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Friday, October 7, 2016

Strengths-Based Parenting When Others See Weakness

 By Adam Hickman

I am a father who leads with Ideation, Command, Analytical, Competition and Individualization. These themes bring a high level of intensity, expectation and energy to the challenge of raising children. My wife leads with Belief, Strategic, Developer, Empathy and Relator. Her lens on parenting is colored by caring, nurturing and meeting our children where they are day by day. Our combined themes create a home life where our children are seen as individuals, appreciated for their strengths. Don Clifton’s notion that we should focus on what is right with people is how my wife and I have parented our children since birth, and this approach profoundly changed our daughter’s life.

We are whole-hearted parents who want nothing but the best for our children. In the early years of our daughter Elliana’s life, we learned that she was born with a cognitive challenge. While we both saw Ellie as a happy and healthy little girl, others focused on her challenge — what many considered her weakness. Our relationship themes engaged, and we felt the emotions that follow the language doctors used. The mystery and difficulty of helping her could have consumed us — if we allowed it to. However, instead of becoming blinded by her challenge, we intentionally focused on her strengths.

In Strengths-Based Parenting, author Dr. Mary Reckmeyer discusses the importance of Strengths Spotting. As she says, you want to look for times of yearnings, rapid learning, satisfaction, and timelessness. These are the moments when your child is beginning to soar. What we spotted in Ellie was a talent to learn rapidly once she connected with another individual, be it peer or teacher. We also noticed that Ellie has a unique perception of others, likely her Individualization in development.

Strengths-based parenting has empowered us to think about Ellie’s life in a unique and beneficial way. Society pressures parents to accept the social normality of children’s development. Nearly every checkup includes comparison to standardized testing and evaluations. We felt pressured by these percentiles to evaluate further and diagnose Ellie with a host of disabilities. While we did not ignore the possibilities of what could be contributing to Ellie’s cognitive delay, we knew that investing in her strengths was the most important thing we could do to help her thrive.

In August Ellie started her first day of second grade in the city where we now live. Throughout her first day of school, I felt the emotional side of my Individualization emerge. I felt (and continue to feel) so proud of who Ellie is. Our little girl is strong, confident, and eager to interact with her teacher and make new friends. After we took her to her assigned location, she told my wife, Alecia, and me that we could go. She was ready. And so was I.

At that moment, I became keenly aware of the choice we made following Ellie’s birth to be strengths-based parents who focused on her talents and all that makes her who she is. I am convinced that had we spent the last eight years of her life consumed with what isn’t natural for her and where perhaps she falls behind other children her age when you study the “percentiles,” Ellie would be a completely different little girl.

Parents, while everybody needs a coach, every child needs a parent who is strengths-focused. Dr. Mary Reckmeyer says it best: “Accept, appreciate and build on their talents, interest, and passion.”

Further, she writes, “Don’t ignore your child’s weakness, but manage them so they don’t become roadblocks,” and, “Carve out time to listen, watch and appreciate each of your kids in some way every day … it makes a world of difference.”

These simple words seem to roll off her tongue — clearly advice from a strengths-based parent herself. Yet, don’t take their simplicity for granted. These are life-changing, powerful words. In the next interaction you have with your child or a child in your life, remember these words and be on the lookout for strengths. Figure out which of your top five will help you listen, watch and appreciate what is best about the children in your life — it will, indeed, make a world of difference.

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Adam Hickman is a Learning Design Consultant at Gallup. He specializes in Leadership Development and Emotional Intelligence. Adam received his B.A. in Communications from Hiram College and his Master's Degree in Management from Walden University.

Adam's top 5 strengths are: Ideation | Command | Analytical | Competition | Individualization


Chris Smithhisler said...

Love this post and Go Hiram College!

K Houston said...

Thanks for sharing this powerful story! Of my 3 children, now adults, 2 were always academic overachievers and "at the top of the charts" in almost every category. They are very successful adults today. My youngest son was a super star athlete, very personable and well-liked but was condsidered an academic underachiever because he did not always conform to the rigorous demands of our top notch school system. It began in kindergarten when his teacher was concerned with his ability to pay attention and this issue became a little grey cloud, sometimes a large storm cloud, following him and our family for the next 20 years. Once I got involved in the Strengths Movement and read Strength-Based Parenting I knew that we could have taken a much different approach and enjoyed those school years so much more. My son's top 5 are Maximizer, Connectedness, Developer, Empathy, Adaptability. Thankfully, he is a very successful young man today,

Adam Hickman said...

Chris: Thank you! And great to see some fellow Hiram Alumni comments!

K Houston: What a powerful top 5! Thank you for sharing. Often times I find teachers, doctors, and other influences in my daughters life trying to manage a "weakness". It takes parents like us that truly gets the strengths movement to understand that there is another way - and when it is done effectively, by far it is more powerful than any solution I've heard yet.

Kathy said...

Great post, Adam! I have 3 kiddos and have been strengths-spotting their entire lives. I am so thankful that the Strengths Framework gives me language to describe the talents I see in my kids. I appreciate what you allude to in your first paragraph, because we do parent by our own strengths. One of the biggest challenges of parenting has been learning to manage my own strengths so that I can be effective with my children. I've had to learn to manage my dominant Maximizer and be more patient with the learning curve of youth. My husband is also a fantastic balance strengths-wise, so he keep me in check.

Adam Hickman said...

Thanks Kathy for sharing! Maximizer is such a great strength!

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