Types of life skills

Life skills fall into three basic categories, which complement and reinforce each other. These are social or interpersonal skills, cognitive skills and emotional coping skills.

Types of life skills

Social skillsCognitive skillsEmotional coping skills
Communication skills Decision-making and problem-solving Managing stress
Negotiation and refusal skills Understanding the consequences of actions Managing feelings, including anger
Assertiveness skills Determining alternative solutions to problems Skills for increasing self-management and self-monitoring
Interpersonal skills (for developing healthy relationships) Critical thinking

Cooperation skills Analysing peer and media influences
Empathy/understanding and perception Analysing one's perceptions of social norms and beliefs
Self evaluation and values clarification
Adapted from Life Skills Approach to Child and Adolescent Healthy Human Development, Pan-American Health Organisation, 2001.

Research shows that interventions that address these specific skill areas (such as decision-making and assertiveness skills) are effective in promoting desirable behaviours, such as sociability, improved communication, effective decision-making and conflict resolution, and preventing negative or high-risk behaviours, such as use of tobacco, khat, alcohol, unsafe sex and violence.

For instance, decision-making has long been a part of pregnancy prevention; refusal skills are seen as critical to substance (e.g. khat) abuse prevention, and communication skills have been used to help aggressive or antisocial youngsters.

You are expected to explain and teach life skills to adolescents who come seeking your help. Examples of adolescents who could benefit from your messages include: a girl who is not feeling confident to end a relationship that she thinks will put her at risk of STIs, including HIV, because her partner doesn't like to use condoms; or a boy who is about to start or has already started khat chewing just because he wants to imitate what his friends are doing. These are just two instances where you could make a difference in adolescents' behaviours by telling them that it is perfectly OK to say 'No' when they have to. This could be done through individual or group counselling at your health facility, in schools or in the community.

You need to explain the need to be assertive. Being assertive involves expressing beliefs, thoughts and feelings in a direct, clear way at an appropriate moment and does not mean imposing beliefs or views on another person. To be assertive implies the ability to say 'yes' or 'no' depending on what one wants. For example: 'I don't want to have sex' or 'Yes, I want to have sex but only if we use a condom'.

Being able to express what is truly felt or desired can have important consequences for adolescent reproductive health. Being clear and assertive can increase self-respect and help resist peer pressure to engage in sex, khat use, etc. Adolescents who are assertive can effectively negotiate safer sex to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STIs, including HIV, and resist unwanted sexual proposals from adults. They are also more likely to identify and obtain services needed for pregnancy prevention, prenatal and postpartum care, and STI/HIV diagnosis, counselling and treatment.

Decision-making skills focus on techniques involved in critical thinking and problem solving (these bold terms are defined below). Adolescents must make decisions frequently, ranging from simple and marginally consequential ones such as 'What shall I wear today?' to major and very consequential decisions, such as, 'Should I have sexual relations?' Depending on the culture, the potential to make decisions varies, as does the young person's sense of their ability to make decisions.

For instance, in some cultures, young people believe that external factors (such as fate or luck) determine what happens to them. In others, young people believe that their own capacity or skills and efforts determine what happens to them. In general young people who think they can determine what happens, within the range of available options, will be more likely to make their own decisions and thus feel greater commitment to these decisions and get more satisfaction from them.

Before making a sensible decision it is important to weigh the good and bad sides, strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages.

Critical thinking is the ability to think through situations adequately, weighing the advantages and disadvantages so as to be able to make appropriate decisions concerning other people or one's own situation. Adolescents are confronted by multiple and contradictory issues, messages, expectations and demands of a sexual nature or otherwise. They need to be able to critically analyse the challenges that confront them. Examples in critical thinking are ability to distinguish between myths and facts; assessing the promises of a partner; and judging a situation that may be risky.

Problem solving refers to one's capacity to identify problems, their causes and effects as well as the capability to look for possible solutions. It is the ability to identify, cope with and find solutions to difficult or challenging situations. Problem solving is related to decision-making and the two may often overlap. It is only through practice in making decisions and then solving problems that adolescents can develop the skills necessary to make the healthiest sexual choices for themselves. Examples of abilities in problem solving are skills in planning how to prevent getting STIs and unwanted pregnancy by using condoms properly and consistently.

Negotiation or conflict resolution is a 'win-win' or 'no lose' method of settling disagreements. Every relationship has conflicts. However, conflicts do not have to end with someone losing and with both parties hating each other. Many do end this way. Adolescents need to begin by understanding that they have their own way of dealing with conflicts in their lives. Knowing their own style and motives as well as the style and motives of the person they are in conflict with will help them handle the situation.

They can negotiate their position by talking about it. This needs to be strengthened, especially in situations where it has not been usual to have a dialogue. Negotiation also means that both sides will compromise. Since it may not be advisable to compromise on certain issues, agreeing to negotiate may be a dangerous strategy used by those who have selfish interests. 'Let's talk about it' may actually be a dangerous invitation.

Girl and an older man negotiating on condom use

A girl and an older man negotiating on condom use.

The box below shows important points that adolescents need to keep in mind when negotiating for safer sex.

How to negotiate safer sex

  • Be assertive, not aggressive
  • Say clearly and nicely what you want (E.g. to use the condom from start to finish)
  • Listen to what your partner is saying
  • Use reasons for safer sex that are about you, not your partner
  • Be positive
  • Turn negative objection into a positive statement
  • Never blame the other person for not wanting to be safe
  • Practice 'TALK'

Tell your partner that you understand what they are saying

Assert what you want in a positive way

List your reasons for wanting to be safe

Know the alternatives and what you are comfortable with.

The overall message of this study session is that in all of your activities aimed at promoting healthy adolescent behaviours, you need to focus on prevention, which means trying to build the skills of adolescents to make sound decisions that can protect their health. You should also educate the community that young people are vulnerable and need to be supported in their decisions, particularly regarding reproductive health matters.

Last modified: Thursday, 10 July 2014, 8:19 PM