This Is Not What I Was Expecting

Utilizing Your Child's Strengths: From Adventures in Navigation to Empathy and Problem-Solving

Episode Summary

In this episode, the Parent Alliance crew chats about their experience with their children and more importantly their children's strengths. Every child has little gifts that they bring into this world and it is with the help of a child's parent or guardian that these gifts become exposed. Listening to this quick 30-minute podcast may help you in navigating your own child's strengths as well as using them to benefit your child.

Episode Notes

This episode was about Utilizing your children's strengths. I learned that there are many ways to work on weaknesses with our children and it is important to recognize and nurture their strengths. We should focus on what our children are good at and use it to overcome their weaknesses. We should also look for ways to encourage them to use their strengths, such as utilizing interests to help them in tasks or using empathy to help in social settings. By doing this, we can help our children gain confidence, show them they have value, and create a positive experience for them.

"If our skills, which maybe when we're young aren't squashed out of us, if maybe they're cultivated a little bit, we can use those as a strength."

In this episode, you will learn the following:
1. How can you use your child's interests to help them overcome weaknesses?
2. How can you use a strength to turn a negative into a positive?
3. How can you use a binder to present a positive view of your child in meetings?

Episode Transcription

I think that I'm at this point in my life now where I kind of look at any kind of neuro divergence that I have have, or like any kind of challenges that I have, I definitely have left, right, discriminatory issues. And I tell people when we get in the car, if we're driving somewhere and you have to give me a direction, it's your way or my way. Because if you say left or right, I can't tell you what way I'm going to go, but whatever way you tell me, I'm going to think that's the way I'm going. And we were talking about Ikea. I was in the car with a friend, and we were going to Ikea.

We could see Ikea. We could see the giant blue building with the big yellow letters off to a right. She was holding her GPS in her hand, and GPS said whatever they said, probably make a right. And I went and I made a left.

I couldn't see where Ikea was. Totally went in the wrong direction. And then we couldn't figure out how did we get lost on the way to Ikea? Well, I don't know my left or my right. So driving with me is always an adventure.

But I think my ability to multitask really helps me at work, get an awful lot of stuff done. It is nothing for me to switch tasks to be working on something and take a call and answer a slack message and do something else. I think that that's definitely strength. So I think when we talk about our kiddos and them having some challenges, I think that as they get a little bit older, those challenges, if they're nurtured the right way, can really turn into strength. So let's talk a little bit about that, because I think that especially when they're young, we focus almost entirely on what aren't they good at, what is the problem?

And we spend all of our time and energy, maybe our money on fixing what they're not good at. And sometimes we completely forget what their strengths are and what they're really good at. And not because we're not good parents and not because we're not paying attention, but because there's a problem and we know it's a big or could be a big problem. And so we want to make sure to give them the best possible future. We work on that, but sometimes we miss the opportunities of using their strength to overcome their weaknesses.

So what do you guys think? You know what, I think it's an interesting point you brought up. You said focus time and money on fixing things they're not good at, rather than focusing time and money on things they are good at. So could you give me an example of that? Like, what do you what are you exactly saying by that?

So I had a kiddo who is brilliant at anything musical, anything at all. Can pick up much. Maybe it came from my grandfather. I remember my grandfather could play any musical instrument that you gave him, give him a few minutes to fiddle around with it, he'd figure it out and he could play it. I have a kiddo who is brilliant at that, an amazing singer as well.

And I remember when they were in therapy, the therapist saying, oh, they like music. They love going to their music lessons, make them earn it through their behavior. And we had tried this before with a bunch of other, like, you have to earn your TV time or you have to earn your snack kind of thing. And luckily, this is like one of the few moments that I could say was like a definite parenting success. I said, you know what?

I'm not doing that. Music is so important to them that I feel like if they lost that ability to do something that they really loved and enjoyed, then they would lose their reason for going to school. Because when they were little, on clarinet lesson day, I remember we drove to Kentucky to visit my brother. We got home at like two in the morning, and as we were all getting out of the car, I said, all right, everybody just go to bed. Don't to worry about school in the morning.

