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Strength-Based Families

Start with potential

Parents with their kids can jointly discover, from toddler to high schooler, what their kids’ talents are, and how they can be developed to lead to successful adulthood. Too often, the education community emphasizes outcomes over potential.  Schools focus on what our kids should accomplish – standards, objectives, curriculum outcomes – over what comes naturally to them.  

NOT BROKEN believes it makes more sense for our kids’ natural talents to drive their learning.  Below are a few suggestions on how parents can hold conversations with their kids to strengthen their talents. 

Toddlers

Observing your little ones can provide tremendous information.  You can record your information in a journal or smartphone.  In addition to what you see, make sure you record your reflections, questions, and follow-up activities.  Once you start observing, you will be amazed at the number of decisions your toddler makes each day.  Here are a few decisions:

  • Play inside or outside
  • What shoes to wear
  • Choose between outfits
  • What game or toy to play with
  • Why it’s important to put away toys
  • What to have for lunch or dinner
  • Who are my best friends

Encourage your toddler to make decisions.  This does not mean you don’t provide information.  If it’s cold, you will certainly want to talk to your toddler about the pros and cons of not wearing a jacket.  Also, let your little one experience frustration.  Don’t rush in to provide help.  But always be there to offer support.  One thing that’s very important is to discuss how your toddler made his decisions and that your feedback is strength-based.

Be on the lookout for your toddler’s talents and interests. Make sure you take notes on what your young one seems to do well or where she exhibits a strong interest.  Does he like to accomplish things from beginning to end (achiever) or organize her toys in a certain way (organizer)?   Other budding talents could be an appreciation for friendships (relator) or always asking “why” and “how” (discover) questions.

After a few days review your notes and identify the most positive things that stand out.  What does your toddler do well?  What made you smile the most?  Look for the common themes and patterns which pleases you the most.   Emphasize and build on these themes with activities, games, and free play.

Below are a few books that show the value of talents-based learning. 

The Smallest Horse tells the story of Trixie.

Trixie is a miniature horse who worries she’s not big enough to have an important job on the ranch. Children will delight in this heartwarming tale as they follow Trixie’s misadventures and the ultimate realization that she does indeed have a very special purpose on the ranch.

Kids can visit the Pony Dreams website to meet Trixie and the rest of the herd through a series of fun and educational videos and posts about the horses and the topics broached in each book.

“You must be good at something,” said Miss Lucinda. “Everyone has a special talent.”

On the first day of school, Miss Lucinda asks the students to share their special talents. Francesca is a star soccer player, Matthew can catch huge fish with his grandpa, and Candace is an excellent artist. It seems that everyone has something to share. But Jack is worried. He doesn’t have any talent at all . . . or so he thinks.

Poor Duncan just wants to color.

But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: His crayons have had enough! They quit! Beige Crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown Crayon. Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. And Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking—each believes he is the true color of the sun.

What can Duncan possibly do to appease all of the crayons and get them back to doing what they do best?

We also know that the first 5 years are the most crucial in regards to development.

Don’t wait until they seem ready to start writing & learning how to spell, start them out as soon as they are capable of comprehending your voice & holding a pencil.

This Activity Book is Perfect for children 2 years & older, & you can even start reading it to them at earlier ages.

It’s filled with:

  • Traceable lower & uppercase letters.
  • Corresponding words to match.
  • Connect the Dots with letter fill-ins for word completion
  • Either a place to color or draw or doodle your own images.
  • Prompted Question for each entry.
  • Fun Words & Pictures to help develop Written & Oral Skills for School Preparation.
  • And extra pages to practice each letter and write on your own.

Preschoolers

Preschoolers like to have choices and enjoy making decisions that affect their lives.  Most important, preschoolers like the opportunity to have free time to make their own decisions to do what interests them the most.  Instead of having a highly organized schedule of activities, it’s important for preschoolers to have options on how they want to use their free time.  Making decisions take practice and the role of parents sometimes is to just sit by, provide information, and offer support and guidance when asked.  

Unstructured time allows parents to create an environment where the talents and interests of their kids flow freely.  Once kids determine what they want to do, parents can provide information in the form of knowledge and skills.   Parents can provide reading readiness activities, simple math and numbers, and verbal and written skills. 

When the focus is on talents and interests, parents are more likely to have a powerful and respectful learning relationship with their kids.  When kids are learning around talents and interests learning is no longer a burden or something in the abstract. 

Learning when presented in this fashion has purpose and meaning for kids.

