Getting to know how your child really thrives has so many benefits: boosting their self-confidence, connecting as a family, and making sure kids have opportunities to use their strengths being just a few.
It can be easier said than done to do this, though, especially because traditional schooling can sometimes present limited opportunities for all types of learners to shine.
When I was working on my master’s degree in education, one of my professors kicked off a seminar with an image that perfectly illustrates this point. It was a cartoon featuring a fish, a monkey, and a cheetah, and their teacher, a horse - if you were curious - and read these directions “Today’s test is simple: swim across that pond. You will be scored based on how fast you swim.”
Our professor used this as a jumping off point for a discussion about the importance of designing diverse learning opportunities so that all students can succeed.
The cartoon task obviously failed to do that: the fish would score the highest because it’s designed for swimming, but the tables would certainly turn if the task was to climb a tree or race across a field.
See what I’m getting at here? Or rather, what the professor wanted us to understand?
Every child is unique, and it’s important to keep that in mind to help them grow. As caring adults, we have to ask ourselves: how can we identify kids’ strengths and provide opportunities for those strengths to be nurtured?
Finding & Nurturing Your Child’s Strengths
As a parent, you probably have a good idea of these already—after all, you’re the expert on your child!
These strategies can help expand your knowledge of your child. Who knows? They may have developed new strengths or perhaps strengths that don’t organically get to be shown on a day to day basis.
At the very least, each of these suggestions doubles as an opportunity to talk with your child about some of their favorite things and for them to enjoy the benefits of encouragement: time well spent.
1. Keep an open mind
This may seem obvious, but since there are thousands of personal strengths out there, it’s important to think outside the box. By “box” here, I mean athletics, academics, the arts, and other areas that may naturally appear in your child’s routine.
Think about it; if your child has a talent or particular aptitude that doesn’t receive positive reinforcement over the course of a school day, what might happen?
It’s less likely to flourish, and by keeping an open mind to non “typical” strengths, you can make sure that doesn’t happen.
For ideas of these kinds of strengths, check out the many books and online resources on this topic. In this list, for instance, there are less commonly reinforced strengths like empathy, cooking skills, or just being curious about how things work.
Keep an open mind, and you might be surprised by how you’re able to incorporate your child’s strengths into their routine.
2. Plan an outing or activity as a family
I’m not a child psychologist or parenting expert, but having worked with children for most of my career, I think it’s safe to say that all kids have opinions about how they’d like to spend their free time. Those opinions will reveal a lot!
Granted, you may already know that your child would love to spend most of Saturday playing Roblox, riding their bike around the neighborhood, or enjoying whatever their preferred hobby of the moment is.
So, gently push their comfort zone here. Set aside a weekend day that the family will plan together. How and what your child takes an interest in will show off their interests or abilities. Maybe it’s a family hike, and they can photograph the outing, identify the plants and animals you’ll see along the way, or they can hold the map and navigate the adventure.
If it’s a success, you can keep building on that activity for future family fun. If not, chalk it up as a learning experience, and keep trying—you’re just one step closer to finding what works.
3. Ask questions
For younger kiddos, that might mean watching them play for a bit. See what they take an interest in, and ask them about what makes them think or create. Perhaps you could write or illustrate a story together, or build something awesome with LEGO; you can learn a lot along the way!
These questions can also encourage kids to take their interests to the next level. If they’re avid gamers, talking with your child about game design, strategy, or monetization can foster critical thinking and other skills.
Not sure what to ask your child? These open-ended questions will help get the ball rolling for kids of all ages.
Keep in mind that your child’s teachers, coaches, and other mentors will have valuable insights too.
Older students, who may value their time away from their parents more, can show much more than athletic ability on the field, right? Ask their coach about their interpersonal, leadership, or teamwork skills. In the next round of parent teacher conferences, ask some non-academic questions (you’d be surprised how much your child’s teacher will be able to tell you!).
Here are more points to discuss in your next parent-teacher conference.
4. Share ideas
For kids (and adults too, let’s be honest), sometimes inspiration can be a bit elusive. So, if none of the above does the trick, try engaging with some thought-provoking videos, articles, and movies together!
I’m a lifelong TED Talk fan, and there are some really excellent, inspirational talks crafted by and for kids that make for quick and discussion-ready viewing. Perhaps a documentary will help your child discover their passion for philanthropy, advocacy, or conservation.
Older kids might also enjoy taking a Meyers Briggs personality test with you and talking about the results and strength indicators. Resources like that can help kids identify their own strengths and self-care strategies recommended for their personality type, and might just spark an interest in psychology or neuroscience!
Share ideas with your child, and they might just have their own thoughts on how to improve upon what’s already out there.
Remember, growth > perfection!
As you deepen your understanding of your child’s strengths, keep in mind that perfection isn’t the end game.
But we can all, kids and grown-ups alike, work on growing our personal skills and finding the perfect outlets to use them. Try goal-setting as a next step for helping your child develop their passions and abilities. Then, remember to enjoy the journey of watching them grow!