Is your child your strength or weakness
Recognize and promote strengths
When children have difficulties in a subject or in school as a whole, the child and parents often get into a negative spiral.
At the beginning there is usually the expectation that the problem will be solved if the child tries harder or if you simply wait a bit for the knot to loosen.
This hope is partially fulfilled. Sometimes not - for example, because the child actually has a reading, spelling or arithmetic weakness and can only make small progress in the respective area with great difficulty.
Now the child's weakness increasingly penetrates everyday family life and takes up more and more space: the father practices dictations with the daughter that are littered with mistakes even after the fifth round. The mother broods over the math book with the daughter at the weekend and is desperate because nothing gets stuck and no explanation, however graphic, wants to lead to an aha experience.
Soon fear comes into play. Parents worry that the others will pass their own child by, that they will lose touch. The efforts are increased again, the pressure on parents and child increases. First hobbies are canceled in order to be able to spend more time studying.
Now the children are starting to close themselves off more and more. They get a lump in their throats when they just see the tasks. The first tears roll down. The parents comfort but also get angry more and more often when the child does not cooperate. Doubts arise about the child's motivation: If only they wanted to, everything would be easier.
Over time, helplessness spreads. The child feels stupid, the parents are at a loss: “What else should we do? We have already tried everything! "
For some children, life in this phase becomes almost unbearable. They are constantly confronted with their weakness at school and at home. There is not only additional practice - the problems of the child also increasingly determine the discussions in the family. The child experiences this as permanent debits from their "self-worth account".
With every bad grade, with every task that one fails and that seems easy for others, with everyone:
- "Now watch out."
- "We practiced that!"
- "Why did you write that wrong again now?"
- "Why don't you want that in your head?"
the child loses a little more of his self-confidence, his self-esteem and his zest for life.
Over time, some children seem so disinterested, unmotivated, tired and joyless that their parents feel: My child has hardly any strengths or interests. When we ask what the child is particularly good at in this situation, we often get statements like: “Well, sport - but you can't earn any money with that either.” Or “She really likes to paint - but when she's not at school if she tries harder, she can't do what she wants later anyway. "
But how can you deal with a child's weakness? What is really helpful? Five points seem particularly important to us:
- Study in depth what is the fastest way for a child to progress with a particular weakness. Inefficient methods make learning a torture for both parents and children. Too often parents write dictations for hours, although this is of practically no use, or let the child “solve” arithmetic problems that they cannot understand at all due to previous gaps.
- Limit the time spent practicing. The motto of our book "Learning with Children" is: 10 minutes a day in the right place with effective exercises. Give the weakness its place and leave it out for the rest of the time.
- Pay attention to small, individual progress your child makes. It will take a long time, or it may never happen, for the grade in a problem subject to improve. So that the child is still ready to practice, they need caregivers who can show them that you are making progress. You achieved these improvements because you practice - and we are very happy about it and proud of your efforts.
- Accompany your child through failure. You can find several ways to do this in our article "How Children Can Learn To Cope With Failure."
- Create space and time for the interests and strengths of your child - regardless of whether these seem "meaningful" or "important" to you. Find out why this point is so important in this article.
Living strengths promotes self-efficacy
In a small but exciting study by Prof. Krapf, teaching students at the University of Zurich divided children with poor school education into two groups. One group received tutoring in their problem subjects, the other was encouraged in areas where they had a strength.
The exciting result: the funding in the strong areas had an impact on the performance in the problem subjects. In the end, this group even performed better in the problem subjects than the group that received tutoring for their problem subjects.
Methodologically, the investigation is too weak to generalize the results. But it reflects an experience that we were also able to make in practice: if a child loses a beloved hobby in order to gain more time for school and practice, the children lose all motivation. At the same time, a sense of achievement and the experience of being able to do something lead to more energy, more self-confidence and the conviction that you can also deal with difficulties.
In sports or playing their instrument, children can learn that exercise is closely related to progress. This basic experience can often also be transferred to school learning.
But other experiences can also give children a feeling of strength and self-efficacy. Studies have shown that young people who volunteer for a good cause are more successful in school and have a higher intrinsic work motivation.
If parents can watch their child enjoying a hobby, sport, music or volunteering, assuming responsibility and proving their abilities, they too can experience their child from a different perspective. You can regain confidence that there will be a place where the child's skills are in demand. This optimistic attitude also carries over to the child.
Strengths preserve the joy of life
Several studies show how depressing it can be for children to be affected by a learning disorder. Children with reading, writing or arithmetic disorder are more likely to develop anxiety, depression and think about suicide more often. It is therefore sorely necessary that these children are allowed to perceive and live their strengths. These can also be positive character traits.
Positive psychology representatives have developed a character strength test. This does not primarily provide information about skills or talents, but about positive character traits that help to lead a happy, meaningful and successful life - for example curiosity, perseverance, friendliness, leadership skills, gratitude or humor.
Martin Seligman describes in his book "Flourish - how people bloom" several studies that show that being able to act out strengths of character increases the well-being of children, adolescents and adults.
