Your Child’s Strengths is one of my favorite books, and my love for it really has nothing to do with children. Most “find your strengths” books come in Business Flavor, with strategies on leadership and how to energize your existing staff by identifying their strengths. While these books may allow you to narrow down if you’re “Analytical” or an “Ideation,” there you are, limiting yourself, and I’m not sure you’re learning all that much. I find it far more insightful to get a bird’s eye view of our lives, our decisions and habits, then to cull distinct strengths from observations across different pockets of our life.
Held within the pages of Your Child’s Strengths are answers to who we are, each of us, and the answers aren’t written in paragraphs and inspirational stories of those often regarded as successful. The book, penned by Jennifer Fox, M. Ed. is loaded with prompts and exercises designed to reveal what your (child’s) strengths are.
It’s odd, don’t you think, that we are all too quick with a numbered list of our shortcomings, but we rarely have a quick answer to such a simple question: What’s special about who you are?
I’ve noted throughout the pages and posts of this Greek Tragedy blog that what makes us special is the fact that we’re here, that we’re born special, and I believe it. But we lose our way sometimes—I still feel my way through the dark wondering if I’m living my best life—and we’re not all striving to be our brightest selves each day, not when we become complacent and mired in our familiar.
The other night, I asked the beans to tell me one thing that was really special about who they are.
Lucas: My whole body is special because it lets me get stinky.
Abigail: My nose because it lets my boogies go in and out, in and out.
They were in a silly mood, a mood that lightened me. It wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind when I asked the question, but their responses made me realize how important it is for me to emphasize their unique qualities and strengths to them (focusing on things they can work on. Because saying, “you’re so smart” doesn’t give them pride. I think it starts to feel empty. I prefer, “I admire how well you were concentrating; what a wonderful quality you have of really paying attention during math games.” Strengths bloom and change with time, but what better gift can I give them than handing over my full attention, with a sharp focus on who they are, as originals, before they strive to become copies. It’s not just them, I owe it to myself to work through the same exercises, to really dig and reveal what my strengths are. One thing’s for sure, they’re not from my upper body.
Come, play along…
Your Child’s Strengths breaks strengths into four categories:
1) Activity Strengths
2) Relationship Strengths
3) Learning Strengths
4) Looking to the Future
Examine the activities you do at home. We have strengths often in one part of a sequenced activity but not in the whole. You basically do this simple thing, like washing dishes, and can extract insight from it, to apply to the rest of your life. Here’s an exercise from the book (I also love the idea of couples doing this exercise to learn more about each other).
Take two different colored pens or markers (for this example, green and red). Look at a list of household activities, and break them into at least 3 smaller parts. For example, “cleaning up after a meal” can be broken into clearing the table, washing the dishes, and emptying the dishwasher. So, you have a big list of things like: Cleaning up, cooking, grocery shopping, making the bed, doing laundry, decorating, organizing, dusting, etc… and you break each task into at least 3 parts… under the broad headlines of IN THE KITCHEN, IN YOUR ROOM, FOR THE HOUSEHOLD, FAMILY INTERACTIONS (Family Interactions: Shopping, wrapping gifts, entertaining guests, talking about problems).
Everything you list should either be underlined in red (hate doing it) or green (love doing it). Be Switzerland with nothing. Just pick a side, can you barely tolerate it or do you not mind it so much?
For everything underlined in green give no more than two sentences about what it is exactly that you like about the job. Do the same for red, what you DON’T like about them.
Now look at your green items. If you had to choose one job to do and you could stop doing all the rest, which is the one you’d choose to keep doing? Draw a PLUS SIGN beside it. Do the same for the red list, with one sentence about what you dislike most about this single job, adding a MINUS SIGN beside it.
Making The Connections
Make two columns on a page. WANT TO DO / DON’T WANT TO DO (here’s where it gets really interesting). Add the green items to the WANT list, reds to the DON’T WANT.
Now, fill in the following blanks with either an activity you said you enjoyed or one that you marked in green… repeat this with more than just that one (PLUS) activity. Perhaps choose your top three or five.
The part I like best is… (choose one of the three broken down elements)
If I could put what I enjoy doing about this activity into one word, the word would be….
I like this action: Grocery Shopping
Breakdown: Making the list, Choosing ingredients in the store, Arranging all the groceries at home
The part I like best is: Making the list.
One word that describes what I like best would be… Planning.
Now, look at the two words you came up with for that last part (because you did it with more than one activity. For brevity sake, I only included the one action: Grocery Shopping). You are going to use these to help you think of a few more things you do that you haven’t listed yet.
Next, fill in these blanks:
I feel energized when I am……….. BLANK.
Here is a list of other activities that involve using this word:……… BLANK.
Use your green pen to circle the activity you enjoy the most of the ones you just listed. Recall the last time you were involved in the activity. Then write five sentences describing what you were doing and when it was. Repeat these steps using the other word. These statements are the beginnings of understanding your Activity Strengths.
As a parent of young children, it’s my job to take notes of the activities my child naturally likes. For each activity, try to isolate the part that s/he most enjoys. I’ll know this by the amount of time spent on a task or by a visible sense of joy or deep concentration (like when they’re involved, faces contort, tongues stick out).
Another activity included in Your Child’s Strengths would make such a fun date night, and you can add alcohol (it’s also fun to do with kids). Bring a camera to a public place where lots of jobs are going on. The grocery store, train station, shopping mall, a school, sporting event, etc. Take 10-20 photos of all the various activities and jobs you see.
Look at the photos at home and write down all the tasks you can think of that are involved in each different job you photographed. For example, if you took photo of an umpire, list all the things you think an ump has to do, aside from constantly adjusting his balls. Then arrange the photos into groups of jobs that seem to have similar activities associated with them. Choose which jobs have the most activities that you think would appeal to you. Then discuss or write why, and which would NOT appeal to you.
I love introspection and learning about ourselves, revealing patterns in our lives, and I love that this is a gift I can give to myself and to my children.