And my, my kiddo comes in and mom, mom, I'm leaving for school. I'm like. Wait, what? What? Like, what time is it?

It's whatever time. The bus will be here in a minute, so I'm leaving and I'm like, no, I told you, you don't have to go to school today. We were up driving all night and they go, no, I can't miss my Clare in that lesson. And you normal child, go, thank goodness, right? I don't want to go to that.

But music was so important to them that that was their reason for going to school. And it was something that they got praised and they were proud of themselves for, and they enjoyed. And looking back, I'm really happy that I didn't take the therapist suggestion. And I'll tell you, when I push back on it, I'm like, no, I can't do it. The therapist was like, all right, no, not a problem.

We'll think of something else. So, great therapist. But I'm glad that I kind of recognized that this was a strength that my child had. And then in working on their Dyslexia, maybe it was a little easier to read a book about a famous composer or something musically inclined, so using those strengths to overcome their weaknesses. And I think that maybe I know that they talk.

There's a strong correlation between music and math, and they were really good at math. I'm sure everybody can kind of think of maybe situations like that with their kiddo or maybe themselves. Yeah, I think that is such an interesting point. You never really think about it in life. You tend to do better at things you care about and that you're interested in.

And your story right there, basically that was just you realizing that in your own kids and utilizing that tool. So maybe it's not even recognizing the kids strength. It's also recognizing the kids interest and using that to strengthen their other tasks. And like you said, just if they really enjoy music, they learned how to read because they were reading music. You know what I mean?

Tracy, do you have anything like that with your children or your experiences that you kind of picked up? I do also want to agree with you, Christina, that a child with such ADHD far hears more negative things coming from us than the positive. Right? For my daughter, she is so kind hearted that everybody at school all the way up, has all indicated that she should be like some kind of emotional support teacher or like an aide, because she's like that mama in the class. She'll always seek out the person that's struggling and be their shoulder and to lean on and support.

She literally will stop somebody in the store and go, oh, I love your skirt, or I love your hair. She is such a people person. Yes, she has extreme struggles in school, right? She's got the Dyslexia, she's got the ADHD. So school is a very difficult thing for her to accomplish.

But leaning on that strength that she is a people person, her guidance counselors and people like that have all said, look into maybe not a teacher, but that aid in the class that can support the students. She will do amazing work if she does that. And if you think about that, then for a teacher to try and harness something that she's good at, she might be better at working on group projects. She might be better if she is a partner on something. So let's say she has Dyslexia.

Maybe she listens to the book on audio and her partner reads the book, and then maybe they work together to write or do some kind of presentation for a book report instead of writing it. I think if you kind of think about what are those strengths and then really playing on those. And it really occurred to me quite a while ago, I had some great mentors that I was able to work with, and they said, think about if every day you had to go to this place where the only thing they focused on was something you weren't good at. And every day, day in, day out, you're not good at this. We've got to work on it.

We've got to work on it more. And in some cases, you may get to a point where you're just never going to be able to kind of get to maybe grade level in terms of reading on grade level, but you can still access the information through audio or whatever, so you can still access that information. But if teachers are saying you can only read books at your grade level, and you're in 10th grade and your reading level is fourth grade, and you're only ever allowed to read fourth grade reading level books. Like, come on. So use those strengths, the things that you're interested in.

Read comic books if that's what you're interested in, instead of writing the book report. If you could draw and make your own comic strip. If you have a child with ADHD and you know that maybe they need to move a lot, is there something that they can do? Can they listen to a book while they walk around the gym or something like that? So there's tons of ways that we can use what we're interested in.

If you're interested in science, if you aren't much of a book person, but you are a hands on person, can you follow directions? Can you put things together? So figure out what your kiddo is interested in and kind of play on that. And I was thinking about Brewer when he first started and he introduced himself to us. Brewer, you want to tell everybody what you said because let's highlight how great Brewer is.

