When parents are asked to list their child’s strengths, we often see them taking time to find an answer, and some may even be stumped into silence. However, when they are asked to point out the child’s weaknesses, it does not take long for that list to be filled up. SPD’s social worker, Ong Xiu Hui, stresses why parenting should focus on the strengths of the child rather than his/her weaknesses.
As professionals working with young children, we are naturally curious about the relationships that parents have with their children and the factors that create a strong parent-child bond. One key factor observed in strong parent-child relationships is the focus and recognition of a child’s strengths. However, we often see parents struggle to identify their child’s strengths and are overly focused on their child’s weaknesses.
Psychologists and therapists agree that parenting which focuses on a child’s weaknesses over his strengths can lead to problems. Emphasising on children’s weaknesses decreases their motivation to do better. Like adults, children can get demoralised, defensive, or annoyed when they are called out for things that they are not good at. None of these feelings are helpful in motivating us and our children to do better and try harder.
All of us have strengths. Strengths refer to the things that individuals do well in, enjoy doing, and what give them energy. Often, we only focus on what the children do well, but not on the things they enjoy doing or energise them. For example, if a child is great at dancing, but hates it, then dancing is not a strength, but a skill. When identifying our child’s strengths, we can think about what motivate them and they would enjoy. For instance, some children are good at creating and they are always building something using blocks, while some are good at verbalising and storytelling (think of the talkative ones!).
In Asian context, we tend to focus on a child’s academic strengths and overlook non-academic achievements. We often wonder whether our children are doing well in school and if they are on par with their peers in Math or Science. While doing so, we overlooked strengths that they have which we can help to nurture.
This is especially so when it comes to our children with developmental needs. Some of them require more support in reading, writing and speaking. While it is understandable for parents to seek ways to help children be better at these skills, we should also nurture their natural interests and strengths.
I remember vividly a conversation with the mother of one of our children who was concerned that education focuses very much on academic excellence and skills training. While these are important, she was worried about the impact this has on the quality of the child’s growing up years, especially if academics is not the child’s forte.
Her worries are not unfounded. For children whose strengths lie in areas beyond academics or who has delays in certain skills development, they may face a sense of failure if they are not successful in achieving their goals in these areas after multiple attempts. However, if we devote time to develop the child’s natural strengths and interests, it is more likely that the child will do well and feel happier at the same time. In response, I reminded her that she can hone her child’s strengths in creativity since her child loves doing art.
By letting children do things that they are good at, it can also help to boost their self-esteem and confidence. In turn, this gives them more motivation and confidence to complete other tasks or tackle things that they are not so good at.
Children can also be encouraged to express themselves through things they are good at. For example, if they can express themselves better through art, music and movement, encourage them to do so via these mediums rather than pushing them to speak, especially if verbal communication is not their strength.
Remember: If you focus on what is wrong, your child lives up to your vision of failure. If you focus on your child’s strengths, your child will be inspired by what is possible.
Tips for Parents:
- Observe what motivates your child – what are the activities he/she gravitates towards? If your child is able to verbalise their thoughts, ask them what they enjoy doing.
- Give them time to indulge in activities they are good at.
- Support your child’s interests and strengths – if he loves art, you may wish to consider sending him for art classes to hone his creativity. You may also consider enrolling your child in co-curricular activities (CCAs) in school based on his/her interests.
- Compliment your child when they do well and celebrate their achievements – this allows their confidence to grow.
- Use your child’s strengths creatively to tackle things they are not good at.
Buksbaum, L. (2018, March 1). Understanding Your Children’s Strengths. Retrieved January 28, 2019, from Positive Psychology news
Ramirez, K. (2018, July 19). How Focusing on Strengths Gives Our Kids an Edge. Retrieved January 28, 2019, from Motherly
The Understood Team. (2016). 6 Steps for Recognizing Strengths in Kids With Learning and Attention Issues. Retrieved January 28, 2019, from Understood