Define Your Child By What They Can Do…Instead Of What They Can’t
By Hallie Bulkin
Has your child’s teacher or therapist ever recommended that you use your child’s strengths to build on their weaknesses? If they have, there is a reason for the recommendation. If you have heard that this is something you should do but have not implemented it yet, you are going to have a light bulb moment in the next few minutes! Keep reading…
This concept sounds simple. That said, you may relate to the parents that I have worked with in the past who were very overwhelmed with life in general and then they found out their child’s development was delayed, disordered, “not normal” and a myriad of other terms I wont mention here because I choose to focus on the positive.
You as the parent know your child best. Even if you think you do not, and I am not typically a betting kind of woman, BUT I would bet that you know your child best! You at least know them better than I do, especially if I have never met you or your child before. So this is where I need you as a parent to put your thinking cap on and work with me here…ready?
Grab a piece of paper and write down at least 5 of your child’s strengths. Now, I am sure their weaknesses may jump into your head first so make a separate column and write down 5 things your child is not doing yet (AKA their weaknesses). On a side note: if you tried to think about what they ARE doing and thought about what they AREN’T doing first, this is normal. Our brains tend to operate this way, so don’t feel guilty. I am going to help you look at how you can help your child by looking at their strengths.
So, how do you change your mindset to look at your child’s strengths? And why should you anyways? Well…the following steps may give you some insight into how to accomplish this and why you should. It may not be easy at first, but as many things do it will get easier with time.
Step 1. Stop comparing your child to their peers. It is important to know what age-appropriate developmental milestones are; however, it is also important to know there is a HUGE range of what is considered to be “WNL” or within normal limits. If you constantly look at what your child’s friends, neighbors kids, and sister-in-laws kid’s are doing, you will drive yourself NUTS! There is a wide range of normal and all that comparing will just leave you depressed amongst feeling other negative emotions.
Step 2. Highlight your childs strengths. You will find that highlighting what your child CAN do will be very helpful for several reasons. One, you will start to appreciate your child more for who they are and not who you have previously decided they should be. Two, you will see that they actually have a lot of strengths and capabilities that you were previously not paying attention to or yet aware of.
Step 3. Use your child’s strengths to build their weaknesses. Allow your child’s strengths to help you realize how they may better compensate for areas in which they are lacking. After all, if you can use a strength to build up a weakness, you will make your life and your child’s life a whole lot easier!
So how do you use their strength to build on their weakness. Here’s an example of a kid that I worked with in the past. He was a 2-year-old diagnosed with Autism and for privacy reasons we will call him, David.
David was not yet using language to communicate. He’s many perceived weaknesses were a large focus of the family and that is okay as it originally helped us to shape the families needs and desires for David’s individualized goals. This family, like many wanted their child to be able to communicate with them.
When I first start working with children that are not yet speaking, it is almost impossible to know if they will be verbal or non-verbal communicators long-term, so we start working with them via means of non-verbal communication to help them gain some confidence in their ability to communicate their wants and needs with their parents/family.
With David we started to use pictures so he could point to what he wanted to make requests. Giving David this one skill, dramatically improved his behaviors. His tantrums decreased, at least in situations where he wanted to communicate something that we had put into a picture communication symbol. Of course, there were items that we did not think of in advance but through working with David and his parents we built a book of picture communication symbols over time.
What was previously seen as a weakness, David not speaking, was viewed differently by the parents after David was able to communicate through picture symbols. While they really wanted their son to talk verbally, what they first and foremost needed was a way to communicate with their son and have him communicate with them. We used one of his strengths, recognition of pictures and pictured objects to build upon a perceived weakness that was previously leading to exhausting meltdowns for David and his parents.
There is much more to this story and I could go on for days. But the goal was to show you how to take a strength (picture symbols) and a weakness (not talking, which was really not communicating his wants/needs) and use that strength to build up the weakness. Overtime we were able to add to the picture symbols and create sentence strips to request, “I want more” “I want juice”, etc. In this case, this led to David using verbal communication, but it took at least 6-months for this particular child to utter his first word. (So be patient!)
A note to therapists: Use what you have available, figure out the childs strenghts, and use those resources and that information to build upon the child’s weaknesses as defined by the family that you are serving.
A note to parents: This can be very frustrating to try to accomplish on your own. If you try and do not succeed or still do not know where to start, comment below with your questions/struggles. We are gathering ideas that may be helpful for our viewers for our upcoming Online TV episodes. You may also want to seek the help of a professional if you are at wit’s end and find that you do not know what to do with your two year old who is not yet talking.
We are here to serve you!
To your child’s development,
Hallie Bulkin, M.A. CCC-SLP