As a parent, you are aware that every child is unique. They have different goals, interests, skills, and strengths. Children are like little balls of clay — they are constantly shaped and influenced by their environment. This influence comes from their peers, media, teachers, and families.
We can help them grow into healthy adults by guiding their innate strengths and bolstering the areas that need some extra assistance. “Strengths” are more than physical and educational; children can also work on strengths like emotional regulation and managing interpersonal conflict.
In this article, we will discuss how to identify what your child’s strengths may be and how to optimize these strengths for long-term success.
How Do I Identify My Child’s Strengths?
The most basic yet essential way to identify a child’s strengths is by mere observation. Watch your child in their day-to-day activities. How do they play? What do they play with? How do they interact with others? Where do they like to go?
Ultimately, we want to note the activities, objects, people, places, and actions that naturally pique our children’s curiosity. Jotting these down in a notebook or in the notes app in a phone can help us keep track of subjects to bring up later. For example, if a child pays extra attention to the dinosaur fossils on the class trip to the natural history museum, this would be note-worthy.
We can also observe a child’s social interactions with adults and peers. Watch how they respond to the interactions and how your child expresses needs, wants, and desires. Are they able to articulate their needs verbally, or do they tend to grow frustrated?
Do they try to discuss their needs, or do they act out when they don’t get what they want? Do they like to engage directly with their peers, or would they rather keep to themselves when playing? The latter question can help adults identify play styles, which may offer helpful developmental cues.
How To Encourage Childhood Strengths
Below are general guidelines to get you started. Naturally, each tactic to encourage strengths will differ based on age, developmental stage, and other unique factors.
Here are three avenues to instilling confidence in children and nourishing their strengths:
One of the best ways to encourage your child’s strengths is to offer guidance. This tactic will look different based on the child’s age. For example, preschoolers and school-aged children are more likely to look for and accept more direct instructions or suggestions.
On the other hand, older children, like tweens and teens, tend to be more independent by nature. They may look to their peers for guidance instead of adults. In that case, adults may need to focus more on coaching, moving away from direct instructions.
Keeping in mind their psychological changes is key here; speaking to tweens and teens as you would a deeply respected adult colleague can make the information more palatable to them. Instead of big sit-down conversations about serious topics, opt for little moments here and there, especially if your tween/teen brings initiates these discussions.
Another significant part of guiding is teaching children to regulate their emotions. Emotional regulation is not an innate skill but rather one that comes with lots of learning and practice. While we can share and teach our children coping skills, this is a time we want to lead by example. Children are creatures of imitation; if they see us practicing emotion regulation, they will learn to do it too.
As a young child, negative sensations and emotions like stress, frustration, anger, sadness, or worry are challenging to handle. We can help them manage these emotions with positive coping mechanisms.
When your child is actively engaging in their favorite activities or interactions, validation can help reinforce this as a positive in their mind.
Keep introducing children to new events and experiences — you never know when a trip to the planetarium or hearing a public speaker at the library will spark something new. When getting involved, the key is to keep things low pressure and to let the child move at their own pace forward.
Discuss your child’s and your values and expectations within the activities; create a supportive learning environment, and help them make wise choices regarding their strengths. Try to talk and interact often. This not only builds interpersonal strengths and coping mechanisms, but it builds trust between you and your child. It allows our children to express themselves and feel more comfortable in our presence, even as they age into more independent teenagers.
Acknowledge and Reward
Like adults, children thrive off positive reinforcement. Regularly noting good deeds, however minor, will encourage more positive behavior in the future.
As with nearly all aspects of parenting, taking a positive approach as the baseline is the best way to start. While we all want our children to do their best and succeed, there is such a thing as too much encouragement if it comes in the shape of pressure.
A 2016 study from Arizona State University found that an imbalanced emphasis on achievements and other goal-related outcomes negatively affected the subjects. Out of the 506 sixth-grade students studied, those whose parents put a larger emphasis on kindness and similar values were less likely to be anxious, depressed, or act out. Students whose parents emphasized GPA and grades over everything else tended to do worse in school — academically and socially.
Make sure to keep them involved in your activities just as you are involved in theirs. Include them in conversations and ask for their opinions on (relatively simple) topics. This boosts their confidence in what they have to say and helps them build opinions and arguments as they grow older.
There are several different categories of identifiable strengths, and each one has its own list of traits that work in tandem with each other.
These categories include educational strengths such as math, language, literacy, and logic; social strengths; behavioral strengths; and environmental strengths. It is also good to note that each category is not mutually exclusive — some strengths will appear in several categories.
Below is a brief checklist for each category of typical children's strengths. This is not an extensive list, and please note that these strengths are not requirements for a well-rounded child.
Mathematical and Logic Strengths
- Solving word problems
- Solving puzzles
- Counting, sorting, and organizing items
- Disassembling and reassembling objects
- Mental math
These strengths can be enhanced and encouraged through a series of fun activities. Encourage your child to play strategy-based games or puzzles, including sudoku or chess. They can also help with everyday measurements in activities like cooking, baking, or construction.
Start creating new projects for you and your child to work on around the house or in your community. Build a birdhouse, construct a swing, or try to discover patterns found in nature on a popular trail.
Language and Literacy Strengths
- Clear communication
- Active listening
- Strong vocabulary
- Reading at or above grade level
- Strong writing
- Strong memory
You can help enhance language strengths by encouraging your child to join a school play or a choir. Have your child interact with as many community members as they feel comfortable with, both adults and peers. This will encourage them to work on their communication skills and build their confidence in what they already know. Plus, they will be building relationships and connections that will help them in the future.
Boost literary skills simply by practicing. Give your child books to read that are above their grade level. Introduce them to different genres and styles of books. Encourage them to write books or stories with writing prompts. You can even encourage them to keep a diary or journal that will help them communicate their emotions and activities while enhancing their writing skills.
Social and Behavioral Strengths
- Good listener
- Plays well with peers
- Polite manners
- Comforts others
- Friendly and outgoing
- Communicates well
Social and behavioral strengths can be enhanced by giving your child ample opportunities to interact with others. Not only should they interact with other children, but they should be encouraged to communicate with people of all ages. You should encourage your child to be honest with others and try to have open communication whenever possible.
Some examples of interaction opportunities include reaching out to new students at school, reading to younger children, and doing volunteer work through a community program. Even simple interactions with peers on a playground playdate will help build relationships and begin the process of open communication.
Every child is unique. Each one has their own interests, skills, and strengths that can develop naturally throughout their life. As parents, we want to nurture those strengths, and it is crucial to identify them before we can get started.
Then, we can encourage and motivate our little ones to continue to seek new knowledge to better their future.
Identifying Child Strengths | ECTA Center
PARENTS’ GUIDE: A STRENGTHS-BASED APPROACH | American Academy of Pediatrics
How to Identify Your Child's Strengths | St-Laurent Academy
Child Strengths Checklist | Able Differently
Positive Reinforcement Examples: Rewards That Work | Verywell Family
Parents should avoid pressuring young children over grades, ASU study says | ASU
15 Coping Strategies for Kids | Verywell Family
Three Ways to Change Your Parenting in the Teenage Years | Greater Good Berkley