Every parent/caregiver may have observed that children are naturally drawn to a variety of things. This natural inclination is most evident in play. Not only does preference for what to do varies from child to child, but how to play also varies from child to child.
As parents and caregivers, we can learn something from these variations in play – Children have their unique strengths. Many believe that by nurturing these unique strengths, we can help children flourish. It is important, however, not to hothouse children as this could create unnecessary stress.
How to play to your child’s strengths
1. Put yourself in the mindset of valuing your child’s growth over tangible success
Naturally, parents want the best for their child, but if success is at the forefront, this may lead to micromanaging the child and in turn devaluing the child’s sense of autonomy and psychological well-being (Schiffrin et al., 2014).
Instead, value your child’s growth instead of her success. To help children grow, give them the freedom to make their own decisions, even if they lead to mistakes. Previous research has found children raised by parents who support the growth of their autonomy had better cognitive skills and academic performance than those who did not have such support (Bindman, Pomerantz, & Roisman, 2015).
2. Identify your child’s strengths
Each child has a different type of learning style. So, try doing different activities to identify your child’s strengths and inclinations. Monitor your child’s reactions to regular and novel experiences. For example:
3. Provide opportunities for your child to develop their strengths
4. Encourage your child to practise their strengths
Pursuing and engaging in activities can serve to develop and sharpen valuable life skills such as perseverance, determination, discipline, and goal setting. By encouraging children to enjoy activities that promote such skills (such as sports or art), they can enjoy themselves as well as help serve in career and life planning.
5. Introduce child to a role model that uses their strengths
Children learn best when they have role models with the same strengths.
In a small town in the U.S. (Norwich, VT), previous Olympians return home to inspire the youth in various sports. Some of these children end up in the Olympics years later! In fact, Norwich VT has had raised 11 Olympians over the years!
Do some research on potential role models. Even if it is impossible to meet the role models personally, you can use the internet and allow your child to watch videos. If this is not an option, remember that YOU as the parent/caretaker are always the biggest role model for your child.
Dr Setoh Pei Pei
Nanyang Technological University, School of Social Sciences