For example, let’s say your kid has a natural caring talent.  Your kid exhibits concern and an appreciation for others. Using this natural talent as a motivating force, discuss with your kid how she can be the “best caring kid in the world.”   Ask her what she needs to know to be a great caring person.  How can she practice being a caring, appreciative kid?   Think about all the ways your kid can get involved with “helping activities.”  Hold a conversation with your preschooler to see if she might be interested in any of the following activities (this is just a sample list): 

  • Help at community a food bank
  • Take books left out on library tables to the librarian
  • Help neighbors by watering their garden
  • Collect bottles and cans and donate the money
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter 
  • Be a greeter or offer to help at community events
  • Offer a friend a kind word if they are sad

With the selection of an activity, your preschooler has a great opportunity to learn all kinds of skills and information.  Most important you are creating a solid foundation in preparing your kid for elementary school.

Below are a few strength-based resources to support you and your preschooler.

View the culture of childhood through a whole new lens.

Identify age-based bias and expand your outlook on and understanding of early childhood as a culture. Examine various elements of childhood culture: language, belief economics, arts, and social structure to understand children’s dispositions of questioning, engagement, and cooperation.

Empowers your kid with the knowledge and skills to embrace challenges.

How to Win the World Cup in Pajamas is based on studies showing that mental toughness can combat bullying and positively impact childrens’ minds.  The guide teaches positive self-talk skills, encourages visualization, and cultivates intrinsic motivation by goal setting.

How the Caterpillar Flew is a story of self-discovery.

The butterfly was living a very unhappy life crawling on the ground because she was unaware of who and what she really is. Neither butterfly nor her friends, the caterpillars, had ever seen their own reflection.

With My Strong Mind, your kids will be introduced to mental strength and learn about techniques to develop their own strong mind.

The story is about Kate, a sporty and happy girl who uses her strong mind to tackle her daily challenges with a positive attitude.

Kate faces several situations your children will face too. She applies a positive attitude to deal with her challenges. Amongst them are getting ready in time in the morning, doing cartwheels, standing in front of the whole class with show and tell and playing basketball.

Kate applies techniques like goal setting, positive self-talk, accept failure as learning, visualization of a problem, breathing or mindfulness exercise, gratitude, and controlled distraction.

Follow Maddy through her day at school, where your child will learn how easy it can be to spread kindness!

From taking turns on the swing to including everyone in the game – this storybook shows that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted!

Elementary schoolers

With elementary school, your kids become more aware of themselves as independent persons.  Basically, elementary-age kids want more control over their lives and want to be free to make their own decisions.  In other words, your kids are starting to grow-up.

Let’s make it clear, we are not talking about the freedom to do whatever your kid wants to do.  That would be silly.  What we are talking about is giving your kid the freedom to make decisions that will cause him no real harm.  You may not like the decision but remember, decision-making is a skill that must be learned.

Some examples of decision making range from healthy food choices to after school activities and events. Other topics can include choosing a particular style of clothing, schedules, and entertainment.

Parent-kid discussions can include the pros and cons of determining the best decision.

Think about the risks and benefits when considering the decisions you will encourage your kid to make.  Too often our fears are over-inflated.  Ask yourself, what’s the risk?  Then, what’s the benefit?

By expanding decision-making boundaries you are communicating your respect and trust for your kid which goes a long way in her personal and social development.  The elementary school years create a solid foundation for how your kids feel about themselves and especially their potential for success.  The knowledge and skills your kid acquires during their elementary years need to be practiced to perfect their decision-making talents. 

As your kids make decisions reinforce and appreciate the ones that work and discuss the challenges that surfaced from decisions that were not as successful.  Most important, is that you build a respectful, positive relationship to increase your kid’s confidence in the decisions she makes.   

Before we leave your elementary kid, let’s talk a little about talents.

Let’s say that your kid loves to be the center of attention.  As a talent, we call this presenceWhile this is a powerful talent it can also be a challenge if limits are not established. 

One way to build on this talent is to brainstorm with your kid about how he can use his great talent (that’s right, you need to make a really big deal about this talent and tell him how proud you are of him) to help others.  For example, he could ask his teacher if he could help organize a play for his class or a drama club.  To make his case, work with your kid on developing a proposal.  The proposal could (1) list a few other kids that are supportive, (2) how drama could help them with other subjects, and (3) how his class could become famous.

Other ideas could include:

  • Increase family responsibilities and leadership at home i
  • Schedule special time for your kid with the family
  • Provide choices as often as you can to your kid
  • Organize family activities where your kid plays an important role
  • Have your kid develop a schedule of weekly activities
  • Emphasize your kid’s interests as much as you can

Below are a few resources to help you support your kids in preparing for middle school.

If you drop just one soda can out the window, it’s no big deal … right?

But what if everybody did that? What if everybody broke the rules … and spoke during storytime, didn’t wash up, or splashed too much at the pool? Then the world would be a mess. But what if everybody obeyed the rules so that the world would become a better place? Using humorous illustrations rendered in mixed media, these questions are answered in a child-friendly way and show the consequences of thoughtless behavior.

