Encouraging and Developing Strengths in Our Children
Is your child strong? I don’t mean lifting weights, crushing cinder-blocks strong. Strength, when it is defined in terms of muscular power, doesn’t really reflect all that it represents. Jenifer Fox, in her book Your Child’s Strengths – Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them, says that “children’s innate strengths are like live wires connecting their unique inner qualities to their promise as adults.”
How Can My Child Be Strong?
Fox writes of the seemingly endless possibilities of strengths for which children possess the potential to harness, but that they unfortunately often create what she refers to as an unintentional world of limits. If we as parents want to help our kids get rid of those limits, we have to first come to understand all of the different types of strengths our kids might carry – and according to Fox – there are three types of strengths our kids can develop.
The Three Types of Strengths
Activity Strengths – Your child is good at this and enjoys doing this activity. These two criteria both need to exist (our kids might be good at making their beds, but it doesn’t mean they enjoy it). When I consider my own children, I can see how they each have their own activity strengths, such as creating with LEGOs, playing sports, drawing, and engineering small models.
Learning Strengths – These types of strengths fascinate me – which is probably one of the reasons why I love learning with my kids so much. They all have their own unique learning strengths, which means they all have the propensity to learn through different forms of intelligence (verbal, logical/mathematical, visual, kinesthetic, rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist).
Relationship Strengths – These strengths relate to our closest family and friends, as well as the people we spend just minutes with in the grocery store or at the bank. When your child develops relationships strengths, she learns how to do things for others that in turn makes her feel good about the relationship. Characteristics of loyalty, consideration, honesty, dependability, thankfulness, graciousness, and empathy are just some of the examples that build relationship strengths.
How Can I Help My Child Build Strengths?
We want our kids to be strong enough to rule the world, yet self-assured enough to know if they even want that job. When it comes to helping our children develop and build their strengths, we have to first help them assess where they are – without artificial inflations.
Ask lots of questions. If we want our children to develop their strengths, they have to learn to find them on their own, because true strengths are things our children love and we can’t force those. Ask your kids what they like – colors, books, games, and after school activities. Not only will the answers to their questions help you learn more about your kids, but when your children are asked these questions it gives them reason to reflect on their own preferences.
Listen to your children. When your kids answer your questions, listen for their passions, but also be in tune to what frustrates them or leaves them feeling less than grand. Sometimes there is more power in understanding what doesn’t make us tick than there is in focusing on all of the good. Their answers to questions and their opinions about things might help you better understand their learning styles as well, which is important to understanding their learning strengths.
Give them a minute to pause. Sometimes one of the things our kids are missing most is time to reflect. They are hurried from one activity to the next, and they don’t always have time to truly consider how they feel about or value a certain activity or situation. Make sure you routinely schedule in time for your kids to pause throughout the day – even teaching them how to meditate, pray, do yoga, deep breathing exercises, or any other quiet activity that will help them calm themselves and let them think and feel for themselves.
Pay attention. I learn so much from watching my children each day, and parents can sometimes easily see things before our kids are mature enough to understand their significances. Long before my son was old enough to consciously understand it himself, I could see that he was a kinesthetic learner – which is one of his biggest strengths. Instead of it inhibiting his progress, he has found ways to build on his natural inclinations. He has also had to learn through trial and error when moving and learning just aren’t always possible. Watch those clues your kids give you – they will help both of you build natural strengths.
Developing Strengths in Children
My sons love to exercise with their dad – testosterone laden grunts and groans emerge from the basement as they bench press, do pull-ups, and a myriad of other exercises to build muscles – and this is wonderful for strengthening their bodies and their father-son bonds. Building other strengths in our children is just as important, but not as easily done.
- Remember that just because your child is good at it doesn’t make it a strength.
- Check out some of Fox’s exercises for building strengths – her book includes chapters at the back for parents and teachers to use with kids.
- Focus on strengths, because often in strengths we find ways to overcome weaknesses.
- Reiterate the qualities of relationship strengths by modeling good relationships and teaching empathy – and don’t forget to incorporate volunteering in some way.
- Never punish for shortcomings – it lowers self-esteem and motivation and increases anxiety.
- Help create situations where your kids can build on their strengths (and remember that they need to be their strengths). As the mom to 3 sons I am always amazed at how varied their strengths are, and I have to keep conscious of ways to provide opportunities for all of them to build on these. In their strengths kids will find their passions, and when they are passionate they will be healthier, stronger, and more fulfilled.