Happy Family Friday! Today, look for the strengths in your children. What are they? Talk to them about this. Show them that you see them.
How often do you as a parent, a teacher, or a coach talk to your child(ren) about her or his strengths? Many agree that the "trophy for everyone" mentality is accidentally creating entitlement and inflated egos, but I've been teaching some of the most vulnerable age groups for 19 years and I'm wondering if we've swung too far in the other direction. I see kids who APPEAR confident, but default to the negative when challenged. I see kids who on the surface seem full of sass but when you look in their eyes as they approach novel tasks, so many first thoughts are doubt.
As I think about the boys I raise at home (Phoenix is 12 and Kadence is 8), I also think about the thousands of children I've taught over the years in private and public settings- the majority of those years working with middle school students. What I see might surprise you. We all want what's best for the children in our lives. We want them to develop skills and empathy- to go out into the world self-assured yet kind enough to lend a hand and hopefully repair some of the social, environmental and political damage we've caused. We want them to develop passions and healthy habits. But how often, in the course of their explorations, do you think they hear "Wow, you are really good at that!" Or, "I picked you for my team because you are a really kind teammate- plus- look at how fast you are! Man, you fly!"
Our kids walk around and are redirected by dozens of well-meaning adults- from the parent or caregiver to the bus driver to the teachers, the nurse, the cafeteria staff, to the coach, tutor and neighbor. Each one with a different set of expectations for behavior. None of this is a bad thing, in my opinion, it takes a village to raise children. BUT, what if they are really in corrective mode in every moment? What if they don't get enough moments to catch their breath and trust their own, messy exploration?
As a writing teacher, I recall teachers from my past saying, "Of course they hate me, I'm the writing teacher!" I think the message was intended to convey the sheer mental challenge a student or person faces trying to master the English language. It certainly isn't easy. But, what I heard was affirmation of a myth. Many children walk into my classroom thinking they are BAD at writing. They think that it is HARD. I have to show them that when they trust that they can build from their strengths - it can be easy. True, many are struggling to formulate sentences or to spell. Many need support with basic paragraphing or find challenge in figuring out what to write about.
What they are really struggling with -however- is how to write THAT WAY- someone else's way. They have lost their voice, their instinct, their inner belief that they have a story to tell. They are overthinking and have forgotten how to FEEL their way through the task. We put that fear in them. We did that.
When we remove barriers to writing and allow kids to tap into their creative sides again, they stop hating it. They think it's much easier than they thought it was in the past. They are natural story tellers from birth, so they REMEMBER. They clamber for more of it. And, ironically, they begin to CARE more about it. Catch a student who previously hated writing in the act of creating a funny phrase or image and man- she feels like a star. It translates into a can-do attitude in other areas of my classroom- including the formal and dreaded essay and in social situations, too. Writing is really a metaphor for just about anything.
We ask a kid to do new things all the time, but do we point out along the way the nuances of their strength building? Do we wait for it to be perfect before we praise? If you coach a child, you correct their technique, smile, and pat them on the back for getting close or accomplishing the task you set before them. This interaction means the world to them. How about we go a step further, when they are not in full swing, boost them up for being a strategic player and ask them to share their knowledge of play with others.
What are we waiting for? Our kids should know their strengths so that when it is really hard, they don't DEFINE themselves by the HARD. They are willing to take more risks because they know they can fall back on that STRENGTH you shared. OUR voice is going to become a voice they hear internally for years. Let that voice be one of encouragement.
As parents, we need to point out the moments our children do the thing we want without being asked, but also, remind them of their innate goodness. It might be as simple as pointing out to them about that trait you always brag to your family about, but realize you don't often say to them. Wow. You have always been so curious and that- will help you solve really big problems one day, or invent something! Imagine- how wonderful it is to have that skill!