In an effort to provide a blueprint or map for parents with our youth, Coach Ivan C. Thomas offers a collection of empowering insights and motivational quotes for parents who have dared to discover what their child?s natural gift or talent.

Everything for every kid. 

Most important is that you will find something for every talent and every interest.  A great resource for beginning and continuing strength-based family conversations.

Strength-based-conversation starters.

Let’s change the subject with a joke.  Then focus on what’s funny and why?  who knows where the questions will go?

Ways to grow your kid’s talents. 

Offers parents step by step plans for maximizing early experiences, arranging mentors, facilitating practice, boosting motivation, building a center of excellence, and managing talent development

Middle schoolers

Kids in middle school are in a tough position.  They’ve moved beyond the elementary grades but are not ready for high school.  As we know kids in middle school are beginning to experience many physical, emotional. and psychological changes; changes which can cause stressors and confusion in their lives.  So the most important thing we can do for middle schoolers is to help them gain a sense of control over their day to day activities.

When kids, especially middle schoolers, have a low sense of control they often experience a high degree of anxiety and depression.  Parents can play an important role in helping their kids gain more control over their lives and therefore, manage their frustration by practicing strength-based decision-making with them. 

Strength-based decision-making is based on (1) Telling kids, they know themselves better than anyone else, (2) Making sure kids’ opinions are valued and respected, (3) Encouraging the negotiations of decisions so that kids know their ideas count, and (4) Understanding the costs and benefits of all potential decision so that everyone is aware of the consequences.   

Finally, while some decisions may be difficult for parents to agree to, they should be considered within the context of “what’s the worst thing that can happen” compared to providing your kid with the reassurance that his parents trust him to do the right thing.

Remember, it’s important that we increase our kid’s feelings of control and have the faith that even if they make a mistake and choose the wrong decision, they will learn a valuable lesson.  Let’s not forget, life is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Let’s talk about talents. 

What if your kid was future-oriented?   Having the talent as a future thinker, kids tend to think about what is possible beyond the present time, even beyond their lifetime.  They see possibilities and opportunities everywhere.  

Based on this talent, parents can have a great conversation with their kids about their future.  (Please note that such a conversation should happen with all kids)  To do this, connect your kid’s future orientation with their interests, hobbies, and curiosities.  Looking to the future, what opportunities exist for success?  Where might your kid’s interests, hobbies, and curiosities take him?  What knowledge and skills are necessary for your kid’s opportunities to be realized?

When you see your kid’s eyes light up you know you have struck gold!

Below are a few books that show the value of talents-based learning. 

The Homeschooling Journal filled with 100 pages of challenging questions and interesting topics for the Middle School student.  A great way to explore their interests, hobbies, and curiosities.

Your kid will use the internet to find out how birds learn to fly, what causes waves, what happened to the dinosaurs, and what causes the wind. They will learn about the Girl Scouts, the Great Seal, the Panama Canal, the Supreme Court, Egypt, and the moon.

They will do research on Ida B. Wells, Ernest Hemingway, Joan of Arc, Grandma Moses, Elvis Presley, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, Archimedes, St. Nicholas, Benjamin Franklin, and more.

Middle school is its own important, distinct territory, and yet it’s either written off as an uncomfortable rite of passage or lumped in with other developmental phases.

Based on her many years working in schools, professional counselor Phyllis Fagell sees these years instead as a critical stage that parents can’t afford to ignore (and though “middle school” includes different grades in various regions, Fagell maintains that the ages make more of a difference than the setting).

Though the transition from childhood to adolescence can be tough for kids, this time of rapid physical, intellectual, moral, social, and emotional change is a unique opportunity to proactively build character and confidence.

Middle Schooled is an adolescent parenting guide for those who would rather laugh than cry. In a hilarious and insightful way, Andy Mullen helps parents confidently manage their middle school kids while understanding what is normal behavior. Middle Schooled is guaranteed to keep you smiling.

Hilarious hero Rafe Khatchadorian heads to summer camp and faces bullies with his friends in this installment of James Patterson’s beloved Middle School series.

Rafe Khatchadorian, the hero of the bestselling Middle School series, is ready for a fun summer at camp–until he finds out it’s a summer school camp!

Luckily, Rafe easily makes friends with his troublemaking cabin mates and bunkmate, a boy nicknamed Booger-Eater, who puts up with endless teasing from the other kids.

Rafe soon realizes there’s more to a person than a nickname, though, and Booger-Eater might be the kind of friend you want on your side when the boys from the Cool Cabin attack.

Hello, sixth grade!

