By Noreen Keesey
For many years, one of the wall decorations in my home was a blanket by SARK with instructions on “How to Really Love a Child.” Though I didn’t always follow the directions to the letter, I tried to love my children well, and for that, I think they give me credit. I took the blanket down a couple of weeks ago. My children are now both in their 20s and I needed a space for a life-sized skeleton painting that my youngest created in art class. There are only so many places in my home big enough for life-sized wall art.
Kids are amazing creatures. One of the things I find fascinating about children is how early their unique personality characteristics start to show. My daughter’s affinity for drawing became clear as soon as she was old enough to hold a pencil. I learned very quickly that my first child didn’t prepare me well for parenting my second; they are very different people. Research supports my personal observation. As stated in the book “Strengths Based Parenting” by Mary Reckmeyer, PH.D., “A 23-year longitudinal study of 1,000 children in New Zealand found that a child’s personality at age three shows remarkable similarity to his or her reported personality traits at age 26.”
Unfortunately, too many of us lose track of our talents as we grow to adulthood. We live in a society that focuses more on improving our weaknesses rather than maximizing our strengths, and this has negative consequences on our personal satisfaction and professional success. In my work as a CliftonStrengths coach, I see people struggle to reclaim the gifts that they have spent years discounting and underappreciating.Though we must all learn to manage our weaknesses, our time is better spent investing in our talents. In them lies our path to success.
We can begin this investment when children are quite young by noticing how they behave in different situations. Pay attention to how children react to others, what they become fascinated with, and how they behave in various situations. See if you can notice them exhibiting signs of achieving, caring, competing, confidence, dependability, discoverer, future thinker, organizer, presence, or relating. These are the Clifton Youth StrengthsExplorer themes developed by Gallup. For children younger than 10, who are too young to take the assessment, this method to identify relevant themes is called StrengthsSpotting. Share what you are noticing with others who care for and about your child and discuss whether they are seeing the same patterns of behavior. By understanding and appreciating their preferences, you can create opportunities to support and nurture the development of their talents.
My beloved blanket is getting ready to be passed along to a dear friend with young children. One addition I would make to the sage advice it gives would be to recognize, support, and encourage the innate talents of children. Help them to grow up owning and appreciating the gifts they have to offer the world.
For more information, check out the Gallup book Strengths Based Parenting by Mary Reckmeyer, PH.D. with Jennifer Robison
Noreen Keesey is a Gallup Certified CliftonStrengths Coach and the mother of two. She believes parenting is about loving your children for who they are, doing the best you can, and forgiving yourself often for not being perfect.