R. Brooks: The Power of Parenting
given the job of “tardy monitor” at his school, a position that entailed arriving early and keeping track of which students were late. The child loved the responsibility and arrived on time with renewed purpose.
Accepting children for who they are and appreciating their different temperaments does not imply that we excuse inappropriate, unacceptable behavior but rather that we understand this behavior and help to modify it in a manner that does not assault a child’s self-esteem and sense of dignity. It means developing realistic goals and expectations for our children. Fortunately, in the past 10-15 years there have been an increasing number of publications to help parents and teachers appreciate, accept, and respond effectively to a child’s temperament and learning style (Carey, 1997; Keogh, 2003; Kurcinka, 1991; Levine, 2002, 2003; Sachs, 2001).
6. Helping Our Children Experience Success by Identifying and Nurturing Their “Islands of Competence.” Resilient children do not deny problems that they may face. Such denial runs counter to mastering challenges. However, in addition to acknowledging and confronting problems, youngsters who are resilient are able to identify and utilize their strengths. Unfortunately, many children who feel poorly about themselves and their abilities experience a diminished sense of hope. Parents sometimes report that the positive comments they offer their children fall on “deaf ears,” resulting in parents’ becoming frustrated and reducing positive feedback.
It is important for parents to be aware that when children lack self-worth they are less receptive to accepting positive feedback. Parents should continue to offer this feedback, but must recognize that true self-esteem, hope, and resilience are based on children experiencing success in areas of their lives that they and significant others deem to be important. This requires parents to identify and reinforce a child’s “islands of competence.” Every child possesses these islands of competence or areas of strength and we must nurture these rather then overemphasize the child’s weakness.
During an evaluation of a child, I regularly ask the parents to describe their child’s islands of competence. I ask the child to do the same, often via the question, “What do you think you do well?” or “What do you see as your strengths?” For children who respond, “I don’t know,” I answer, “That’s okay, it can take time to figure out what we’re good at, but it’s important to figure out.” If we are to reinforce a more optimistic attitude in children, it is imperative that we place the spotlight on strengths and assist children to articulate the strengths that they possess.
One problem related to the issue of acceptance discussed in the previous guidepost, is when parents minimize the importance of their child’s island of competence. For example, thirteen-year-old George struggled with learning problems. Unlike his parents, Mr. and Mrs. White, or his sixteen-year-old sister, Linda, he was not gifted academically or athletically. When his parents were asked during an evaluation to identify George’s islands of competence, they responded with an intriguing, “We’re somewhat embarrassed to tell you. We just don’t think it’s the kind of activity that a thirteen-year-old boy should be spending much of his time doing.”
Eventually, Mr. White revealed, “George likes to garden and take care of plants. That would be okay if he did well in school and was involved in other activities. How can a thirteen-year-old boy be so interested in plants?”
Rather than my finding fault with the Whites’ reactions to George’s interests, it was vital to help them understand the importance of identifying and building on his strengths even if those strengths were not initially valued by them. To be resilient children need to feel that they are skilled in at least one or two areas that are esteemed by