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Life skills are behaviors used appropriately and responsibly in the management of personal affairs. They are a set of human skills acquired via teaching or direct experience that are used to handle problems and questions commonly encountered in daily human life. The subject varies greatly depending on social norms and community expectations.
The UNICEF Evaluation Office suggests that "there is no definitive list" of psychosocial skills, nevertheless UNICEF enumerates many "psychosocial and interpersonal skills generally considered important". It asserts life skills are a synthesis: "many skills are used simultaneously in practice. For example, decision-making often involves critical over thinking ("what are my options?") and values clarification ("what is important to me?"), (How do I FEEL about this?"). Ultimately, the interplay between the skills is what produces powerful behavioural outcomes, especially where this approach is supported by other strategies
Life skills can vary from financial literacy, through substance-abuse prevention, to therapeutic techniques to deal with disabilities such as autism.
Life skills curricula designed for K-12 often emphasize communications and practical skills needed for successful independent living for developmental-disabilities/special-education students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Life skills are often taught in the domain of parenting, either indirectly through the observation and experience of the child, or directly with the purpose of teaching a specific skill. Yet skills for dealing with pregnancy and parenting can be considered and taught as a set of life skills of themselves. Teaching these parenting life skills can also coincide with additional life skills development of the child.
Many life skills programs are offered when traditional family structures and healthy relationships have broken down, whether due to parental lapses, divorce or due to issues with the children (such as substance abuse or other risky behavior). For example, the International Labor Organization is teaching life skills to ex-child laborers and risk children in Indonesia to help them avoid the worst forms of child labor.
While certain life skills programs focus on teaching the prevention of certain behaviors, they can be relatively ineffective. Based upon their research The Family and Youth Services Bureau, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advocates the theory of Positive Youth Development (PYD) as a replacement for the less effective prevention programs. PYD focuses on the strengths of an individual as opposed to the older methods which tend to focus on the "potential" weaknesses that have yet to be shown. The Family and Youth Services Bureau has found that individuals who developed life skills in a positive, rather than preventive, manner feel a greater sense of competence, usefulness, power, and belonging.
While there has been convergence on what the broad groups of core psychosocial skills might be, there is no definitive list or categorization of the skills involved and how they might relate to one another.