Why We Should Label Children by Their Strengths, Not Their Weaknesses
"Sarah, ... I am SO looking forward to getting started with my brilliant son using this approach [Right-Brained Math]. I should have known he was a Visual-Spatial learner when, at 6 years old, he said to me: 'Mom, in my head, I have a letters attic and a numbers basement, and behind the stairs, where you go up, that's where my words are.' I will never forget those words. Poor kid is dyslexic, struggles with math, and has an expressive language delay. Like many children like him though, he is so very bright. He sees the big picture when even adults around him can't. Thank you again for your work. It is so important and much needed!"
- Jennifer, customer
The ways in which we describe our children
I had just spoken with this mom and then received her note in my email. Instantly I got a picture in my head. I was captivated by this child and the vivid images he saw in his head. As I re-read her note, what jumped out at me were the descriptions of her son. "Brilliant, bright, sees the big picture when even adults can't - dyslexic, struggles with math, expressive language delay."
These words hit me right in my gut. Three of them were from the heart of the parent, while the other three came from the school environment. Three of them described his strengths - his brilliance - and the other three labeled him according to his "weaknesses."
Adults get to be described for what they are good at while children are identified by their weaknesses
When we meet new people, when we introduce our friends to others, or when someone shares who they are with us, almost always the descriptors are all about strengths. We highlight the gifts, talents and achievements of the person because we recognize automatically that everyone excels at something. They specialize in their work according to what they are good at and this is how they are identified.
What is going on in school
Not so for children! Our factory-era schools, (now even more ineffective under the grip of Common Core) are antiquated and narrow in terms of how they approach teaching our children. Their design has not changed in many decades; certainly they have not kept pace with all we've learned about children and how they learn. Common Core, rather than being a tool for improving education, is actually making school even more deeply ineffective for the children who were already struggling with school.
The way we teach young children suits about 15% of children everywhere
To enormously simplify, our schools are designed to work fine for about 15% of our children, and when they take college entrance exams, those exams follow suit. Those exams are also designed to select those 15% of children who did well in the lower grades.
Schools have become the yardstick against which we measure the child's ability to learn
Unfortunately, the remaining 85% of children don't do well within our school system. And for those children, the school experience pretty much stinks. Not only do they spend day after day in an environment that doesn't fit them, but they are measured, found wanting, and are labeled according to what they can't do well. No one except their parents talks about what they are good at. Whatever we tell the child he is, he will become.
The reasons we should not label children by their weaknesses:
1. What the mind believes the person will become. If we draw attention to a child's weaknesses, so called, those weaknesses will be reinforced.
2. To focus on weakness is disabling. The child's personal energy will dissipate as she is labeled according to what she can't do.
3. If we don't help children find their strengths, they might take a lifetime to find them. They might spend a whole lot of energy doing things that are not fulfilling to them, changing jobs, feeling inadequate, not trying things that are in their wheelhouse, or not reaching their true potential.
The reasons we should label children by their strengths:
1. If our goal is that our children learn successfully, it only makes sense to study the child first to uncover his/her learning strengths and then capitalize on those. When the lesson approach matches the child's natural learning strength, learning will happen effortlessly.
2. If we know our children's strengths, we can share valuable information with them and help them know who they are.
3. When a child understands his/her gifts and abilities, he/she will be far more prepared to choose wisely when going to college or applying for jobs.
4. When children have the freedom to work from their strengths, their self-confidence soars and fuels them to attempt difficult challenges. Belief in oneself fuels great achievements.
5. When a child feels confident in his/her competence, they will likely have the ability to work on things they are not as good at and improve in those areas.
Getting back to the little boy we were introduced to at the beginning of this blog. The brilliant, bright, global thinker boy - he is a Visual-Spatial learner. And I say this carefully, but truth be told, Visual-Spatial children don't do well with symbols, little pieces of problems, steps to solving problems such as sounding out words (dyslexia - or working with the letters that make up words) or learning how to solve math problems in steps (struggles with math). What they ARE good at is seeing the whole picture, intuiting how to solve problems, learning whole words, and they are picture thinkers. The more vivid the picture, the more difficult they will find it to put what they are seeing - that glorious picture in all its details - into a sequence of words that they can share with someone else. (Expressive language).
If you take that same child, identify his visual-spatial strengths and then tailor his lessons to his bright mind, he will succeed. Teach him whole words. Teach him that he can see the math problem in his head, draw it, or intuit the solution and solve it the way he finds it easiest. He needs to learn math in a hands-on manner, and needs to use visuals to learn math (Right-Brained Math). He needs to be praised for the images he can see and then be given the tools to translate those images into words. This might mean using visual organizers on which he records adjectives and details that describe his picture. With this in-between step, he can then learn to turn those notes into a sequence of words. Over time, this will become less daunting.
Let's learn to celebrate our children's strengths all the time! It is good for them in so many ways!