“Garcia, no one likes a show-off.” Ouch. That one hurt, especially in front of my classmates. But 7th grade me needed to hear that comment and Mr. B cared enough to call me out. Kids need tough love sometimes. But that’s not all they need. Along with correction, kids need encouragement.  With the stressors they face today, they need adults who are in their corner. They need help with behavior issues, to be sure. But they also need to discover their strengths. They need to know what’s right with them.

What’s Right With Your Kid?

Dr. Mary Reckmeyer helps parents and teachers focus on kids’ strengths. In her book, “Strengths-based Parenting,” she tells the story of a fourth-grader named Steve (no relation). Steve wasn’t good at reading, math, or making friends. By the time Dr. Mary was called in, Steve was weary from his struggles. So were his parents. “Yes, you can test him,” they said, “but he’s had lots of tests and we already know what’s wrong with him.”  But they didn’t know much about what was right with him. Do you know what’s right with your kids?  I’m sure we all want to focus on strengths, but how do you do it?

Catch ‘Em Doing Something Right

As it turned out, Steve liked to draw. And in his own quirky way, he was funny. And when he felt more comfortable with Dr. Mary, his sense of humor peaked out. She came to enjoy little Steve and he could feel it. His parents began to display his drawings and tune in when he chose to speak. Steve didn’t become the next Picasso or Charles Schultz. But he did find a creative outlet and began to feel comfortable in his own skin. By the end of the fifth grade, his peers knew him as “the funny kid who could draw.” Every kid needs someone in their corner…someone who doesn’t just see what’s wrong but what’s right with them.


Dr. Mary shares: “A 23-year longitudinal study of 1,000 children in New Zealand found that a child’s personality at age 3 shows remarkable similarity to his or her reported personality traits at age 26.” That means you can begin spotting a child’s strengths pretty early. Do you know what to look for?

    • 1. What To Look For
      • StrengthsFinder is the best tool for learning what’s right with people, their God-given talents. But it’s not designed for children and the thirty-four strengths can be hard to decipher. That’s why the research team at Gallup distilled those thirty-four talents into just ten for kids. Briefly, they are:
    • Achieving: high-energy, self-starter, loves a challenge and getting things done
    • Caring: includer, devoted, cheerleader, nurturer, has a big heart
    • Competing: go-getter, sees things in life as a game, feels joy when winning
    • Confidence: risk-taker, leader, independent, no lack of self-assurance
    • Dependability: reliable, loyal, driven, intent on keeping promises
    • Discoverer: explorer, learner, likes to ask, “How?” and “Why?”
    • Future Thinker: imaginative, hopeful, expressive, loves to think big
    • Organizer: structured, rule-follower, organizing their world makes life better
    • Presence: performer, outgoing, star, loves to tell stories and make others laugh
    • Relating: connector, greeter, team player, makes and keeps friends

I can further unpack these terms in the future. But if you simply know they exist and start looking for them, you’re on the right track.

Four Clues to Kids’ Strengths

Dr. Mary gives four clues to kids’ talents:

        1. Yearnings: What activities or environments is your child repeatedly drawn to or eager to try?
        2. Rapid learning: What new skills or activities does your child pick up quickly and easily?
        3. Satisfaction: Which activities is she excited about doing again and again?
        4. Timelessness: When does your child become so engrossed that she seems to lose track of time?

Little Steve made it through a rough patch in his elementary school journey. Your kids can too. These tools can help. Thoughts? Questions? Snide remarks? I’d love to hear them!

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