THE BLOG
11/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

10 Tips for Discovering Your Child's Strengths

Strengths are the activities, relationships and ways of learning that energize people. They are the inner qualities that make us feel most alive and because of that, they are the places where we have the potential to make our most meaningful contributions to life. Strengths are different than interests because strengths are innate and children will be drawn to them for their entire lives, while interests may be fleeting. When strengths and interests combine, children can develop passions. Strengths can be developed at a very early age and parents can help out. Below are some simple guidelines to get you on the way to helping your children discover their strengths.

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1. Use play and cultivate the imagination.
During imaginative play, children are free to unleash and exercise their Strengths. Watch children at play and you will learn a great deal about what they prefer, how they socialize, and the unique ways they view themselves. Play encourages cognitive enrichment and emotional growth.

2. Seek out what makes your child unique.
Little quirks can be clues to strengths. Something as simple as a child's tendency to demand that his mother use a certain purse over another may signal a strength in something as seemingly unrelated as design. What initially may look like "showing-off" might be an early sign of a child who has a strength for entertaining. Sometimes the most unusual things signal the areas of deepest strength.

3. Keep a Strengths Journal.
Take note of the things your child does -- anything that strikes you about his/her behavior. Here are a few of the kinds of questions that will guide you:

• What causes your child to express joy and happiness?

• What are the things that keep his attention the longest?

• Are there sounds or words he reacts to more than others?

• Is he generous? How does he show this?

• Does he show sympathy? Is he caring or funny? Give examples.

• What are the first thing he says in the morning and the last thing he says at night?

4. Create family traditions.
Creating family traditions helps children discover their relationship strengths. Relationship strengths are the things you do for and with other people that make you feel proud. In order for children to figure this out, they need to reflect on their interactions with others and recall the ones where they felt the most positive. Family traditions give children positive memories. How do you celebrate birthdays? For example, if you have a tradition of making the birthday child a king or queen for the day and you repeatedly do the same nice things -- like let them choose their favorite meal -- later in life children will recall this and be more apt to want to do this for others. The more traditions you develop where children have an active role in creating meaning for others, the easier it will be later in life to identify what causes them feel good contributing to others.

5. Listen to children.
They know their strengths better than anyone. In order to listen effectively, you must
ask a lot of questions. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
Show your child you are interested in his perspective. For every answer you
receive, follow up with another question; "Why do you think that?" Genuinely
listen and reflect back your child what you believe you heard him say. If a child tells you he no longer wants to play soccer, rather than tell him why he should, say, "I hear you saying soccer no longer interests you, can you tell me why?"

6. Resist the urge to evaluate everything and overstate expectations.
While most parents want their children to succeed, sometimes they unintentionally burden children by evaluating everything they do. When your child shows you a picture she drew, instead of saying it is good, ask her what she likes best about drawing. Over-evaluation, whether negative or positive, makes children worry about how well they are doing, and this stifles their ability to take risks. Children need to feel like they can experiment with many things and that failing is OK and sometimes part of the journey toward discovering what they love to do most. Unreasonably high expectations often pressure children to perform and conform within strictly prescribed guidelines, and they deter experimentation, exploration, and innovation. Children love to please adults and sometimes they perform in order to gain your approval or meet your expectations rather than because they truly enjoy the task. The more children are free to explore and try new things, the easier it will be to discover strengths. When you let go of the expectations you have for what you want them to do and how you want them to do it they are freer to discover what they really feel energized by.

7. Strengths are more than interests. Help children discover both.
Strengths are the positive feelings that children have when they perform different actions. Interests are the areas where they apply their strengths. For example, a child may be drawn to animals and therefore it can be said they have an interest in animals. However, one child may like to care for animals while another may enjoy training them. The strength for one child is caring and for the other it is teaching. The strength is what someone likes to do, while the interest is where they like to apply it. The strength can be transferred to other interests. For example, the child who likes to train animals may also like to teach children. When you help children discover both their strengths and their interests, they have a good chance to develop a true passion.

8. Let them tell their own stories.
Kids don't care if you walked ten miles to school. To discover their strengths they want to know you care about what their unique experiences in the world are, not necessarily how you did things. Let them find their own paths; they may not want to play basketball just because you did. Sometimes kids forgo their own passions to please you.

9. Don't compare them to their older siblings.
There is nothing more hampering of children's abilities to discover their strengths than when they feel they are constantly being compared to their perfect siblings. Every child will be unique and different. The differences are causes for celebration not comparisons that may make them feel not good enough. You can see the differences in your children early on in their lives. The more you celebrate this, the better.

10. Give them as many choices about what to do as possible.
Do you want children to help around the house? Use it as an opportunity to discover their preferences and let them choose among the jobs you have for them to do. Do you want them to participate in school activities? Encourage them to choose between a variety of things to do, support their choices even if they aren't what you would pick.

Discovering strengths happens through a process of self-reflection. All of the above tips will help children develop positive and creative thoughts which will help them decide what their true passions are in life.

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