Life Skills That Make a Difference

By Jonathan Cohen, Ph.D. and Eve Kessler, Esq.

At a Glance

Social, emotional, and ethical literacy may be more important than academic skills when it comes to achieving happiness and success • As a parent you can help your child develop competencies in those areas • Use your child’s evaluation as a tool to improve in areas other than academics


2.6.5 Life SkillsAs parents of children with LD or ADHD, we often focus on their academic challenges. Research shows, however, that how children use information to solve real-life problems, manage their daily lives, and what type of learner they are may be better indicators of success than their cognitive skills. Grades and SAT scores may impact a student’s ability to get into college, but they are poor predictors of happiness or professional success.

The real predictors of a child’s ability to learn, problem-solve, and interact successfully are his social, emotional, and ethical literacy—the same attributes that are the basis for adults to love, work, and participate in communities.

All modes of literacy are grounded in the ability to decode, whether it’s letters or situations involving a person’s tone of voice and facial expression. Being able to decode complex information allows children to be creative problem solvers, flexible learners, and good decision makers.

Problem Solving

Flexible problem solving is an important competency. As a parent, you are a powerful social, emotional, and ethical teacher and role model. Everyone has an array of strengths and challenges, and how you describe and discuss them is essential, both to yourself and to your child, who mimics your words and mirrors your actions.

In a given day, you make approximately 11,000 decisions. How you go about solving problems shapes your life. Each moment offers a chance to model creative or rigid problem-solving strategies and put them in perspective: was that solution helpful or did it cause more problems?

Children need to know that they are not the only ones who struggle or get stuck. How you talk about your problems and solutions can leave a profound impression on their developing minds.

The ways you think and feel about yourself shape your child’s abilities and the way he sees himself. The life of a person who engages in positive self-talk will be quite different from the life of someone whose inner dialogue is: “I am dumb; I am worthless.” Therefore, as well as promoting cognitive abilities, you must purposively support social, emotional, and ethical capabilities. It is those skills that provide the foundation for pleasure and meaning in life.

Teaching Tool

One way to help children gain these competencies is through the effective use of the psycho-educational evaluation and the writing of explicit goals. Evaluations should be used as an opportunity to develop knowledge—for your child, as well as for you and the school-based team.

As a springboard for discussions with your child, the evaluator should write an understandable, explanatory letter summarizing the reasons for the testing, his strengths, and his challenges. For a collaborative team meeting, the evaluation should serve as an in-depth snapshot of how your child is functioning at the time and what specific strategies are recommended.

You and your child’s teachers are able to discuss patterns of behavior seen over time. The team can then develop appropriate and explicit goals and benchmarks, and can agree on what strategies will be put in place and how all members of the team can best support your child. You will then be able to evaluate his progress in meeting those goals, just as he is evaluated in his progress toward meeting the goals set for reading, writing and ’rithmetic.

Promoting Other Literacies
  • Promote a climate for learning. Support environments and initiatives that foster feelings of social and emotional safety.
  • Learn from evaluations; teach from evaluations. Write explicit, helpful goals for your child, and make sure that they are addressed in school, at home, and across environments.
  • Be active learners and problem solvers with your child and his team.

Related Smart Kids Topics

Jonathan Cohen is Co-founder and President of the National School Climate Center. Eve Kessler, Esq., a criminal appellate attorney with The Legal Aid Society, NYC, is co-founder and President of SPED*NET, of Wilton, Ltd., and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids.