It’s the last week of school for my kids, and if you’re anything like us, you’re running on fumes and fast food right about now. We’re all exhausted and crawling across the finish line, hopeful that summer will provide much needed rest for our family.
Just like the personal reflection that comes with the New Year, or the excitement and anticipation of a new school year, there is something powerful about the change of seasons, and summer is no exception.
Whether you’re working outside or inside the home this summer, this season typically allows for more time to focus on important family relationships. It’s an opportunity to slow down and invest in one another.
In fact, that’s my goal for this summer – to intentionally invest in my children. More specifically, I want to help them understand and develop their own talents. And if you’re a parent or guardian, that’s my challenge to you as well.
What is Strengths-Based Parenting?
It’s so easy to focus on our kids’ weaknesses. We worry that their areas of vulnerability will hold them back or cause them to not be “well rounded.” Sometimes these are legitimate worries, but all-too-often we are prone to overcorrecting in this area and ignoring the areas of talent in our children. I was challenged several years ago when I read a book titled, “Strengths Based Parenting” that posed the questions:
“So ask yourself, on an average day, how much time do your children devote to honing their talents? And how much time do they spend deep in the weeds of their weaknesses, trying to work on or fix them?”
It hit me hard because I was really guilty of focusing on their weaknesses. I meant it for good, of course, but I needed to learn that there was a much better way to equip them to succeed. Learning about Strengths-Based Parenting helped me focus on identifying and understanding what my kids were naturally good at and where they thrive – instead of focusing on their weaknesses.
This doesn’t mean we ignore weaknesses. It doesn’t mean we don’t provide opportunities for our kids to improve in areas of vulnerability. It means that we choose to spend more time developing their natural talents than we do trying to fix weaknesses. It means that we need to get creative and strategic about how we can coach our kids to use their talents to manage around weaknesses.
This approach has been life-changing for me as I strive to shepherd and teach my children. My husband and I aren’t perfect parents by any stretch, and we mess this up all the time, but here’s a snapshot of what this has looked like for us in the past few years:
Our oldest son, Isaac (10), is a very quick learner and loves to collect facts and information about many topics. When he was 5 years old, while watching a tv show with him, we discovered that he had memorized a ton of facts about U.S. Presidents. He had read one book on the subject and was basically an expert. He’s always asked a lot of “why” questions and isn’t satisfied with a surface-level answer, which has sometimes been very frustrating as his mom! But I know that these patterns of thinking are evidence of his talents and giftings. His ability to synthesize information quickly and make connections between different ideas and concepts will serve him well as he grows and matures. We try to give him lots of learning opportunities and experiences, and we’ve invested in many reading materials for him because he devours books. We like to engage him in debates, and though I’ve regretted it a time or two, I’ve taught him how to build an argument and prepare a rebuttal for an argument. He eats it up and then uses it against us later!
Our middle son, Eli (8), loses all track of time when he’s playing with his toys in the playroom. I love to watch him (without him knowing it, of course!), because he has an exceptional imagination. He’s creative and focused, always thinking about what comes next in the story he’s writing in his head. He’s an introvert and needs his alone time or he starts to feel stressed and overwhelmed. He’s empathetic and very sensitive to his own emotions and to the emotions of others. He talks about his feelings openly and honestly, which gives me confidence that he’s going to use these talents to connect deeply with others throughout his life. More than my other two kids, Eli needs a lot of focused one-on-one time with us. I spend a lot of time talking to him about “feeling words” so he can build a vocabulary to help himself and others process emotions. Because he loves to use his imagination, we invest in toys and games that engage this part of his brain.
Our youngest daughter, Abby (4), is the life of the party. She makes everyone feel like they are the most important person in the room. She loves to make new friends, win others over, and tell stories that captivate audiences. She’s very curious about people and their relationships to one another and she already has the ability to give a gift that reflects the unique interests and passions of the recipient. She has a desire to teach and lead others, which can get her in trouble from time to time! We try to provide Abby with opportunities to present to audiences, whether it’s recording and posting a video of her “teaching” yoga or letting her perform a speech to me so I can give her feedback on her eye contact and gestures. That is a real thing we do. Because she has a lot of presence and likes to assert herself, we intentionally do not use words like “bossy” to describe her because we believe that as she grows, she can mature and refine this natural talent to be a phenomenal leader and inspire others to action.
