7 Essential Life Skills

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Guest Blog from Jennifer Wiggington, executive Director at The Literacy Center.

Jennifer WIggington

What do you think of when I say life skills?  

Because of my association with The Literacy Center you may think I’m talking about reading, but the fact is life skills are much more than that.


A life skill is a skill that is necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life.


I’d like to introduce you to the 7 essential life skills according to the book Mind in the Making.


#1 Focus & self-control are skills needed in order to achieve our goals, especially in a world that is filled with distractions and information overload. It involves paying attention, remembering the rules, thinking flexibly and exercising self-control. This skill starts when we are hours old. Brazelton proved with his studies that newborns can shut out noises and lights by regulating movement.

Think about how you might answer the question “what is life like today?”

Go ahead and write down two or three words.

Are they negative or positive?

How does this impact children?


#2 Perspective taking is seeing things as others would see them. It goes far beyond empathy; it involves figuring out what others think and feel, and forms the basis for our understanding of the people in our lives (i.e. parents, friends, co-workers) intentions. When we have the ability to take others’ perspectives, we are much less likely to get involved in conflicts. We teach this often with how we like to be treated. Understanding this about others can help us deal with difficult situations. This starts early also as Gopnick’s research shows toddlers understanding likes and dislikes of food and sharing what they understand you like.

7 Life Skills

#3 Communicating is more than understanding language, speaking, reading and writing. It is the skill of determining what we want to communicate and realizing how our communications will be understood by others. We communicate in many ways besides language including music, dance, and the visual arts. We are primed to communicate at birth, and this skill develops as we grow and learn.


#4 Making connections is the heart of learning. Figuring out what’s the same and what’s different, and sorting these things into categories. Making unusual connections is central to creativity.

Write down an animal that most represents yourself.

Is it a rabbit, dog, cat, lion, wolf, rat, turtle, horse, duck, swan, or eagle?

Why did you pick that?

What connections are you making with that animal that you sort yourself into that category?


#5 Critical thinking is the ongoing search for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decisions and actions.

There are six ingredients of the decision making process

  1. Identify the dilemma, problem or issue
  2. Determine the goal
  3. Come up with alternative solutions
  4. Consider how these alternative solutions might work
  5. Select a solution to try
  6. Evaluate the outcome and if the solution isn’t working try something else


#6 Taking on challenges is more than learning how to cope with stress. It means you think about experiences and events that may cause stress and work to deal with them positively. Beyond that, taking on challenges means that you learn how to deal PROACTIVELY with challenges; trying something that is hard, learning from mistakes, and not giving up. Figuratively it means getting back on a bike after you have fallen off and trying again. This is more than dealing with stress. You must reframe demands, get support, and then take action. This is the power of a mindset. The best advice I can give here is based on Carol Dweck’s research: Children that were praised for how smart they were in figuring out a set of puzzles didn’t want more challenging ones. The children who were praised for how hard they worked and the ability to focus wanted more challenges. So praise others for their life skills, not intelligence.


#7 Self-Directed learning is when we take responsibility and initiative for seeking knowledge and skills. It is through engaged learning that we keep a passion for learning in our own lives. Thus, it is through self-directed engaged learning that we realize our potential. As the world changes, so can we, for as long as we live – as long as we learn.

And learning is what it is all about…being a lifelong learner of life skills.


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