The results of a Duke University study confirmed what we at NCADA already know to be true: learning so-called “soft” skills is essential to the development of a healthy child.
It is a misnomer to call these “soft” skills, because it diminishes their importance. These are essential life skills like anger management, healthy decision-making, empathy, goal-setting, and developing friendships. Calling them “soft” implies that they less important or less significant than other skills. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s face it: life stinks sometimes. There are days when loneliness, boredom, rejection, fear, and anger make getting out of bed or putting one foot in front of the other feel impossible. And, unfortunately, research tells us that all too often a person is likely to manage these feelings by self-medicating with alcohol, marijuana or other drugs. A person with strong life skills, however, is better equipped to “bounce back” from these difficult times because they self-motivate, manage their anger appropriately, seek advice from trusted friends and peers, and can solve problems peacefully. Yes, this resilience often takes time, but it happens because of the skills that were taught early and reinforced throughout their adolescence.
At NCADA, we provide a dozen school-based programs that develop these life, or resiliency, skills in elementary-aged children. Our programs are four-lesson series, delivered in the classroom. They build on one another grade level to grade level, developing and reinforcing the same skills year after year with more sophisticated examples and age appropriate materials. Reinforcement and re-teaching is critical because life gets more complicated with each year that passes.
Life skills are critical to a young person’s healthy development because they protect them when life gets hard. The tools to deal with life’s hardships are essential, but they most definitely are not soft.
Nichole Dawsey is the Director of School-based Prevention at NCADA – St. Louis.