In one school, the pupils were allowed to fill out the character strength test and learned which positive character traits they most distinguish themselves. Seligman describes these as signature strengths. One school lesson per week was devoted to the question of how the children can live out these signature strengths in everyday life. Here, too, it was found that not only did the children's well-being increase, but school performance also improved.
Strengths contribute to identity formation and career choice
It is important that children learn certain basic skills in arithmetic, reading and writing, and it is essential for their future life that good support takes place in these areas. However, it should not be forgotten that children will later build their profession on their strengths.
If, however, the focus is only on the weaknesses, children will later have no answer to the question of what they are good at, what distinguishes them and what they enjoy. However, it would be particularly important for children who are poorly educated to have concrete, clear answers to this question.
There are so many professional fields in which strengths can come into play that do not play a role in school. Let's list a few:
sale: Those who can sell well will find a job. Thousands of products want to be brought to women and men and whoever can get excited about something and inspire others will be in demand.
service: The service sector is now the largest labor sector. In these professions, customer orientation, empathy, friendliness and an open, engaging manner are more important than spelling skills.
design: Whether as a graphic designer, media specialist, web designer, interior decorator, window dresser, fashion designer or make-up artist - an eye for aesthetics, a feeling for colors and shapes, fine motor skills and enjoyment of new trends are central to many professions.
Craft: Craftsmanship, a fascination for certain materials such as wood or metal, a love of cars, the joy of tinkering, screwing and a solid result form the basis for many professions such as carpenter, mechanic, watchmaker or goldsmith.
The list could be expanded at will.
Teachers and trainers want to be able to feel: The trainee is passionate about sales, working with animals and tinkering. He or she loves working with people in nursing or childcare.
However, this only works if the child can find out in his development where his interests are and which particular strengths he brings with him. If you mainly work on eradicating the child's weaknesses, in the end you often end up with a joyless, disinterested and (as they say in Switzerland) “extinguished” adolescent who doesn't know himself, doesn't know what he is wants and can hardly make up for his school weaknesses with specialist knowledge, enthusiasm and positive character traits.
Sometimes parents tell us that these things no longer apply today. That is not true: a bad report makes it difficult to start working life. But skills, character, the ability to work in a team, good manners, reliability, enthusiasm for work and a positive demeanor count just as much today as it did in the past - every teacher will confirm this to you.
Help your child get to know themselves and their strengths
What is your child particularly good at? What are its positive characteristics? What is it particularly interested in?
It is not that easy to answer these questions. Some aids, which we will introduce in the following, help with this.
As already mentioned, positive psychology has developed a character strength questionnaire. This can be completed online free of charge on the website of the University of Zurich. You will then receive an individual evaluation. The questionnaire is available in a version for children from 10 years and for adults.
If you would like to know what talents your child has, you can use our strength questionnaire.
Filling out a questionnaire and then having a conversation about your own strengths is a nice thing. However, if you want to strengthen children sustainably, more is necessary.
Anchoring strengths in everyday life
Strengths develop when they are lived. In the studies on character strengths, the children were given a short time each week to think about how they can use their strengths in everyday life, to tell each other about experiences and to set specific goals.
As a parent, you can:
- Talk to your child regularly about their strengths.
- Show interest in areas your child may be passionate about by asking questions about them or sharing such moments with them.
- Take a young person's political or social engagement seriously.
- Bringing the child together with like-minded people - through clubs, courses, events, conventions, etc.
- Cheer along and celebrate when the child takes part in a competition, competes in a tournament or plays something with the instrument, for example.
- Support the child by pointing out exciting information (articles, magazines, books, films) on their favorite topic and by making new purchases for sports and the like. also support financially.
The "What-went-well-exercise" from positive psychology is also valuable. During this, you talk to the child every evening about what has been beautiful. The following film shows what this can look like:
As a parent, you can also write down in the evening what you noticed positively about your child or what you enjoyed about your child today. For example, you can use our strengths diary to record this. In our “Learning with Children” online course, this is the first exercise parents receive. In our evaluation, many parents told us that this exercise alone broadened their view and had a positive effect on the child.
Mastering school time - despite learning difficulties
So that as many children as possible can have a happy, successful school time despite learning difficulties, they need parents and teachers who are at their side with effective support, who can see their strengths and who can help them in the event of failure. You can find many specific tips on this in our books “Learning with Children” and “Learning Successfully with ADHD”.
The book “Learning with Children” shows how you can discover gaps in reading, spelling and arithmetic in children and work through them with the help of short, effective exercises. In addition, it offers parents specific suggestions to reduce resistance to learning and to help the child to work independently and motivated.
The strengths questionnaire is taken from our guide "Successful learning with ADHD". Two chapters are devoted to the question of how parents can strengthen their child's self-confidence and promote their strengths in everyday life. It also contains many practical tips on the subjects of concentration, motivation, perseverance and self-organization.
For parents: strengthening children for life
For professionals: further training in learning coaching
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