Here’s something I’ve learned in life: everyone is good at something. And no is good at everything! We all have giftings and strengths, and we all have weaknesses.
The same is true for your children. Just like everyone else in the human race, they aren’t good at everything. But they are good at something!
Maybe your child struggles in school or in social situations, but they’re great at running or putting things together. Rather than focusing on the things they don’t do well, understand that there is something they’re good at, and help them develop it.
I remember talking with a mom and dad one time after I taught a Parenting Seminar. They were distraught over their “lazy son who was smart but wouldn’t apply himself in school.” As I asked questions about his interests, they told me that all he wanted to do was (illegal) spray painting on buildings, which horrified them. They were quite surprised when I said, “Oh! He’s artistic!”
I could tell THAT idea hadn’t occurred to them. But as we talked, I encouraged them to help their son find an art school or other outlet for his creative abilities. Later they reported to me that he was flourishing in a graphic arts program. They had stopped trying to make him like school, and instead began nurturing his gift.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, a kid has to go to school, even if it’s not their best thing. And we have to help them do their best at it. But as parents, it’s also part of our job to help them discover what they’re good at, and guide them along those lines. It does wonders for their self-image, and also has a lot to do with their divine destiny.
When strengths are combined with interests, children become passionate about learning! Here’s some help with identifying your child’s gifts (for further study, check out “Your Child’s Strengths” by Jennifer Fox, M.Ed. at http://www.amazon.com/Your-Childs-Strengths-Discover-Develop/dp/0670018767 ):
- Watch Them Play
This will show you a lot about what they prefer, how they socialize, and how they see themselves. Be sure to provide the time and space for unstructured, creative play. Nothing encourages your child’s cognitive and emotional growth more than playing.
- Look for Their Unique Qualities
Little quirks can be clues to strengths. Maybe your daughter demands that you use a certain purse over and over – that could signal her awareness of design. What may initially look like showing off could be an early sign of your child’s strength for entertaining. Sometimes the most unusual things signal the areas of deepest strength.
- Write It Down
Keep a journal of the things your child does—anything that strikes you about his behavior. For example: What makes him happy? What keeps his attention the longest? Are there sounds or words he reacts to more than others? What’s the first thing he says in the morning and the last thing he says at night? Is he generous or funny? Write down examples of what he does. Years later, your child can read the journal for clues to his inner strengths.
- Create Traditions
Family traditions are meaningful, and when children have an active role in creating them, it helps identify what makes them feel good about themselves. Some examples: after your Fourth of July get-together, each family member could place a rock with their name on it in the garden, a symbol of stability and permanence. Or you could go outside to watch the sunset together and take turns saying what you were grateful for that day.
- Be a Good Listener
Children know their strengths better than anyone, but to get them to communicate you need to listen effectively. Ask questions, be interested in their perspective. For every answer you get, follow up with another question, asking "Why do you think that?" If a child tells you he no longer wants to play soccer, rather than tell him why he should continue, say, "I hear you saying soccer no longer interests you--can you tell me why?"
- Resist the Urge to Evaluate
While most parents want their children to succeed, sometimes they unintentionally burden children by evaluating everything they do. When your child shows you a picture he drew, instead of saying that it’s good, ask him what he likes best about drawing. Too much praise or too much criticism makes children worry about how well they are doing, and this stifles their ability to take risks. They need to feel like they can experiment and that failing is sometimes just part of the journey toward discovering what they love to do most.
- Help Them Identify Interests
Strengths are the positive feelings that children have when they do different things. Interests are the areas where they apply their strengths. For example, a child may have an interest in animals – but one may like to care for them while another enjoys training them. The strength for one child is caring, and for the other it is teaching. When you help children discover their strengths and their interests, they have a good chance of developing a true passion.
- Try Not to Compare
There is nothing more detrimental to children’s ability to discover their strengths than feeling that they are constantly being compared to a “perfect” sibling. Every child is different and unique. Celebrate the differences, don’t compare them. If you truly want your children to develop their strengths, they must feel “good enough.”
- Offer Choices
When your children are helping around the house, use it as an opportunity to discover their passions. Let them choose from the jobs that need doing. At school, encourage them to choose from a variety of things to do. If they're into music, let them choose the instrument that appeals to them. Support their choices even if they aren’t what you would pick. Let them find their own paths.
For help getting a vision for your child’s life and surrounding them with faith, check out Karen’s 31-day devotional “Parenting With a Purpose Every Day.”