"When you look at a child, you can either see her strengths or her weaknesses. The choice us yours."
That is the central premise of the new book How to Discover and Develop Your Child's Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers by Jenifer Fox, M.Ed.
This message is so simple -- but also revolutionary at the same time.
Fox says that instead of focusing on weaknesses and the areas where kids don't excel, we need to focus on their strengths. Rather than label kids as learning disabled or "dumb," we need to examine the curriculum, school settings, and teaching styles that prevent them from learning. Rather than destroy their self confidence and curiosity, we should empower them to use their gifts. "Most of the labels we ascribe to children overlook what is right about children. We prefer to concentrate on labeling weaknesses. The problem is that eventually the label begins to inform the child, rather than the other way around."
Fox says that the traditional school environment tends to weaken children by sending them a message of disapproval if they are not able to excel in every subject area. She also points out that we teach the same subjects in our schools today as were taught one hundred years ago and kids aren't motivated because they don't understand why they need to learn the things we are teaching them.
So what is the solution to this complex, entrenched problem? Fox says that parents, teachers, and students all need to participate in a dialogue about education. She points out that every child starts out wanting to learn and it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to discover how to make that happen -- we can't place the entire responsibility for learning on the child and then label him a failure when things don't work out.
Fox also points out that it is unreasonable to expect children to excel at everything. Do you know anyone who is good at absolutely everything? Of course not. We need to find out what each individual child's strengths are and help them to develop those skills. To that end, Fox includes a "Strengths Inventory" that helps us pinpoint what our Learning Strengths, Relationship Strengths and Activity Strengths are (I had a lot of fun filling this out and thinking about my own strengths).
Fox's approach leaves me feeling empowered to help my own children develop their strengths. In the way that we interact at home, in the school settings that we choose, and through my participation in their education, I can focus on what is beautiful and unique about each of them.
This book may be about education, but the decision to celebrate strengths rather than weaknesses begins at home. I am grateful for her message.