Yeah, right. Yeah. Talking about myself is one of my favorite things to do, so it should be easy. So it's kind of a good segue into what I'm about to talk about. So in Pittsburgh, when we had our first retreat, or my first retreat, which is lovely, I was asked to introduce myself to the crew.

And the first thing I said was generally that I am a very social person. That kind of comes through with most things I do. When I go into a setting, let's say, like at school, my first instinct is to go and introduce myself to just about everyone. I can kind of get myself out there, get my name out there and kind of get to know the people around me. So I explained that to everyone.

And Christina brought up this great point as we were bringing up this topic, that my social ability could be seen in that moment, was seen in a positive light, but at times, with the wrong eye and the wrong thought process and connotation towards the conversation at hand or the task at hand, my social ability could be seen as a negative thing. And Christina, you want to talk more about that? How you explain that?

I remember my mom saying that she would go to parent teacher conferences, which were like, I don't know if you guys had the same experience, but it was like that dreaded, oh, great. Parent teacher night. Well, I'm going to be grounded for the next night, right? And my mom would say every single teacher would be like, she just won't shut up. You've already seen that, right?

I mean, obviously that comes through, right? But that was it. She just won't show up or shut up. Well, okay. So now I do presentations for work, right?

We're always in meetings, we represent that family voice. So I feel really comfortable talking in places where people are giving me the evil eye to really put out that information for families and make sure that family point of view is communicated in meetings so often later in life. If our skills, which maybe when we're young aren't squashed out of us, if maybe they're cultivated a little bit, we can use those as a strength.

I'm not saying that anxiety is ever a good thing, but maybe your anxiety kind of helps you pay attention to detail because maybe you're always thinking of backup plans. Well, then I definitely want you in our corner when we're planning an event because you're going to be able to say, all right, well, what if it rains that day? Okay, so I guess this is what I would do.

There's lots of skills that people have that unfortunately, we just use them to survive every day. Our kids use them to survive to get through the day. And I think if you find that person who can identify that and really see it as a strength and help you cultivate that so certainly my inability to shut my mouth in many, many places and cases is not a benefit. But if somebody could work with me on how to use that and how to kind of find a balance and hopefully you grow and you mature and you figure out where that fits, it can be like a real asset for you. We're thrilled to have Brewer here being very outgoing and really putting himself out there and figuring stuff out for us.

It doesn't have to be a negative. Doesn't have to be a negative. That little kid who wants to be outside all the time, my younger daughter is such an outdoors kind of gal. She wants to be outside all the time. And she was probably a little bit Tracy like your daughter, where she was kind of the kid who was done with her working class and would go off and help the other kids.

And so she's turned that into a career for herself. So we need to stop focusing entirely on what our children don't do well and really highlight what they do do well. And certainly in the meetings that we attend, a lot of people will tell you to create a binder where you keep all of your child's records, whether they're diagnoses, doctor appointments, if your child is in an IEP or 504 plan. Maybe some of the tests that they've taken, whether they're good or bad or there's things in there that concern you, that you want to highlight, put together that binder for your child. And when you go into a meeting, have a picture of your kiddo on there, a picture that you pick that kind of shows them how you see them so other people see them that way.

We go into meetings all the time with people who see our children differently than we do. They don't have that opportunity to see them maybe at their best. If you're going into a meeting with Juvenile Justice, if you're going into a meeting, like we said with the magistrate for Truancy we talked about before, you're going into, like, a hospital appointment. If your child is in there for some self harm issues, take a picture with you of your child in the light that you see them in and share that with their team. It can change things.


With our experience with my youngest daughter, it was very much in the beginning. It was checking those boxes of everything that she wasn't good at, what she needed help with, and learning what it took for her to learn, like having her being evaluated, having her being observed. I got a great insight into how her mind actually worked. And aside from a long list of things she couldn't do, it was hearing her answer to, how do you turn a light off? Her answer was, Will you close the refrigerator door?

She wasn't wrong. It just wasn't the typical answer. So realizing that how she kind of seen the world and how her world was really helped me start realizing that I needed to really get in there and figure out what her strengths were. Because if you concentrate on that all day long, they're at school for a very big part of their life. If it's all bad, they can have terrible experience, have trauma from that that goes with them for the rest of their life.

