Parenting a child with learning and attention issues often involves focusing on issues of remediation or accommodation. Basically, how to make things better. Or, how to cope with or manage certain situations. This is a problem-oriented way of thinking. And there’s certainly value in that. To the extent problems can be solved, they should be solved. But, focusing on perceived problem areas shouldn’t be the beginning, middle and end of defining someone’s life. Indeed, focusing on your child’s perceived areas of weakness can create its own problems. This type of attention can make them feel demoralized and decrease their motivation to try. We also need to seek out and cultivate the good stuff that’s already right there, even if you don’t see it yet. A child’s strengths, interests and talents can build the foundation for a productive and joyful life. And, focusing on and cultivating your child’s strengths will help build self-esteem. Something that often takes many hits for a child with learning and attention issues.
Focus on What Are Your Child’s StrengthsSometimes it can be quite a challenge to identify your child’s positive qualities. It’s often easier to see the negative before the positive. Plus, our society narrowly defines strengths. This can lead many kids with ADHD and/or other learning and attention issues to feel like they don’t have any strengths. To help your child achieve his or full potential, you must learn to identify and support his abilities — many of which may be hidden, which can make this task hard. For instance, it’s easy to see the negative in attention seeking behavior. The reckless class clown who makes all kinds of silly noises on the playground, demands that other kids “look at me” when he hangs upside down on the monkey bars. But there can be some positives buried there too. One of the potential strengths of a class clown is that he influences others. This is a quality of a leader. Instead of thinking about what doesn’t work, focus on what is right. Shifting the spotlight into areas where a child shines can brings about dramatic improvements in motivation and behavior.
What Are Strengths?The concept of strengths can be a tad squishy. Essentially they are skills, abilities or talents that are personal to an individual that have some potential value in the world. Depending on context, the concept of strengths can span many different categories. Spanning the realms of the emotional, intellectual, physical and more. According to career-oriented sites like Monster.com, employers seek strengths such as enthusiasm, trustworthiness, creativity, discipline, patience, respectfulness, determination, dedication. In the intellectual realm, schools and colleges may focus on strengths such as attention to detail, creativity, critical thinking, enthusiasm, problem-solving, visualization, perseverance, flexibility. And then we also have the traditional character strengths of honesty, kindness, being helpful, empathy, loyalty, hard worker, resilient, independent. According to strength-based psychologists, strengths are things that you are good at doing or could be good at doing, that you enjoy doing (energize you), and that can benefit or contribute to something beyond yourself.
What Are Some Examples of Strengths?You can find many different versions of a list of strengths. But generally speaking, strengths are often evaluated in different categories or buckets. Personal, emotional, social, physical, intellectual/academic, and creative or artistic. The social/emotional bucket generates qualities such as belonging, friendship, kindness, curiosity, confidence, courage, hope, happiness, independence, resiliency, compassion, playfulness, delayed gratification, spirituality. The personal bucket generates traits such as optimism, generosity, energy, empathy, honesty, organization, planning, communication, memory, curiosity, powers of observation, listening, leadership and charisma.
How To Identify StrengthsStrengths are a combination of talents, knowledge and skills. According to Dr. Donald Clifton, dubbed the Father of Strength Based Psychology by the American Psychological Association, “talent naturally resides within you, while skills and knowledge must be acquired.” So start the search for potential strengths by looking for areas of natural talent. And “talents” can cover a wide range of activities, not just the kind of talents you would see in a talent show. Being able to connect with people quickly is a talent. The tendency to be undaunted by obvious risks. Organizing and planning complex activities with ease. Communicating ideas in an understandable way. Being able to motivate, influence and lead others can each be an independent talent. So, how can you recognize your child’s strengths? Here are some sources for potential clues.
How Do I Know My Child’s Strengths?What’s considered a strength can vary across context and setting. Familiarize yourself with both some common and uncommon strength areas, then launch your investigation. Here’s a roadmap to potential strength areas:
- Natural attractions & affinity – Activities or experiences that your child gravitates to without prompting or is eager to engage. So, for instance, if he sees that someone needs help does he automatically offer assistance without prompting. Or, when it’s time for a group project, is she always the one who jumps in to coordinate or moderate?
- Natural learner – Are there activities where your kid seems to pick up things very quickly and with ease. Such as chess, or musicals.
- Epic joy – Moments when your child has boundless enthusiasm. Activities that he is always excited to do.
- Limitless attention – Activities that are so engrossing that time ceases to exist – at least to him. Some kids with ADHD may experience the phenomenon of hyperfocus. The repeated object of hyperfocus could be clue to a potential strength area.
Ask Others Who Know Your Child WellGather information about your child’s strengths from his or her teachers, other parents, and relatives. Hearing from others what your child’s strengths are can be an eye-opening experience. They might see or observe things that you miss.
Ask Your ChildYour child may have his or her own idea of what their strength areas are. Depending on the age and self-awareness of your child, this may or may not track with reality. But, at the very least, it gives you a starting point for investigation. If your child doesn’t really have the ability to answer questions like that, there are other concrete questions that you can ask that will lead to helpful information. Such as: “What did you do that went well today?” A response to a question like that can yield lots of insight into potential strength areas. So, for instance, perhaps your child was pleased that he was finally able to figure out something in math that he didn’t understand when he asked his teacher for help; or perhaps she was pleased that she got to pick the game or toy or story during social circle and all the other kids loved it. These responses in context could suggest strength areas of perseverance, assertiveness, communication or empathy.
Examine Your Own WeaknessesYour child could excel at something that you are terrible or which you hate or dislike. Avoid projecting your likes, dislikes and skill sets on your child. Consider whether your own biases/preferences are blocking him from reaching the heights of his natural abilities and interests.
Look For Hidden StrengthsSometimes the path to identifying a child’s strengths is by examining perceived weaknesses/problem areas. This could be a potential strength that is being expressed in a negative manner but that could be re-directed/channeled in a positive manner. The weakness could be the extreme version of a positive strength that needs some moderation.
- The child who is obstinate, constantly argues, badgers and harps — deep well of determination
- The child who is bossy and dominating — confidence or leadership
- Glass half empty, negative and critical — analytical, observant
Keep a Strength JournalIf you are having trouble identifying or keeping track of your child’s strengths, consider a strength journal or diary to jot down observations that you make. Taking note of your child’s daily activities can help you observe strengths. Some of the things that you can put in a strength journal include:
- What things does your child enjoy doing every day?
- When given a choice, what does your child choose?
- How does she spend her free time?
- Is she kind to others? How does she express this?
- Does he stay focused on painting or drawing for long periods of time?