of life.  I pray what she has is enough.  I pray that she has the essential life skills to make it in life.

According to most child development experts, life skills go hand-in-hand with development, and can help your child succeed later in life.  In her ground-breaking book, Mind in the Making (http://www.mindinthemaking.org/mitm-vook/mitm-book/), Ellen Galinsky, the chief science officer at the Bezos Family Foundation and senior research advisor for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), identifies seven life skills necessary for success in all aspects of life, including school, relationships, and work, that can be instilled in children from a young age.  Educators sometimes describe these skills as “learning to learn” skills, which can be developed through intentional daily activities.  Below, we take a look at these seven life skills and offer some advice on how to develop them in your children.

The first life skill for success identified by Galinsky is focus and self-control.  Most experts say and most parents know that children thrive on routine.  It is essential for them to understand what to expect during their day so that they can feel safe and secure.  Therefore, it is important for them to have a regular schedule or routine.  Once they feel secure in their daily routine, children can learn focus and self-control.  Like adults, children cannot focus and self-regulate their emotions when their life is spinning out of control around them.  Also, children need to be told or shown what to expect in the day.  They also need opportunities for quiet time to relax, focus, and think.  We live in a noisy, distraction-filled world.  Quiet activities, such as reading a book or putting a puzzle together can help your child slow down and increase focus.

The second essential life skill is perspective-taking.  In other words, children need to learn how to understand another person’s point of view so that they can understand others and develop empathy.  Telling and reading stories is one of the best ways to develop this skill.  Perspective-taking does not come naturally to most children, but when they are asked to think about what a character in a story may be thinking or feeling, they can more easily discuss feelings and motivations of others.

The third important life skill is communication.  Children need high-touch personal interactions every day to build healthy social and emotional skills, including the ability to understand and communicate with others.  The best way to build communication skills in your children is to spend time every day listening and responding to them without distractions.

The fourth essential life skill is their ability to make connections.  According to Galinsky, true learning occurs when we can see connections and patterns between seemingly disparate things.  The more connections we make, the more sense and meaning we make of the world.  To help your children learn to make connections and patterns, start by encouraging them to sort toys and socks.  Also, let them choose clothes appropriate for the weather to connect their choice of clothes to something in the outside world.  You can also help them make connections when you read stories together by pointing out things in the story that remind you of something in your life or something your children have done.  For example, you might say something like, “The story of the Little Red Hen reminds me of when you helped me cook dinner the other night.”

Next, we need to focus on developing critical thinking.  We live in a complicated world in which we are required to constantly analyse information and make decisions.  The best way to prepare your children for such responsibility and to nurture critical thinking is through rich, open-ended play.  It is really important for your child to have time each day to play alone or with friends by taking on roles, building structures, playing board games, or playing games like hide-and-seek.  Through such play children formulate hypotheses, take risks, try out their ideas, and find solutions – all essential elements for building critical thinking skills.

Hand-in-hand with critical thinking is taking on challenges.  One of the most important traits children can develop in life is resilience, the ability to take on challenges, bounce back from failure, and keep trying.  Children learn to take on challenges when we provide just enough structure to make them feel safe, but not too much to limit their ability to take risks and make decisions for themselves.  For example, as a parent, you should encourage your child to learn to ride a bike or climb a tree.  You should also focus more on effort than on achievement.

Finally, helping your children develop self-directed, engaged learning is essential if you want them to be life-long learners.  To do so, limit screen time and encourage plenty of reading, play, and open-ended exploration.  You can also model curiosity and enthusiasm for learning by visiting a library together, doing crafts, and allowing messes and creativity.

By following these simple suggestions, you can help foster these essential skills in your children so that one day, inshaAllah, you can enjoy seeing them graduate and begin their adult lives, knowing they have what they need to be the best they can be.

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