7 Key Ways Families Can Promoting Life Skills for Students

Empowering High School Students: Building Life Skills for Students with SEL Activities

Discover why families matter in building life skills for students in our recent blog post.

By Megan Okrand, contributing writer

One of the moments I hold dearest as a high school teacher didn’t unfold within the classroom’s four walls; it played out in the great outdoors, on a campsite. It was the last day of a senior trip that I had agreed to chaperone. For months, my students had gleefully teased me about the potential chaos they’d unleash under my watch. Little did they know, the reality would be a tad more surprising.

Throughout our week at the campsite, these supposedly mischievous students surprised us chaperones. They ensured everyone was up and ready for meals with military precision, communicated effectively about their activity preferences, and made sure everyone’s whims and wishes were accommodated. As the trip reached its final day, we had something special in store — something that would leave a lasting impression.

Our group, chaperones and students alike, formed a circle, and we began passing a string from one person to the next. As the string traversed the circle, we shared cherished memories of the trip and expressed our profound gratitude for one another. What had begun as a simple string had evolved into a complex web of respect, recognition, and heartfelt acknowledgment. 

A group of teenagers form a circle and put arms around each other shoulders after a camp activity.
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Here’s the thing — this ability to connect and support each other wasn’t some miraculous overnight transformation that could only happen out in the “wilderness” of a campground. No, these teens had spent a year in a class all about building life skills for students, diligently honing their social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. And the culmination of their efforts? Well, it’s still hailed as the stuff of legend — the most epic senior trip they could imagine.

High school is a period of self-discovery, dreams, and a world of ‘what-ifs.’ As high school students navigate this crucial chapter, they need more than just academic knowledge. But this is the twist: it’s not just about what happens within school walls (or campgrounds); it’s also about what takes place at home

Learn more about ParentPowered's high school family engagement curriculum!

Understanding life skills for students

So, what exactly is social emotional learning, what does it have to do with life skills, and why does it matter in high school? 

Social-emotional learning serves as the bridge to essential life skills for students, providing them with the emotional intelligence required to manage stress, make informed decisions, and navigate the complexities of their emotional world. It forms the solid foundation upon which high school students can construct their future success, encompassing both academic and personal aspects of their lives. 

At its core are five essential competencies

  1. Self-awareness: This is the journey within, where students discover their emotions, strengths, and areas for growth. 
  2. Self-management: SEL equips students with the tools to regulate their emotions, control impulses, and set meaningful goals. 
  3. Social awareness: Beyond selfies and social media, social awareness teaches students to embrace diversity, practice empathy, and understand different perspectives.
  4. Relationship skills: Effective communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution are essential in high school and beyond. SEL provides the toolkit for building and nurturing positive relationships.
  5. Responsible decision-making: This competency involves making ethical and constructive choices. It’s about thinking before acting, and considering the consequences of one’s actions.

In high school, where the pressure to fit in and perform academically can be overwhelming, SEL is a tool kit. It provides students with the emotional intelligence required to manage stress, handle peer pressure, and make informed decisions, preparing them for the challenges that lie ahead. 

As we delve deeper into the different facets of social emotional learning, you’ll discover practical ways to nurture these competencies, both within the classroom and within the loving embrace of family.

Life skills and activities for student success

While these core competencies serve as the umbrella that covers social-emotional skills, it’s important to recognize that high school students have unique needs and challenges. Their journey toward self-discovery, responsible decision-making, and healthy relationships takes place in a context filled with academic pressures, identity formation, and peer dynamics. Therefore, tailoring SEL and life skills to the high school setting involves honing in on the facets that are particularly relevant to this age group. 

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The transition to adulthood

Transitioning to adulthood can be daunting, but with the right life skills, high school students can navigate this journey with confidence. Life skills for students empower them to set meaningful goals, manage their time effectively, and create space for relaxation. These skills, when imparted by schools and nurtured within families, become the cornerstone of a successful and fulfilling adult life. 

To embrace the opportunity to nurture these skills, schools can consider focusing on the following topics: 

Time Management

Providing workshops and resources on time management can offer valuable support for students looking to enhance their schedule organization. In addition, educators have the opportunity to incorporate helpful time management tools and techniques into classroom activities. Encouraging open discussions on time management within families can be beneficial so that parents can help guide their teens in the direction of effective time management.