It bears repeating. We do not do this perfectly. But we do try to consistently bring ourselves back to the place of playing to their strengths instead of to their weaknesses.
This summer, give it a shot! Here are some practical ways you can begin this process in your own family.
1. Be Curious About Your Child
Imagine yourself as a researcher, observing your child in a variety of contexts and then analyzing the data. Watch and listen for patterns. Consider taking notes or journaling about what you observe so that you can use those insights to guide your parenting methods. The more frequently you see the same pattern of thinking, feeling, or behaving, the stronger the possibility there is natural talent at work.
In the book I mentioned earlier, “Strengths-Based Parenting,” authors Mary Reckmeyer and Jennifer Robison provide insight into four indicators of blossoming talent.
Yearnings: What activities or environments is your child repeatedly drawn to or eager to try?
Rapid Learning: What new skills or activities does your child pick up quickly and easily?
Satisfaction: When is your child most enthusiastic and fulfilled? Which activities is she excited about doing again and again?
Timelessness: When does your child become so engrossed in an activity that she loses all sense of time?
Perhaps your son keeps asking to take electronics apart so that he can put them back together. Maybe your daughter loves the thrill of meeting new people and turning them into friends. You might notice that your child loves collecting things, organizing them, and then rearranging them next week. Whatever the pattern, take note of it and then stay curious. Keep watching.
2. Ask Your Child Good Questions and Listen Closely
As you’re talking with your kids this summer, ask them questions about themselves. Sometimes we assume we know everything our kids are thinking or feeling because we project our own patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving onto them. Reality is that you may not know what motivates, discourages, or annoys them until you ask. My son Eli often blows up when Isaac goes to a friend’s house. Until I learned to ask good questions, I didn’t’ realize that what was underneath the anger outburst wasn’t jealousy (as it would have been for me), but sadness at knowing he wouldn’t get to spend time with Isaac that day. His favorite thing to do is hang out with Isaac. Meanwhile, I was coaching Eli about jealousy and it wasn’t resonating at all, of course.
You will be shocked at what you learn if you take the time to ask them age-appropriate questions about themselves. For example:
"What is the last thing you think about at night, right before you go to sleep?”
“What made you think about that idea?”
“What is your favorite thing to do with Mommy?”
“When do you get the most excited at school?”
“How do you think we should solve this problem?”
“How would you describe yourself?”
3. Tell Your Child What You See
Our kids are trying to figure out who they are, and as parents we’re in the best position to help them form realistic and positive impressions of themselves. Just like adults, children typically don’t have eyes to see their own talents at work. Because when something comes naturally, it’s hard to see it as anything special.
If you observe that your child has natural talent in making friends, tell her. If you observe that your child is the first to offer help to others without being asked, tell him. If you notice that your child is extremely curious and loves to explore, tell her.
Try to use specific praise and recognition so that over time your child learns to see these things in herself as well. Share with her all the ways that these talents can be used in service to others, to produce meaningful work, to build relationships, and to make a difference in the world.
Sometimes parents will push back here and say that they’re afraid they will raise prideful, even narcissistic children if they praise them too much. We aren’t advocating that you only praise your children or pretend they don’t have weaknesses. Rather, we’re advocating that you help them discover their uniqueness and the areas in which they can make the biggest impact, while also teaching them that others are stronger in areas where they are weak. This is a powerful perspective, because it teaches them that they aren’t going to be all things to all people.
So tell them what you see, and then tell them again, and then tell them again.
4. Position Your Child to Flex His Talents
When we invest in developing our talents, we build strength. As a parent, you can help your child mature his talents into strengths by looking for activities, toys and games, classes, or experiences that energize him. If your child loves to tell stories and role-play, consider buying him a camera or other equipment he could use to make videos or movies. If your child loves to read and can't get enough books in her hands, make that extra trip to the library even when it's out of your way. If your child loves to perform in front of crowds, consider placing him in acting or singing lessons.
