strength based learning for children

How to Know What your Child’s Strengths are in 2021

Life gets a lot easier for you and the child when a child’s strengths is identified and nurtured. All children – just like adults – have different strengths. Strengths may be obvious, and other times it may take a little bit of digging to uncover them. This is especially true for children who have learning deficits or attention issues.

Each child learns differently, which is why traditional learning does not work for everyone. Finding ways to make things easier, making modifications to make a situation better, and leveraging a child’s strengths to succeed is what will help them reach their full potential. It is especially useful to find creative ways based on strengths to cater to children with special needs.

Why is it so important to know your child’s strengths?

Childhood is the time when we learn about everything under the sun. We absorb everything like sponges, trying to make connections, make inferences, and basically understand ourselves and the world around us. It builds the foundation of who we are for years to come.

There is a saying “there is no such thing as a bad student, only bad teachers”. When young children seem to have a difficult time understanding basic concepts, they may benefit from extra accommodations and modifications to the task at hand.

It is always best to be proactive and use a low arousal approach to handling challenging times. Using your child’s strengths can lessen the frustrating moments that may lead to behavior management and reactive measures.

To better understand why it is so important to know your child’s strengths can be explained by the process of assimilation. According to Piaget, assimilation occurs when people pair existing and familiar knowledge to make inferences about new experiences. If you take an existing skill, interest, or strength that a child has and use this to leverage learning new things they are more likely to understand better.

When I think about leveraging a child’s strengths I instantly think of Tom. Tom is a four-year-old boy with autism who absolutely loves numbers! Certain situations make it exceedingly difficult for Tom to concentrate, he is sensitive about the people and noise around him. Because of his sensitivity, Tom has not been able to learn core concepts typical at his age.

Taking Tom’s love of numbers, I was able to develop strategies to help him add to his existing strength and branch out to learn new concepts. To teach Tom how to play with Play-Doh rather than lick it, I taught him how to form and stamp numbers on the Play-Doh. For fine motor skills, instead of cutting lines on the worksheet we took magazines and cut out numbers. After Tom learned these new skills we could then move on to more general usage rather than making everything about numbers.

I could go on and on about the different activities we did together! But my point is, using children’s strengths is so important to make the most of this very special – and crucial – time of development.

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How to find out what your child’s strengths are

Observing a child’s strength

The best way to figure out what a child’s strengths are is through observation! Observation means simply watching the child play without any interference. Be a wallflower in the room, sit at a distance, keep to yourself and just relax. When observing you allow the child to be in his own element. Yup! Sorry, mom, you are not a part of this experience right now, but that’s okay – you are learning.

 When observing pay close attention for these three factors indicating what the strengths of the child may be:

  1.  Activities that the child is naturally good at – see what the child tends to be a natural at. Is it problem-solving? Leading other children? Building? Climbing? Video games? If there are other kids around, try to compare skill levels.
  2. Activities where the child is most happy – what sparks joy for the child? Is there a game that he wants to play over and over again? Something that makes him so excited about? What is the theme of the activity? Now, the child does not have to be particularly good at this activity – heck! In our eyes, he might be terrible at the activity – but that is okay. Taking key elements from the activity and looking for similar activities might be a better avenue.
  3. Activities that the child gravitates towards often – what type of activities does the child tend to like most? Look for themes in their play that seem to pop up on a regular basis. is it a type of activity? I was always an arts and crafts kind of kid. Some kids were more sporty. Is it a type of toy? Are they always looking for instruments or banging on things like a drum? Maybe they seek real or fake food to play with. Maybe dolls or cars.

Ask others

If your child goes to school, the people who work with him might have noticed things that you haven’t. On the other hand, if you are a teacher, the child spends only a few hours under your wing. Children may have different behaviors, preferences, and interests based on the environment. This is especially true because no two environments are ever the same. School may have toys and activities that home does not and vice versa. Hence, children’s strengths may look different across settings. The more insight you can gather the better.

Ask your child

The simplest and most obvious way of determining what a child’s strengths are is well…ask them! Try not to get pulled too much into your investigator’s shoes and base information only on observation and inquiry. Remember, the best source you can have is the source itself! If your child is verbal, try asking what they are into. Keep in mind, the answer might not be what you were hoping for or may not even make sense. That is totally fine, just accept this information with an open mind.

Examine your own strengths and weakness

Now is the time for a reality check. Try to dig into your own strengths and weaknesses. What are they? It is a natural desire for parents to want to bond with their children. Are you priming your child to live out that fantasy you have based on your strengths? If you are a teacher, are you trying to have the child fit your own preference of learning? Similarly, it is also natural for parents to want more for their children. Are you hoping the child finds strength in your own weaknesses?

Type of Strengths in Children

The list of strengths a child can have is endless! There is no given category a child falls into, in fact, they may have several strong strengths! The purposes of strength is just having a better idea of how we can accommodate their strengths in different situations. Here are some examples of children’s strengths and where you might see them:

Personal Strengths

Personal strengths are better known as character strengths. These are traits like honesty, caring, resilience, etc. You can often pinpoint personal strengths in the child’s values and perspectives. Take note of some of their positive personality traits like helping others, respect, tone control, displaying appropriate behaviors, good study skills, etc.

