The strength of the team is each individual member.
The strength of each member is the team.
~ Phil Jackson
Children often have their “thing.” Something they are into. It can be an activity, object or game. Sometimes these fixations are passing fads, other times they can reveal themselves as true strengths. When children’s strengths are identified and honed, the benefits can sustain them for life. That is, with some focused parenting.
Years ago, I agreed to write an article based on the self-help book Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. They say that once a consistent strength is identified, maximize it. They theorize that many people focus on their weaknesses, which is unproductive. Instead, they recommend bringing weaknesses up to par, and then focusing on your strengths.
They site Golfer Tiger Woods as an example: “His extraordinary long-game—his length with his woods and his irons—is a strength. As is his putting. His ability to chip out of a bunker—inconsistent when compared to other top professionals—is a weakness.” In Tiger Woods’ case, he brought his bunker play up to acceptable levels and then perfected his dominant strength, his swing.
“Unfortunately, most of us have little sense of our talents and strengths, much less the ability to build our lives around them,” the authors state. “Instead, guided by parenting, teachers, managers, and psychology’s fascination with pathology, we become experts in our weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair these flaws, while our strengths lie dormant and neglected.”
Wow. I heard that. Time to kick my parenting skills into high gear.
When my son exhibited a focused interest in trains at nine months old, I didn’t see it as a strength. I was just relieved he’d found something to do rather than pull all the books off the shelves. But when he built a wooden train with blocks at age one, I grabbed the camera. It was then that I clearly saw his problem-solving skills—something he also demonstrated while connecting tracks that sprawled across the living room and wound down the hallway.
Now, Discover Your Strengths says three elements—talents, knowledge and skills—combine to create strengths. The most important of these are talents—that which is innate. Once a talent is identified, combine it with the knowledge and skills needed to perfect that strength. In my son’s case, we provided him with reading material about trains (knowledge) and taught him how to follow instructions to build various train layouts (skills).
At five years old, he’s too young for collector Lionel sets (though he really wants one). So he plays with toy train sets, makes trains from recycled items (toilet paper rolls, anyone?), and reads, reads, reads—from Thomas the Tank Engine books to technical train collectors’ magazines, “Mommy, what’s this say? What’s that?!” Reading enables him to learn more about his hobby, expand his vocabulary and encourages him to read more. The knowledge he’s gained has enabled him to teach me about coupling bolts, tenders and throttle levers.
Focused parenting also inspires us to take him to train museums, events and conventions throughout Southern California. And my husband volunteers at LA Live Steamers—a local train enthusiast club. Not surprisingly, my son wants to be a train engineer.
Discover Your Child’s Strengths through Focused Parenting
So how can you identify your child’s strengths? You’re probably already doing it. Try different activities and games to see which one they grasp quickly—whether it’s piano, cricket or hip hop dancing. If they are absorbed for a good length of time and start experimenting with new ideas of their own, it’s likely a talent.
If a strength isn’t identified, don’t worry. Keep trying different things until something sticks. Then help your child gather the knowledge and skills needed to create a superstar—you just might raise the next Bill Gates, Beethoven or Kobe Bryant.