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Your Child's Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them Excerpt from Your Child's Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them

by Jenifer Fox, M.Ed.

Strengths: A Definition

Strengths are

  • verbs;
  • innate, i.e., no one can give them to you or take them away; 
  • things that can be transferred to a variety of activities; 
  • used to engage talents; and 
  • specific and precise.


  • combine with other strengths, and
  • make you feel good and strong when you are using them.

Contrary to popular belief, the opposite of strength is not weakness. The opposite of strength is depletion. If an activity is not engaging an individual's strengths, thereby energizing the person, the activity is depleting.

Knowing your strengths and putting them to use is empowering and fulfilling. They can give people agency, freedom, and independence. Parents and teachers are often good at seeing the potential in children. They are inclined to point out talent and hope students develop those talents. However, in order for their true strengths to emerge and grow, children need to self-identify them, for ultimately they are the ones who know best what makes them feel strong. Adults can help in this endeavor.

Discover, Develop: An Explanation
  • Discover
To discover Activity Strengths, Relationship Strengths, and Learning Strengths, you will need to
  • funnel and name, and 
  • reflect.
Funnel and Name

The starting point in discovering strengths is paying close attention to everyday activities and being able to describe them. What are their various parts? How do some activities compare to others? Many of the suggestions in this workbook will ask you or your child to describe simple, everyday activities as a way to begin forming awareness about the things you do during the day both inside and outside the classroom. By isolating and breaking down some very simple or routine activities, you begin to see how all activities and routines consist of various parts or steps. This understanding is an important step in discovering strengths, because it allows you to pick out, or funnel, the parts of an activity or behavior that make you feel energized and the ones that don't. The ability to do this is the foundation of discovering strengths and applying them in all areas of life.

The act of funneling and naming strengths is recursive. This means that you will be able to repeatedly look at what you believe is a strength and break it down until it becomes perfectly clear that you have named it in the most specific way possible for you. As we saw in part 2, there is a major difference in saying "I have a strength in writing" and "I have a strength in creative writing." Funneling is the action that allows you to hit your target and name the strength with precision. The more precise you are, the better you will be able to match your activities to your strength. We find the real strengths by funneling things down to their core.

If your child is not old enough to do this, you can do it with him and work to develop this funneling skill as a precursor for naming strengths later in life. Once your child is able to name her strengths, she will find that they can be transferred to a variety of activities.


Reflection is an essential part of strengths discovery and development, and it is best done with a partner or a small group. This step involves talking with someone else about the activities you are doing. Most of our lives, we are conditioned that it is inappropriate to talk about ourselves, especially the things we are good at. In this step, which you will find after some of the activities, people are encouraged to talk about themselves, how they feel, and what they are thinking. As pointed out in part 2, developing strengths involves cultivating a new way of thinking about yourself. For younger children (aged four to eight), the best reflective partner is probably a parent, guardian, grandparent, or substantially older sibling. Older children can collaborate with siblings, cousins, or friends or with parents, guardians, or grandparents. My experience has shown me that children in grades five through nine are eager to share their thoughts with a willing listener, but this usually requires an adult to help guide the conversation. Because this practice may be embarrassing for teenagers, who are in their most self-conscious stage, older children may work better with peers rather than parents. This will be less true of girls than boys, who may feel more comfortable if they can discuss with just their fathers. Some boys will discuss personal matters with ease with female friends. If I had a teenaged son with a girlfriend, I would encourage them to use this workbook together. I often hear my friends complain that their child is spending too much time with their boyfriend or girlfriend. You can use this to your advantage by suggesting that you will allow them to spend time together if they are collaborating on discovering their strengths.

Self-reflection and the Young Child

When your children are between the approximate ages of four and eight, you will mostly be preparing them for the act of self-reflection, Which is necessary in order to discover strengths. I cannot stress enough the importantance of self-discovery. You simply cannot define your child's strengths for him. If your child is too young to be able to self-reflect (a skill that usually develops around preadolescence in roughly the fourth, fifth, or sixth grade), you can still find many activities in this workbook that will help prepare your child for self-reflection when he is older. These activities focus on
  • asking a series of questions;
  • asking children to make choices between objects or select things from a group; 
  • engaging them in drawing; 
  • guiding them in storytelling; 
  • developing the ability to put things in sequences; and 
  • recording their feelings and thoughts to later serve as memory triggers.

To develop Activity Strengths, Relationship Strengths, and Learning Strengths you will need to participate in exercises that allow you to practice using your strengths. This workbook introduces a few exercises for each strength to get you or your child started. They are only the beginning of a lifetime of developing strengths. You may find some of these exercises too complicated to do at home. That is okay. Some of the things listed here are more easily accomplished at school. It is up to you to make that call. Some exercises will take longer than others, and some may be repeated. There is no rule, except that you are encouraged not to attempt to cover too many concepts at once.

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 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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