Goal Setting

Consider guiding students in setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) goals. This helps students focus their efforts and measure their progress. It is also beneficial to set academic goals tailored to individual students’ needs and strengths.

Multi-ethnic friends graduating highs school together, in cap and gown

To support progress, check-ins and adjustments can help students stay on track. Include students in parent-teacher conferences by inviting them to participate in discussions about their goals alongside their families.

Downtime Exploration

Highlighting the significance of downtime is a great way to encourage families to consider incorporating leisure activities, hobbies, and relaxation time into their routines, which can contribute to nurturing a healthy work-life balance.

Social awareness

In the context of SEL, social awareness is the ability to perceive and comprehend the feelings, needs, and concerns of others. It isn’t just a nice-to-have skill; it’s a vital asset for high school students. 

Studies have shown that students who possess strong social awareness are more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as helping others and resolving conflicts peacefully; excel academically; and exhibit better behavior in school. Moreover, as they grow into adults, individuals with well-developed social awareness are better equipped to build positive relationships, collaborate effectively, and contribute meaningfully to their communities and workplaces. Below are some strategies to foster social awareness in students:

Volunteer Work

To instill a sense of social responsibility, schools can organize volunteer events, like community clean-ups. They can also collaborate with local organizations to create family-friendly service projects, such as packaging meals for those in need. 

News and Current Events

Consider sharing news articles that may be suitable for your students with families, inviting them to engage in discussions about current events and their potential impact. Another idea is to encourage families to watch the news together, which can help facilitate open conversations about global issues and their significance.

Guest Speakers

Inviting guest speakers from diverse backgrounds to share their experiences and perspectives not only introduces a variety of cultures but also fosters a sense of representation within the school community. Make sure to broadcast these speakers online so families who are unable to attend in person can still participate! 

College and Career Exploration

Encourage parents to collaborate in career planning for high school students and helping teens explore other educational options like universities and study abroad, broadening their horizons. For families with diverse goals, joint discussions about volunteering and apprenticeships within the community foster practical skills and social awareness, enhancing understanding of societal needs. And stay tuned, because ParentPowered is launching a high school curriculum framework that incorporates college and career readiness to help with just that!

Sample ParentPowered message for high school families about college and career readiness life skills for students.

Responsible decision making

Responsible decision-making is a crucial skill for high school students as they navigate a world filled with choices. It involves considering the consequences of their actions and making choices that align with their values and goals. 

Fortunately, responsible decision-making doesn’t have to be dull or daunting. Here are ways families and schools can make it engaging and enjoyable while instilling this skill in their students: 

Budgeting and Financial Decision Lesson Plans

Incorporating financial literacy into the school curriculum can be a valuable way to empower students with skills in responsible spending and budgeting. Encouraging students to create personal budgets, and involving parents in these activities, can reinforce financial responsibility. 

Community Resources

Offering ways to connect families to community resources linked to responsible decision-making can be a valuable support. Consider including in your list local workshops, counseling services, or accessible online platforms geared towards offering guidance and support for teenagers. To ensure all families benefit, make sure that these resources are available in multiple languages. It might also be beneficial to encourage parents and caregivers to seek external support when needed. 

Peer Mentorship Programs

Consider implementing peer mentorship programs where older students can guide younger ones, emphasizing the significance of responsible decision-making. This approach can also be quite effective in promoting a positive learning environment. 

A teenage boy sitting behind the steering wheel of a car and listening to his fathers instructions as he drives.

Student-Led Decision-Making Activities

Encourage students to play an active role in decision-making activities. Consider arranging events, like student-led town hall meetings for the entire school community, where they can engage in discussions about school-related decisions and offer potential solutions. Engaging in these hands-on experiences can be a valuable way for them to develop and enhance their decision-making skills.

Parent-Teen Discussions Starters

Offering parents conversation starters and a variety of resources related to decision-making topics, such as family values and consent, can be quite helpful. These resources may include articles, videos, or books aimed to assist parents in initiating constructive discussions with their teens about responsible choices, all while respecting their autonomy. Building trust is crucial in this process, and listening to their teens’ perspectives and concerns is an essential first step. ParentPowered makes these conversations more accessible by sending texts directly to families with tips, ensuring that support is readily available when it’s needed most.