A child’s natural strengths are often observed in the early years of age. Positive qualities are often seen as early on and become a very important part of shaping personality.

Social Strengths

These are strengths that a child posse in relation to others. Examples of social strengths include but are not limited to being a good friend, leadership, adaptability, sportsmanship, personal space, humor, asking for help, etc. Try to observe the child among others and see how he interacts in social situations.

Physical Strengths

okay, we aren’t talking Hercules here! Physical strength in children is seen in their ability to control their bodies. Muscle strength and control as observed when a child is doing obstacles or challenging himself on playgrounds are all wonderful ways to identify physical strengths. Children who are more inclined to physical strengths have abundant energy and are movers. They would benefit from activities that get their body moving like interactive high performance games/lessons or team sports.

Language strengths

My mother always said they could not get me to stop talking! On one of my report cards, an elementary school teacher prophesized that I was going to be a writer. Does this sound familiar? Look for expressive and receptive skills in your child such as speaking and listening.

Instances where they easily understanding context or have good reading comprehension skills are a part of language strengths. Maybe they enjoy reading or is a good writer. Children like this often have elaborate imaginations! Nurture this by providing outlets for their creativity. Perhaps the child has strong opinions. Maybe they a performer? Strengthen this with theatre and school performance.

Math and Logic Strengths

These are more practical skills like problem-solving, good organizational skills, etc. When a child’s strength leans more in this direction, they are more inclined to be interested in word puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, strategy games, STEM challenges, chemistry set or experimental toys, etc. Generally, games and activities include mystery, cause and effect, or even conflict resolution.

Many children in this realm are independent learners. This requires you to be creative and make things interesting and challenging. Creating puzzles as an incentive to learn new skills or setting up situations as fun challenges are all great ways to modify stressful events. They also enjoy having more freedom in what they do, experiments and learning through experience is the best way to help a logic strengthen child learn.

Other strengths

Include what the child is passionate about like his interests, sports, and hobbies. Specific talents such as dancing or painting can be telltale signs of a child’s true strength. Natural talents play important roles in developing personality and give us a great idea how activities can be modified to help a child understand new concepts.

How to be a strength-based parent and nurture your child’s strengths

There is no proper technique to becoming a strength-based parent. However, I would argue that the key element to getting the best results is taking on an active role in developing and honing in on children’s strengths. In fact, nurturing strengths should not be the responsibility of just one family member, rather, has a greater effect if the whole family has an understanding.

Devote time and attention to what works

You do not want to reinvent the wheel, and honestly, you really should not. We also do not want to delve into weak areas but rather try adding on to what already works for the child. Join in on their play and use what they are already doing to model new skills. If you have already established a system or routine that is working for a child in a different area, find ways to replicate that system to use with the new area.

For example, if using a visual schedule has worked really well for bathroom routines, the child might respond positively to using a visual schedule for getting ready for school.

Restructuring challenges to be solved through child’s strengths

We want children to learn ways to solve problems on their own. Using their strengths to find solutions is a creative way to build problem-solving skills and teach them – as Marie Forleo would say – everything is figureoutable.

Help children develop self-awareness

If you have identified a child’s strengths based on observation and asking others, the child may not be aware of what his own strengths are. Knowing what your strengths are is a superpower everyone should have! Help the child develop self-awareness by constantly reflecting on the factors we covered a minute ago. Acknowledge how good he is at something, reflect how happy certain activities make him, and encourage him to keep doing the things he is interested in.

A great idea is to document when the child is in their zone of strength. Take videos, pictures, make stories. This is a wonderful way to help increase self-awareness in his strengths that also serves as a keepsake. Maybe even keeping a personal diary might help you remember strengths on days when you are at wits end.

Support your child’s strengths through activities and signing them up for learning-based programs

Children usually know what they want to do and are master explorers. Let children explore their own strengths by helping them find group activities they might be interested in. Providing means to explore their interest is also under this umbrella.

If a child is showing interest in music, maybe get him a musical instrument. Or if he likes to paint, maybe getting him a rack to display his artwork.

Outdoor group activities like summer camps, music lessons, dance lessons, arts and crafts like woodworking shops for kiddos at Home Depot, or painting classes at craft stores. These are all great ways to support your child, build skills and interests, and help them find a group of children with similar strengths. 

To sum it up, we – parents, caregivers, educators – are all responsible for nurturing a child’s unique strengths. By being flexible and with a little bit of creativity, we can use a child’s strength to create powerful ways that improve their ability to learn. Games in all different shapes and forms can always be modified to serve educational purposes.

Reflect on your own desires and try not to ruminate on children’s weaknesses. Keep your eye on the big picture which is finding ways to helps your child thrive! Remember to make things fun for both you and your child and make wonderful memories doing so.