At the beginning of my career, I felt my job as a psychologist was to find out what’s wrong with a child and help fix them. And then I realized over the years it was much more important to find out what is the child’s strength. So what I call their islands of competence.
So in my interactions with parents, after hearing about some of the problems, I will say to parents, “What do you see as your child’s strengths? Their beauty? Their islands of competence?” Many parents can tell me right away and some are not able to. And I say, “Just notice what is your child interested it?” So like one parent, it had seemed so obvious their child had trouble reading, but the child loved to draw. So the parent focused on the child drawing and in school, the child’s artwork was displayed for everyone to see. Because if you just focus on what’s wrong with people and don’t appreciate their strengths, it’s hard to help them. So I started more and more saying, “Let’s identify their strengths. Let’s use them.”
So to give an example, I worked with a high school girl who had poor peer relationships, she had some social problems, but I said, “What do you see as your strengths?” Some kids will say, “I don’t know.” But she actually said right away, “I love to baby sit.” Her parents said her strength is she’s the pipe piper of the neighborhood. Well, what we did is there was a nursery school right next to the high school, the teachers designed a special program, a special class where she went in, observed these young kids, worked with them and wrote papers about child development. So what we did was we used her strengths. And actually one of the papers was published in a high school newspaper.
So I always say to parents, “List what your kids strengths are and how can we build on them?”