Your child is unique, and you'll have to make creative and strategic decisions about where you invest your time and energy. But first, you might have to take a hard look at the activities you have your children in at the moment. Ask yourself:
“Why are we investing in these specific activities?”
“Is this activity helping them develop their talents into strengths?”
“Does he/she even enjoy this activity or look forward to participating in it?”
Sometimes we do need to place our kids in activities we know will be beneficial to them, and that’s okay. But we would do well to ask ourselves if we’re limiting them to activities that don’t align with their interests and talents.
5. Coach Your Child to Understand and Mature Her Talents
Our kids’ areas of vulnerability are often tied to their natural talent. The child with natural leadership talent gets in trouble for “bossing” other kids around. The teenager who is a high-capacity achiever struggles with finding his identity in his accomplishments, thus overextending himself. If as a 5-year-old, she loves to compete, but has an emotional meltdown when she loses, you have the opportunity to coach her through that. Instead of shaming her for wanting to win, you can affirm her desire to be the best but teach her how to lose with grace. By doing this, you are helping her reframe the loss as a learning opportunity that will prepare her for the next time she competes.
When applicable, take time to help your kids connect their mistakes to their talents. In fact, often times the things that frustrate us the most about our own children are clues into their natural talent. When they act out, misbehave, or get in trouble at school, see if you can connect what happened to their patterns of thinking or feeling. This doesn’t mean you excuse bad behavior or fail to correct it. It just means you are coaching your kids in light of what comes natural to them.
For example, a few years ago I volunteered to help out in my son’s Kindergarten class once a week. It was the craziest hour of my week, but so much fun! There was a little boy in the classroom with incredible presence and command. One day I caught him trying to hire another boy in the classroom to do his assignment. He said, “I’ll pay you 5 bucks tomorrow if you do my paper but let me write my name at the top.” It was hysterical to me, but of course he still needed to be corrected and coached through it. We talked about how he loves to convince other people to do things and how that is a great skill he can develop as he grows up, but that he has to remember to do his own work and be honest, and use his skills for good.
6. Parent Using Your Own Strengths
You will benefit greatly from learning and understanding your own areas of natural talent as you work to parent your own children. As you grown in your own self-awareness, use your strengths to connect with, teach, and correct your children.
Remember that the talents of your children are likely very different from your talents. Perhaps the reason you are in conflict is due to differences in the way you process information, think about relationships, or make decisions. By knowing these things about yourself, you are much more equipped to have productive and meaningful conversations with your family members.
For example, I have an Achiever talent (#2 for me), which means I am always on the go and always thinking about and working towards that next goal. This has gotten me in trouble over the years, because if I’m not careful, I can wear everyone out! I love being busy, I have the energy to work long hours without burning out, but most of the members of my family do not share this perspective or practice. In fact, Eli gets really overwhelmed when we are too busy as a family. I have to communicate well with him about our schedule, notify him of any changes, and pay attention to his emotions when we are in a particularly busy season.
7. Administer an Assessment and Talk to Them About Their Results
If your child is 15 years or older, he is likely ready to take the CliftonStrengths assessment. This assessment was developed by the Gallup Organization and measures the presence of talent in 34 different themes. Your child can learn his Top 5, which represent areas where his greatest potential for building strength exists. If your child is 10-14 years old, you can administer the Clifton Youth StrengthsExplorer assessment. This assessment was also developed by Gallup and will identify 10 themes of talent in your child.
Both of these instruments will provide valuable insight that can start these important conversations in your home. If you would like to take one of these assessments, you can contact us and we will be happy to get you set up.
Hopefully you feel equipped to use this summer to discover and develop your kids’ talents. While I likely don’t know your kids personally, I know this for sure:
They are fascinating in their uniqueness. They are worthy of exploration.
Strengths-Based Parenting isn’t a cure-all. It won’t solve all your parenting problems or turn your children into perfect adults. One of the most difficult parts of parenting is that at the end of the day, we can’t engineer success, contentment, or purpose in their lives.
But we can shepherd, teach and equip them to know themselves well and to value the uniqueness of other people.
Try it and see what happens!
Thanks so much for reading. We would love to hear what you’ve learned about your kids after implementing these strategies this summer. Please keep us updated!
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