Monday, 31 October 2011

What are Your Child's Strenghts

Here's an experiment for you to try with your children. It can work with any children older than around eight years of age, but the older, the better.

When you get some time to be together, perhaps while you're out walking or driving somewhere, ask your child the following question:

What are your strengths?

Recently I tried this experiment with Miss 12. My eldest has been experiencing some normal challenges, doubts, and difficulties that are part of growing up. These difficulties were manifesting themselves in some particularly difficult and challenging behaviour at home. We had some time together. She resisted my efforts to talk (I think she believes she's a teenager already!) so I popped that question. "What are your strengths?"

Have you tried to answer it yourself?

When I asked my daughter, she shrugged her shoulders and tried to change the subject, or tried to tell me about someone else's strengths. Then she struggled for several minutes, trying to answer me. She found it difficult to name even a couple of strengths. I was astounded. Mrs Happy Families and I have spent years working hard to ensure our children know their strengths and feel good about themselves.


I am embarrassed to say that when I asked her about her weaknesses, Miss 12 found it easy... too easy to list a handful of weaknesses and shortcomings in seconds.

Identifying our strengths is a particularly difficult thing to do for most people. Sometimes they may want clarification. What is a strength? Simple. It's something you're good at, something you can make a difference doing, or something that makes you feel competent. It may be something that makes you feel like a strong person (in whatever way you want to feel strong).

Knowing our strengths can be tricky. Telling others what they are can be even tougher - we don't want to brag, and worse, we don't want to be told that "No, actually that's not really a strength of yours."

Following my experience with Miss 12, I have run this experiment with a dozen or more people in the past few weeks. I've asked them what their strengths are. In EVERY case, those people (usually adolescents) have come up with one or two strengths at best. They've struggled with it.

But when I've asked these people what their weaknesses are, they've made a list far too long in far too short a time.

Next I asked these people (Miss 12 included) about another person's strengths. Who is someone you know well and look up to? What are their strengths? Instantly several strengths were identified. Other's talents are so obvious to us! And their weaknesses? Well, it seems that they don't really have many, and they're hard to identify.

Here's the kicker though: it's the same for everyone!

We struggle to identify our own strengths but we see everyone else's strengths flashing in neon lights! We think we're a walking display of weakness, but we don't really see the weaknesses of others. We just see their strengths, feel inadequate, and focus on what we're not good at.

This realisation was helpful, but Miss 12 still didn't really believe she had any particular strengths. She just felt like she was a normal kid. And when Mum or Dad start pointing out strengths to their kids, those kids still struggle to buy it. So I asked my eldest girl to take a quiz online. Some of the world's best psychological researchers have put several years of work into developing a Strengths quiz. It's free, and it takes about 25 minutes for a child to complete it.

(Disclosure- I have been fans of the work these researchers do for years but I get nothing for telling you about it, and they don't either. It's a free service to help people learn about their strengths.)

Miss 12 was excited about completing a survey about herself. The questions were fun, and when she had finished, the software program gave her a list of her top five strengths.

It has been several months since Miss 12 took the survey, and she can still tell me what her strengths are. Knowing them is good. But we've been working on ways that she can use them each day. Several excellent studies have shown that when we use our strengths in meaningful ways each day, we feel better about life. We're happier, more engaged, have better relationships, and want to do more for others!

We all have strengths - our kids included. It's worth taking the test and talking about what we're strong in - and then finding ways to use those strengths every day!

You can take the strengths quiz here... just click on the child version or the adult version, depending on who it is that's taking the quiz.

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