Discover and encourage your child's strengths

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Most people reach adulthood with no idea of what their strengths might be. At the same time, they are painfully aware of their failings. The awareness of this fact can provide you with a compelling argument for examining the way you approach your child, with an eye toward identifying and developing her strengths rather than focusing on her weaknesses.

Imagine waking up one day and rather than looking for what was wrong with you, people pointed out what was right with you. Imagine that they recognized, encouraged and made use of your unique traits. What would that feel like? It is likely you would be charged with energy while being released from the burden of having to defend yourself. You would feel strong, enabled to put your best foot forward.

You can create this kind of world for you and your child, one in which you are empowered to be and do your best. If you are like most people, you will probably need to start by retraining your mind to see people's strengths rather than their weaknesses. This involves a commitment on your part to knowing that inside every human being, there is something valuable and worthwhile. It also involves a commitment to teaching the same thing to your child.

When you join your child in discovering strengths, you will come to know your own, as well as his.

This makes the journey of a life of focused on strengths a lot of fun because you will be making it together. There will be something in it for both of you.

A good way to begin to discover strengths is by self-reflection. Help your child begin to reflect on the things he does that make him feel strong and engaged. Set aside quiet time for just the two of you in which you ask him about his preferences and about his feelings regarding the various things he does. Without judging, listen and reflect back what you hear.

During one of your quiet times together, you could structure your conversation with the "five why" approach. Take turns asking and answering questions such as, "What is your favorite class?" or, "If you could spend the day any way you wanted, what would you do?" Each answer would be followed by a "why?" For example, the conversation would start like this: "What is your favorite hobby?" "Singing." "Why?" "Because I can express myself that way." "Why?" "The power of the melody frees me." Be sure to follow through with five "whys," as each one reveals something new. By taking turns, you will have an opportunity to learn more about each other.

As you go along, be sure to keep a record of your child's stated preferences, as well as her choices and feelings about things. Include your own observations. Over time, you will begin to see patterns of her strengths and preferences. You can use these to help your child know herself better. This will enable her to be more effective and satisfied in her dealings with the world.

Another thing you can do is organize a simple art project in which you and your child make self-portraits. First, draw an outline of one another's heads on separate poster boards. Then look through magazines in order to find images and words you feel reflect positive attributes about yourselves. Next, arrange and glue the images inside your respective outlines. When you are done, you will have self-portraits that represent your most positive qualities and serve as powerful visual reminders of them.

The most fundamental way in which you can support your child on his strengths path is by demonstrating a positive outlook on life and by committing to find strengths in others. And remember, this is not about mere praise and self-esteem building. It's about igniting your child's individual potential while preparing him for a successful, fulfilled life in school and beyond.

To learn more about how to encourage your child's strengths, visit strengthsmovement.com.

Contact Shanti, who has a Ph.D. in psychology and is a self-actualization and parenting skills coach, at shanti@barbaraujones.com.

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