As a nation, our attention on our children has shifted – from what might be natural assets to be developed in them, to what deficits need to be fixed. We are all wired differently. As such, an “asset-focused” parenting revolution is on the rise to help us remember to focus on what works.
We can truly help our children succeed by going with the particular grain of their minds to help them to overcome challenges and foster their unique gifts. The message is that they don’t have to master everything, but they can learn to trust in their own abilities. Here are just a few ways you can continue to help your children’s forward movement so that they can develop relationships of trust with their own minds:
1. Instead of focusing on what goes wrong, begin to study and amplify what’s right about both you and your child. As you tuck your child into bed, ask for and share three things that went right during the day.
2. With your child, begin a joint study of the causes of positive events. What about his studying for that math exam made it possible for him to get such a great score? What was it that made you feel so excited about what happened at work? What made it possible for your daughter to learn to play soccer so readily: was it watching someone else, or being told how to make a particular play before she had to do it? How did he and she resolve that fight instead of beating up on each other?
3. Post “Strength” stickies on the refrigerator, a different color for each member of the family. A strength is anything a person does that gives them energy when they do it, and that they’ve always been able to do really well.
4. Let each child design a play time for the rest of the family, based on his or her strengths. Jerome might have the whole family plan scenarios for the next vacation. Ana Li might interview each family member about the ways they are smart, and then make a big chart that anyone could add to. Dawna could tell stories at dinner on Tuesday nights about strengths she noticed each family member exemplifying during the week.
5. Do a family boredom study: Have each family member study their own minds when they are “bored,” and report at dinner what they discovered about what boredom feels like in their body, how to turn boredom into daydreaming, what triggered their boredom, what happens when they use a strength in a task that has always bored them, etc.
6. Have Family Focus meals: Each dinner can be a time when the entire family focuses attention on one person, asking questions about their latest hero or heroine, what activity has made them happiest that week, what three things went well, how they’ve used their strengths to face a challenge, etc.
It is important to understand that recognizing assets is not the same as giving praise or compliments. To praise is to give generalized compliments about a child in order to make him or her feel good. “You’re so cute.” “What a handsome young man.” “Oh your picture is beautiful.” I think of praise like candy. It may taste good, but it doesn’t nourish. Consuming too much can spoil a child’s appetite. Recognizing assets, on the other hand, is noticing what specifically is true about a child’s abilities, what he or she has accomplished, learned and achieved, his or her patterns of success.
Recognizing your child’s assets does not require that you become a different or better parent; merely that you shift what you are paying attention to. Rather than worrying that your child won’t measure up to other children, won’t get into a good college, won’t do well on the test, you can “worry well,” by thinking about what he or she does do well and wondering how to grow that. You and your child will be having conversations that will help you both investigate the pattern of what works and apply it to situations where something doesn t work.