Download our communication resource for teens and parents to build active listening skills!

Healthy relationships

Navigating the social landscape of high school can be challenging, and that’s why fostering positive relationships is crucial. Healthy relationships play a vital role in a high school student’s life, nurturing emotional well-being and promoting positive behaviors. These relationships encompass not only friendships but also extend to romantic relationships, family dynamics, and interactions with peers.

Studies have uncovered the immense benefits of nurturing these healthy connections. Students who engage in positive relationships experience reduced stress levels, improved academic performance, and higher self-esteem. Moreover, they are better equipped to handle challenging situations and have a more positive outlook on life.

Schools can play a pivotal role in promoting healthy relationships among students and their families, contributing to their overall well-being. Here are some practical ways to incorporate family engagement in this endeavor:

Modeling Healthy Relationships

Consider encouraging parents to model healthy relationships at home, and to share their experiences and insights into maintaining healthy friendships and romantic relationships. Hearing real-life stories, gaining trust, and leading by example can be immensely beneficial for high school students.

Affinity Groups

Schools can organize affinity groups to help students find community among a shared social identity. Consider inviting parents to lead or participate in such affinity groups within the school. These groups provide a safe space for students and parents to share common interests, concerns, and build strong relationships. 

Two teenage friends are running together through the park.

Active Listening

Empowering families with ideas for using interpersonal skills like active listening, finding common ground, and showing genuine interest in others’ perspectives can make a world of difference.

Clubs and Extracurriculars

To encourage students to find things in common with their peers and take an interest in others, schools may consider creating clubs or extracurricular activities. Parent encouragement can involve attending or supporting events associated with the club or activity as well as discussing the experiences afterward, fostering a deeper connection and a shared commitment to interpersonal growth.

Growth mindset

Popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck, the growth mindset is a powerful concept that high school students can embrace to foster personal development and resilience. With a growth mindset, students recognize that their capacities are not fixed, but can be developed over time. 

This mindset encourages students to view challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth rather than as failures. It empowers them to persevere and continue striving for success. Let’s dive into how schools can empower students with this mindset and bring families on board to supercharge its impact at home:

Reframe Failure

Schools can encourage parents to turn their students’ setbacks into stepping stones. Instead of fixating on low test scores, initiate a discussion on how to improve next time. Celebrate progress, no matter how small, and emphasize that growth emerges from learning experiences. It can be as simple as reminding parents to share something positive about their teen with their teen! 

Parent Teacher Conferences with a Twist

Consider shifting the focus of  parent-teacher conferences beyond just grades to encompass students’ effort, progress, and strategies for future success. Encourage parents to ask questions like, “How can we help our child improve in this subject?

Get Familiar With “Yet”

Teach students and families to add “yet” to their statements, such as “I can’t do this math problem… yet.” This simple word can transform their mindset, promoting positive self talk and continuous growth. 

Sample ParentPowered message for high school families about building problem-solving skills.


Encourage families to have reflective discussions during meal time.  Ask questions like, “What’s something challenging you faced today? How did you approach it, and what did you learn?”

Conflict resolution and problem solving

Imagine a world without the ability to resolve conflicts or find solutions to everyday problems— chaos! Conflict resolution helps students learn how to manage disagreements peacefully, fostering healthy relationships. Problem-solving, in parallel, empowers them to overcome obstacles and make informed decisions.

This dynamic duo of life skills for students is essential because they equip individuals with the ability to tackle problems head-on, whether they’re facing a heated argument with a friend or dealing with a complex math equation. Here are ways to incorporate these skills into both the school and family environments to ensure students develop them effectively: 

Family Discussions

Schools can promote open family discussions as a means to resolve conflicts through dialogue, with parents leading by example in effective communication and conflict resolution techniques. It’s beneficial to encourage a shift towards finding creative solutions together, all while grasping the difference between intentions and their impact.

An African-American mother and her teen daughter give each other high-fives as they smile at home.

