Strengths Based Parenting: Developing Your Children’s Innate Talents – Post 1 (by Kim Jansen)

My first impression of the Clifton StrengthsFinder promoted by the Gallup organization was decidedly negative.

“What’s the point in yet another personality test?” I thought. After all, wasn’t I trying to refrain from putting people – particularly my children – in neat little boxes?

Besides, even though the StrengthsFinder assessment had revolutionized the way my husband interacted with his team at work, I didn’t see how it could apply to me as a stay-at-home mom.

 

My first impression of the Clifton StrengthsFinder promoted by the Gallup organization was decidedly negative.

“What’s the point in yet another personality test?” I thought. After all, wasn’t I trying to refrain from putting people – particularly my children – in neat little boxes?

Besides, even though the StrengthsFinder assessment had revolutionized the way my husband interacted with his team at work, I didn’t see how it could apply to me as a stay-at-home mom.

 

My first impression of the Clifton StrengthsFinder promoted by the Gallup organization was decidedly negative.

“What’s the point in yet another personality test?” I thought. After all, wasn’t I trying to refrain from putting people – particularly my children – in neat little boxes?

Besides, even though the StrengthsFinder assessment had revolutionized the way my husband interacted with his team at work, I didn’t see how it could apply to me as a stay-at-home mom.

 

So I took the “test,” but the results got lost amidst changing email addresses and moving to a new city.

Fast forward a few years, and one day my husband brought home Strengths Based Parenting. I was intrigued. Right off the bat, Strengths Based Parenting makes a bold claim:

“The goal of this book is to change the way the world views parenting.” Wow!

According to the authors, the most common approach to raising children stems from the “deficit-based development model” – which detects a child’s shortcomings in his cognitive, social and educational development and then prioritizes fixing them.

They make the case, however, that this model doesn’t work.

“If a child only knows what she is not good at, she doesn’t know how to create pathways that give her direction,” the authors say. “She also needs stepping stones to move forward.”

I must admit that I was skeptical of this approach at first. Personally, I have a knack for noticing what is wrong in any given situation (yep, I’m often a Negative Nellie). In addition, I am of the opinion that as a mother, fixing character flaws is one of my primary jobs.

So, I was excited to jump into Chapter Two – “Can Weaknesses be Fixed?” The ideas I found there challenged me…

“In sharp contrast to conventional wisdom, strengths are not the opposite of weaknesses, and you can’t turn your weaknesses into strengths,” writes Dr. Reckmeyer, quoting her father, psychologist Dr. Don Clifton. “No matter how hard you work, the best you may achieve in an area of weakness is mediocrity.

“You’ll accomplish a lot more improving on a talent than by trying to fix a weakness.”

I wanted to believe this, but I didn’t understand how focusing on my child’s talent for competition or future thinking, for example, was going to improve his table manners or propensity for leaving belongings all over the house. How could he possibly be successful in the adult world by living and eating like a slob?

The authors have an answer. They call it “managing weaknesses”— while capitalizing on strengths.

“Do what you need to do so that weaknesses don’t get in the way of your goals,” they write.  For example, instead of pushing your child to practice handwriting until it’s perfect or forcing a disorganized child into an elaborate system, they suggest accepting minimally legible print or one big folder to hold papers.

Even better? Use a talent to offset a weakness. The authors tell the story of a father who capitalized on his daughter’s ability to form habits & routines to minimize her tendency for losing everything from shoes to library books. All the while, he understood that his daughter’s struggle to track her belongings was an innate characteristic, which helped him be more patient with her.

As I reflected further on this concept, my imagination created the following analogy. I hope it is helpful.

Let’s say I’m hiking up a mountain, and I come to a giant boulder smack in the center of the path. The only way to ensure that I never encounter the boulder again would be to completely remove it from the path. However, it is so heavy, that it would require breaking into hundreds of pieces small enough for me to carry, and I don’t have any tools in my pack to assist me with such a task.

If I am to reach my goal of summiting the mountain, I must overcome the obstacle in my path. However, would it make sense to spend hours focusing all my energy on demolishing this boulder by chiseling it apart without the proper tools?

What if I had an ax in my pack to chop down a few surrounding trees, so I could walk around the boulder instead? Or what if I was a gifted athlete and could jump over it? Focusing on what I do well may not eliminate the obstacle entirely, but it is much more likely to yield results.

“Too often parents and schools push children to be well rounded and ‘good’ at everything,” the authors say, “but the goal is to nurture kids so they can find what makes them happiest and most successful so they can build their lives around that.”

In the next post, we’ll explore the difference between talents & strengths and begin to learn how to identify & nurture them in ourselves & our children.

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