One of the things we found out she was really good at was puzzles, and not just the kind, you know, that are like a jigsaw puzzle. It was any kind of problem, any kind of puzzle, like, why does this not fit here? And this works well, you need to go over here and do this. So being able to support her in that and encourage her to always try to figure things out, like, why is that not working? And one of the things even, like Tracy had said about her daughter was that caring aspect.

She has such empathy of just looking at somebody in a room and realizing they may have holes in their shoes. Mom, can we get them a new pair of shoes? But teaching her, like, the right way to do things of not just kind of, oh, hey, I see you don't have really nice shoes. Here's a new pair of learning the correct way of we find out where they live and maybe just put a pair of shoes on their porch and nobody has to know about it. And always encouraging her to help others and really see the people that are around her that somebody may need help, and they're not speaking up and asking for that.

And I just feel like she's had an incredible experience of learning herself what she's really good at, and she's very successful in life now. And I think a lot of that goes back to, okay, you may not be able to do this, or it's going to take you 20 steps to do this, but also making your children realize they have value, they have worth, and what 20 other people around them may be choosing for a career or a job. Theirs may look very different, but they still get to have one. They still get to have that future, they still get to become adults and whatever that looks like for them, phenomenal. And there's not a place where you're going to kind of lower that bar for them.

And I've had experience with IEPs where they would say, okay, we're only going to expect her to do these ten things. I said no. No, no. We are going to expect her to do 20 things. If she don't reach those, then we know that we're not going to lower the bar and make it so small that she doesn't realize that she's capable of more.

You can always take more off, but you can't lower that bar for your child. You need to see every last thing that they can do, what they're capable of doing, and give them that opportunity. I think focusing on their strengths is something that all of us need to do. Just through your everyday life, because maybe you kept trying to do five things and they didn't work out. Okay, now we need to remind ourselves what we're really good at and spend some time doing that because that's even defeating to an adult.

Think about for an eight year old, a ten year old, how they feel about themselves. And there's so much pressure in school, that social aspect of they just kind of want to fit in and they want to be like everybody else. So you need to give them that opportunity to shine on whatever platform that looks like, whatever that looks like for that individual child. And I think too, sometimes we're afraid as parents, we don't want that observation. We don't want the school to kind of check the boxes and tell us everything that's wrong.

You can also make sure that the person that's doing that observation, you want to know all the good things too. You want to see that they looked across the room at a child that's maybe struggling and kind of gave them like a thumbs up, like, you got this. I want to know that part too. Don't just tell me all the bad stuff. And I believe too, whenever you're sitting in these meetings, you're just talking to the teacher and it's the beginning of the school year and you want to introduce yourself and introduce your child.

Make sure you tell them all those strengths that you've seen, share all of those things, what makes them really happy, what makes their day.

I think it is very easy to focus on those things. You got a million things going on. Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. And sometimes we're just trying to have clean clothes, get to the doctor, get to our job, and everybody be safe. And there's many days that that's all you're able to do as a parent.

But taken some time to try to figure out what their strengths are and build on those, and always teaching your child that you want them to look for their own strengths and maybe even talking to them about a sibling, like, what do you see about them? That is, like, remarkable. It's spectacular. Like they do this thing so well, so it makes them start seeing other people in that light as well. That maybe whenever you go to school, maybe even like somebody like Brewer and his sister Payton that she knew at home.

He was animated and can make you laugh and he could tell a story and he could bring people into him in a social setting. And then he's sitting in class and they're like, yeah, he's talking again, mom's getting a call, he's being disruptive, and maybe he just thought, like, this great story. He thought he'd tell everybody. And so Peyton could see at home, like, this is a great thing. Like, this is a really good thing that he is this way, but the people at school don't know it.

So I think teaching your other siblings, all of your children, to look at one another and find those strengths in each other, I think that's a healthy thing, too.