It also might be helpful to promote active listening as a fundamental skill and stress the importance of offering apologies when warranted. Lastly, recognizing the underlying needs behind conflicts can lead to more efficient and empathetic resolutions.

Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is a transformative approach that enhances conflict resolution and problem-solving skills in students. It emphasizes empathy, communication, and accountability, providing a structured process to address conflicts and repair harm. Implementing restorative justice circles can allow students to discuss and resolve conflicts in a structured, supportive environment. These circles promote accountability and empathy. To lay a strong foundation before implementing restorative justice practices at home, it’s valuable to begin by sharing information with parents and caregivers. This can include insights into best practices, emphasizing the significance of building caregiver trust and understanding of such programs

Communication with Teachers

Regular communication with teachers helps students become better at tackling conflicts and solving problems. As they mature, encouraging self-advocacy enables students to interact with teachers independently. For instance, if a student doesn’t grasp an assignment, they can initiate a conversation with their teacher to seek clarification and resolve any uncertainties.

Mindfulness Practices

Integrating mindfulness and relaxation techniques into the curriculum can help students manage stress and approach problems with a clear and focused mind. Ensure that families also have access to these practices, promoting their use at home to further support students’ well-being and emotional development.

Emotional well being and mental health

Emotional well being forms the bedrock of supporting student mental health, guiding high school students through the twists and turns of adolescence. Studies affirm that students fortified with emotional resilience excel academically and socially.  

Self care and emotional well being doesn’t always require grand gestures; it’s often the little things that make the biggest difference. Let’s explore practical strategies that schools can employ to nurture emotional well-being, offering a reassuring hand to families on this essential path:

Emotional Learning Resources

Consider utilizing various resources such as emotion wheels, handouts for active listening skills, books, and slide decks to educate students about recognizing and expressing their feelings. Encourage families to explore these resources together to enhance emotional awareness. At ParentPowered, our high school curriculum framework emphasizes life skills for well-being, with a particular focus on mental health and resilience, by providing parents and caregivers with helpful facts and tips via text message.

Beneficial Exercises and Breathing Techniques

Incorporating practices like box breathing and the 5-4-3-2-1 sensory activity into daily routines at school encourages students to incorporate calming techniques.  Share these exercises with families so they can engage in these activities together at home. This not only promotes emotional well-being but also strengthens family bonds.

Acceptance of Negative Emotions

It’s helpful to teach students that experiencing negative emotions is a normal part of life. Schools can encourage open conversations about these feelings in the classroom. Families can mirror this approach by creating a safe space at home where their children feel comfortable sharing their emotions.

A mature black mother hugs her stressed teen daughter as they sit on the couch together.

Professional Help

Sometimes a problem can be too big to navigate alone — and that’s okay! Schools can provide resources about where families can access therapy or counseling. Let students know about trusted adults at school like counselors. This not only resolves conflicts but also strengthens self-advocacy skills by teaching students that it’s perfectly okay to ask for help when needed. 

Suicidal Ideation Discussions

Schools should make sure to handle sensitive topics like suicidal ideation with care. Provide parents with resources and guidance on how to broach this subject with their children. Ensure that families are aware of support systems, hotlines, and professional help available if needed.

Regular Family Check-Ins

Schools can organize family check-in sessions to discuss emotional well-being and coping strategies. This creates a strong connection between home and school, ensuring that students receive consistent support.

Creating a supportive learning environment and consistency

Social-emotional learning and essential life skills for students aren’t confined to the classroom (or even a senior trip) but seamlessly flow between school and home. That’s where the magic happens! 

Creating a supportive learning environment isn’t merely about having a warm and welcoming space; it’s about forging an environment where students feel safe, valued, and encouraged to delve into the depths of their emotions and personal growth on and off campus. And for this, consistency is key. 

Discover how our evidence-based family engagement programs can help you nurture the emotional intelligence and life skills readiness high school students need, making their educational journey an enriching and holistic experience.

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About the author

Megan Okrand is a former High School History teacher turned writer taking her passion for education outside of the classroom and into the World Wide Web. Megan holds a master’s degree in secondary education and teaching from the University of Southern California as well as a master’s degree in art history, criticism, and conservation from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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