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Teaching Kids to Recognize their Strengths and Weaknesses
If we think about wanting to teach children essential skills such as recognizing their strengths and weaknesses, we need to understand how children learn. Gelman (2009) notes that children not only learn through their own experiences within their surroundings, but they learn more from the input of others. That means that we can significantly impact what our children learn, including skills that would affect their personal growth.
One of my kids had a school teacher one year who loved writing. It was evident that the teacher appreciated it when students put effort into their creative writing and my child, being quite a people pleaser, made it their goal to write the most amazing stories. The teacher loved it and reinforced them for it; my child enjoyed the social praise they received and would therefore put in even more effort, which in turn led to more social reinforcement.
At the end of the school year, we had a child who loved to write and believed this was a great strength. Unfortunately, all the emphasis on writing caused the same child to think they were no good at math. This was not because they had a hard time understanding math, but rather because all the reinforcement and encouragement went into supporting their writing. They ended up believing that math was one of their weaknesses, while in reality, it was never the case.
This simple but true story is a clear example of how one person can influence a child’s thinking and impression of their strengths and challenges. Teachers play an important role in this regard.
Here are some things we can do at home to teach our kids to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, too:
Reinforce when needed
Parents are the true experts on their children. Parents know their kids – they know what their children find easy, and they know when something is a struggle for them. If you see your child putting in an effort to do their best, reinforce them for their effort. Reinforce them for trying, for pushing through, and not giving up. It is not necessarily about perfect scores, winning the race, or being selected for the first team, but the skills they learn can become some of their strengths. Let your child know when you are proud of them!
Challenge them when needed
While it is necessary to reward our children when they try hard and do their best, a helpful skill for a child to learn is to challenge themselves as it would help them to improve, learn and grow. We can support these skills by setting the example ourselves. If you can do better (this applies to anything you take on), don’t be satisfied by doing as little as you can – challenge yourself.
Start a journal
Help your child to start their own journal where they can write (or draw) about their experiences. You can do this as frequently as possible, but try to be consistent. When you start, your child may need more support and guidance, but as they become more confident, you can fade out the help you give them. Help them think of something during that day/week that they did well in, something they enjoyed, and perhaps something they can improve on. It does not have to be elaborate – it can be everyday occurrences such as being kind to a friend who needed help or putting their laundry in the washing basket.
If your child is happy to share it with you, it would be good to chat casually about the things they write in their journal. Reinforce them for the things they did well in and for recognizing that they did well. Encourage them to keep trying the things they want to improve on and remember to set the example of a growth mindset.
Gelman S. A. (2009). Learning from others: children’s construction of concepts. Annual review of psychology, 60, 115–140.