Mia Lee is a stop-motion filmmaker with a wheelchair and a lot of sass, trying to survive her new middle school. Which doesn’t seem so easy when she’s running for Video Production Club President against certified Middle School Mean Girl, Angela Vanover.

Things get weird when Angela starts being nice to her – well, when other people are around, at least. But when Mia’s campaign posters for VP Club President mysteriously vanish – no tape, no poster, no nothin’ – the presidential race gets real.

With the help of her brain files, an awesome aide with keys to the whole school, and her friends, Rory, Daniela, and Caroline, Mia finds herself on a mission to prove Angela isn’t just an ordinary middle school mean girl, she’s a thief!

High schoolers

The good news for parents of high schoolers is that some of our greatest fears are not supported by research.  For example, high schoolers can be very reasonable, do not necessarily believe they are immortal, and learn from their mistakes.  However, we also know high schoolers can be very obstinate and hard-headed.   We do know when parents create a strength-based relationship with their kid, things seem to go much better.

Instead of focusing on the dispute, in a strength-based relationship, you and your kid express your respective views on what the ideal situation should look like.  This is not necessarily the solution to a dispute or a problem.  Rather it represents the ideal.  Your goal is to create something that is ideal for both of you; it is the co-development of something that is the most desirable. 

For example, let’s say you are having an argument about your kid wanting to see a movie on a school night.  Most often, the conflict or argument is defined as “yes, you can go” or “no, you can’t go.”  It’s a win-lose proposition.

To create an ideal situation, one that both you and your kid can “live with,” discuss what’s the best situation or circumstances for your kid going to the movies.  To do this, have a conversation about going to the movies in general, and have your kid do the same.

It could go something like this.

As the parent, you are interested in your kid being prepared for school the next day and your kid wants to have fun with his friends at the movies during the week.

One ideal solution is your kid can go to the movies on the weekend and does not need permission from you, his parent, but will not go to the movies on a school night. This solution results in your kid have a sense of control over his life.

This ideal solution could be expanded further to your kid having the freedom (and responsibility) to decide what movies he wants to see. This add on tells your kid you have confidence in his decision-making.

The best way to build effective relationships with your high schooler is, to be honest, direct, and recognize that she is a self-governing, independent person.  Kind of like, if you build it they will come. In other words, if you treat your high schooler as a responsible person, you just may be surprised at the result.

There’s an enormous body of research and studies on how positive expectations lead to positive results and that the way you act will be replicated by your kid.  If you are strength-based it is likely your kid will focus on what works and what is possible.

A family ritual 

Emphasizing strengths should become a family ritual and there is no better place to hold a strength-based discussion than at the dinner table.  First, it’s great for the digestive system.  Nothing improves the quality of a meal more than a discussion on what’s great in your family.  When parents and their kids emphasize each other’s strengths over deficits, your family will have less anxiety, stress, and turmoil.

Below are a few books that show the value of talents-based learning. 

CliftonStrengths for Students — which includes a unique access code to take the CliftonStrengths assessment — helps students discover and develop their strengths and reach their potential.

Discover and Develop Your Strengths  

As a student, you have the opportunity every day to search for patterns in your actions, learn from them and use them to make the most of your life experiences, now and in the future. To do that, you need a solid understanding of where and when you’re at your best: your strengths.

CliftonStrengths for Students will help you discover and develop your strengths — and reach your full potential.

This book includes an access code to take the CliftonStrengths assessment. 

The Indigo How-To Guide for High Schools is our complete field book explaining the sciences of the Indigo Assessment and how to use the student results for personalized learning. It also includes over 50 lesson plans to increase social-emotional health, build 21st-century skills and prepare for college and career. This expanded 2nd edition of our Fieldbook offers additional tips and activities.

What makes learning more meaningful?

Exploring student passions, curiosities, and interests and having these shape essential questions, units of study, and performance tasks are all covered in this powerful book.

Kids begin their learning journey as curious problem solvers who ask questions and create solutions.

As they go through school, something happens to many of our students, and they begin to play the game of school, eager to be compliant and follow a path instead of making their own.

As parents, teachers, and, leaders, we have the opportunity to be the guide in our kids’ education and unleash the creative potential of each and every student. In a world that is ever-changing, our job is not to prepare students for something; instead, our role is to help students prepare themselves for anything.

In Empower, A.J. Juliani and John Spencer provide teachers, coaches, and administrators with a roadmap that will inspire innovation, authentic learning experiences, and practical ways to empower students to pursue their passions while in school.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

On May 17, 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven addressed the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin on their Commencement day. Taking inspiration from the university’s slogan, “What starts here changes the world,” he shared the ten principles he learned during Navy Seal training that helped him overcome challenges not only in his training and long Naval career but also throughout his life; and he explained how anyone can use these basic lessons to change themselves-and the world-for the better.