This is the first in a series of posts exploring the strengths that make kids intelligent, courageous, good with other people, involved in their communities and connected with something larger than themselves. The purpose of the series is to give you new ideas for encouraging an insecure child.
If you have a child who isn’t 100% “school smart,” you’ll know it can sometimes be challenging to convince them their type of intelligence is valuable and that they’re good enough just the way they are. A critical teacher, an imperfect report card or teasing from other kids can be really discouraging.
Traditional schools value being able to sit still and absorb lots of words (among other things, of course). Some children can do this easily; some can’t. I had one that could and one that struggled with it – usually because he was creating something in his own mind: a fascinating story or an awesome drum riff. He was being creative, which in and of itself is something positive, but not at a time or place that his teachers appreciated. Even the other kids could be critical, telling him to “shush” when he was tapping out a beat on his thighs.
Looking back on middle school now, he says that because there was a narrative from some people that his creativity wasn’t appreciated, it was “super helpful” that his dad and I supported it. We knew that, while certain qualities aren’t always encouraged or appreciated in K-12, they can lead to thriving, successful and happy lives and careers.
Here are five strengths of wisdom and knowledge, how they might look in a young person, and how you can support and encourage them in your own child.
Creativity. Creativity is a strength of imagination. It’s the ability to think of new ways to do things, to envision possibilities, to make something that’s never existed before. It includes artistic ability but so much more: turning a cardboard box into a spaceship, thinking of ways to save the rain forests, writing poetry or music, designing a building. Creative people make great problem-solvers, because they can easily imagine alternatives. They can help make the world a better place. Ideas for helping a child build their strength of Creativity: Encourage your child’s creativity by showing them all the ways it can be of value to the world. Creativity is difficult to automate (unlike some cognitive abilities like mathematics) and the best ideas come from human minds. Design is part of almost everything you see, from the tissue box on your desk to the images on your screen. There are a million ways to combine creativity with other strengths and passions to create a meaningful, satisfying career. If school doesn’t offer enough outlets for your child’s creativity, help them find other ways to use it; your child’s passions should make it easy to think of ideas. (We, naturally, signed our son up for drum lessons.)
Curiosity. Curiosity is the free-ranging interest in all kinds of things that young children are known for. “Why? Why? Why?” asks the toddler. “I need to Google that,” says the older child. Curiosity is a strength of discoverers, from Marco Polo exploring Asia to Yuri Gagarin, the first man to go into outer space, to today’s scientists mapping the human genome. Curious people are always seeking answers and willing to try new things. Ideas for helping a child build their strength of Curiosity: Encourage your child’s curiosity by showing them how previous curious people have brought us where we are today, and how we can’t move forward in the world without them. If you can, take them to children’s museums, which are usually packed with things to try and to learn. They’ll probably love shows like “How Do They Do It” and “How It’s Made;” episodes can be found on various cable channels and online. Older kids might enjoy TED Talks and Khan Academy, which informs in the visual way so many children prefer to learn while teaching subjects they’re studying at school.
Love of Learning. The child with a love of learning will enjoy digging deep into topics and mastering new skills and bodies of knowledge. It’s related to the strength of curiosity but goes further to describe the tendency of some kids to add systematically to what they know, like the stats of the players on their favorite team, the details of all the people in their favorite band or a specific subject at school. Ideas for helping a child build their Love of Learning: Encourage your child’s love of learning by expanding their exposure to the topics that deeply interest them. Books, videos, Wikipedia and libraries are all resources to help them dive-deep. If you worry that maybe your child is becoming laser-focused with something to the exclusion of everything else, you might try telling them you think it’s great that they have this capacity to learn things, and encourage them to use it to explore other topics too – perhaps something you could explore together.
Judgment/Critical Thinking. A child who has good judgment and can think critically will be able to see things from more than one side, like both points of view in a disagreement among friends. This open-minded strength allows them to balance the facts, to look at things objectively and even to change their mind about something or someone when they learn something new. They’ll be slow to jump to conclusions and be willing to give people a second chance. One of the positive aspects of having this strength is that it helps people resist suggestion and manipulation by others – in other words, peer pressure. Ideas for helping a child build their strength of Judgment: Encourage your child’s good judgment by supporting them when they want to stay above the fray when other kids disagree, fight or form cliques. Introduce them to some of the great people who share this strength, like Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa.
Perspective. Perspective is about being able to see the bigger picture. Kids with this strength have a clear and broad way of looking at the world and think about life’s bigger issues. Other people may even appreciate their perspective and ask for advice – and they’re usually able to provide an insightful point of view. Perspective will also help them learn from their mistakes and even foresee the short- and long-term consequences of their actions. Ideas for helping a child build their strength of Perspective: Encourage your child’s strength of perspective by asking their opinion and engaging in conversations about the big stuff of life. This mature quality can be unusual in young people and having it might make your child feel different from other kids (at least my daughter and I experienced that), but assure them that it’s a highly-valued strength that is even linked with overall well-being as people get older. They may enjoy learning about philosophers and original thinkers throughout history, from Socrates and Buddha to Karl Marx.
As you might imagine, the two strengths most appreciated in a traditional school environment are love of learning and critical thinking – strengths less common in young people. Creativity and curiosity, on the other hand, are two of the top strengths in young children but an emphasis in school on one right answer or the right and wrong way to behave or draw or solve an equation makes these strengths less and less common as kids get older. This is such a pity, because, as the author Dan Pink says in his book, A Whole New Mind, the ability to imagine and create will increasingly guide our lives and shape our world.
In my next post I’ll introduce you to the six types of intelligence Dan sees as being crucial in the next phase of human evolution. See you then!
In the meantime, tell me what you think! And if you try using any of this information to encourage your child, how did it go? What can we learn from you?