In the early years, parents can do four things to set the stage for a child's self-discovery:

* Record observations of preferences, quirks, and choices
* Stimulate imagination through creative play
* Create rich memories with tradition and ritual
* Model positive attitudes and positive approaches to life

It's never too early for you to begin molding your child's memories and his imaginations. A positive environment will give your child a sense of security and confidence, and your child will appreciate your observations -- even if he disagrees with them.

Remember, strengths are not talents or skills, or what your children are good at. All those things are open to evaluation and criticism. Strengths are far more personal -- they are the activities that make someone feel strong. Your child may be good at doing math problems, but unless she feels energized by that activity, a course of study or a career choice that has a heavy focus on solving mathematical problems will probably not yield a passion for the work or a happy life.

Children begin life with a strong desire to please, but they don't go through adolescence that way. Beware: a child may abandon the pursuit of a true strength if he believes you chose it for him or it is something you are attempting to impose. When I was in fifth grade, my mother dragged me to an acting class, insisting I would love acting. At that time in my life, I was reluctant to do or try anything she suggested. The more she insisted acting was my true calling in life, the more I resisted.

Years later, after I interviewed for my first teaching job, the principal called, offering me the position of high school drama teacher. I told him he must have made a mistake, I had interviewed for the English teaching job. He said he thought I would make a great drama teacher and asked if I would give it a try, which I did. I loved teaching acting, which led to my own acting with a community theater. Later on in this chapter I will give you suggestions about how to encourage without pushing so you don't accidentally steer a child away from a strength.

Your role in the development of your young child's strengths should be more like a personal assistant than a boss. You can think of this relationship in the same way Michelangelo thought of his sculptures. He saw a slab of stone and knew that a masterpiece was inside it, begging to come out. His job was to see it and release it. The strengths are already in your child. Your job is to help your child see and release them.

The above is an excerpt from the book Your Child's Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers by Jenifer Fox. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Your Child's Strengths
Copyright © Jenifer Fox, 2009

Author's Bio: 

Jenifer Fox, author of Your Child's Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers, is an educator and public speaker who has worked in public and independent schools as a teacher and administrator for twenty-five years. She is currently the international leader of the Strengths Movement in K-12 schools. She holds a B.S. in communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an M.A. in English from Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English, and an M.Ed. in school administration from Harvard University.

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