I think a lot of times we start on a journey, trying to figure out what's going on with our kiddo, which involves starting with an evaluation to see if there is some kind of diagnosable challenge, and that is actually actively looking for problems. So if you're not feeling well and you go to the doctor, they run a bunch of tests, they're looking specifically for problems. When we take our car in to get it inspected, they're looking for problems. That's okay, that's that purpose. We need a diagnosis.

It's the key that fits into the lock to open the door. But I think once we get that diagnosis, we stay focused on that problem and we forget then that there's so much more and all we're focused on is the problem. So it is important. And many times, your evaluator, whether it's an educational evaluator, whether it's a doctor, psychiatrist, whoever is doing that evaluation, yeah, their job is to look for problems. So that report is going to say they had a problem with this, they had a problem with that, they had a problem with this, and that's okay because we do need to know that.

But maybe after the meeting and maybe in the meeting, they're just going to focus on problems, and that's okay. As a parent, get that evaluation, read it afterwards. I always ask for the evaluation in advance of the meeting, too, any evaluations, but read that over again when you've had a little distance and highlight, oh, well, okay, so they did good in this. There wasn't a problem in that. And then that will give you that opportunity to focus on it.

But initially, in order to get a diagnosis, if that's what your child needs, they are going to be focusing on the problem. But don't leave it there. That's just unlocking the door after you know what they have challenges in. You could recognize that and then definitely bring in their strengths. What do you think, Tracy?

Absolutely. I think one thing that I've always tried to do is when we have that medication med management appointment or an evaluation, my daughter always we're going to go over all the negatives and everything that's been going on, but we've always strived to point out those positives, those strengths that have been going on during the month. Because obviously we're going to talk about why we're there and the possibilities of the negative. But starting out those meetings, if it's an IEP meeting with the doctors or anything, just lead with the strength. And I think that that should be a really good motto to follow.

Our kids, our teachers always focus on, this is what's the problem, this is what they're doing. And I think just by leading with more of the positives, I think that your child will hear and like, oh, it's not so bad, this meeting that I'm going into, I'm thinking it was going to be the worst, actually. Oh, I did do good this week, didn't I? And they'll maybe kind of go into that, not fretting and worrying about what's going to be discussed, right? That's what I feel like.

But I think it's a good reminder, too. And I know I'm probably the worst at it because I can see something and it's great, but I'm always looking for that. Like, what's that one thing that can make it better? That's really good in a lot of the work that I do to what can be even better. But it's probably really hard for you guys when you send me something and I look at it and I'm like, the first thing I look at is like, well, I wonder if we could do that at 98% instead of 95%.

Because I forget to be like, oh, my, this is amazing. This is really great. Now how can we get to 98%? So hopefully you guys can always remind me of that. And I think that if you can work on some kind of agreement with your child I remember when one of my kiddos went to a really, really amazing summer camp to kind of help them out with Dyslexia.

And one of the things that they learned, and I wish they taught this in schools, was when a classmate would go up and work on the board and would make a mistake instead of the students going, oh, you got it wrong. Or that's a problem. They'd say, Check your work on step two, or I think you might want to check your math again. But they would offer not point out what the problem was, but help them draw their attention to where it needed to be so that they could double check themselves. And, man, isn't that what we all need in life?

Absolutely. Framing away where you were wrong, going, hey, you were correct up to this point. Look at this point, let's fix it here, and then let's get the whole thing correct in your head subconsciously. You're just, wow, let's do this. Let's work on this.

And you're in such a better head about it. Headspace about it. What a great team building exercise. So we're not against each other, but we're working as a team to make it better. You have problems.

You have things that need solutions. Essentially. Yeah. I like that.

Me too. I think I would use that. Thank you, Brewer. Yeah, no problem. Yeah.

Keep that in the back pocket the next time you need it. All right? That sounds good to me.

Thank you so much for listening to this is not what I was expecting. We hope this quick chat with a couple of our moms has made your day feel less alone in your parents and journey as a parent. We know you don't have a lot of time in your hectic day, so we are happy you spent this time with us. If you want to stay connected with us, please visit us at PA parent and Family Line.