As a parent, you know your child’s strengths and weaknesses. You know what they’re good at and what they struggle with. And it’s up to you to figure out — while acknowledging that children’s strengths change — how to push your kids towards areas where they are likely to excel. In a sense, we’re all coaches watching our players and trying to figure out where their most powerful skills lie. Nobody’s children are good at everything, but everybody’s children are good at something. I think about this a lot with my kids, whose energy I hope to channel as productively as possible.
Here’s an example: My oldest made a Bundt cake all by herself the other day for a family gathering. I don’t like Bundt cake in general, but I tried it and it was the best Bundt cake I’ve ever tasted. I told her so thinking that maybe she’d enjoy cooking. The following day — Father’s Day as it happened — she woke up early to make me potatoes for breakfast. I think she used the whole salt shaker.
“How do the potatoes taste?” she asked.
I considered lying. Of course, I did. I lover her. But my wife caught me. Seeing the look of indecision on my face, she interjected. “They’re good, but I think you put a little too much salt on them,” she said. My daughter took this in the spirit it was intended. She had done well but she could do better. Great. That’s the whole idea.
Children need our help understanding their strengths, sure, but they also need our approval, no matter what age they are. They’re looking for approval to boast their self-esteem. They want to be acknowledged and recognized. This is the gateway to them using their strengths. So it’s important to acknowledge that the potatoes and the salt are not the same thing. She did a good job with the potatoes, but went overboard with the salt. Separate them out and you can give kids real feedback without being negative or dissuading a child from investing energy into a new project.
Both my wife and I tend to give honest feedback and advise our kids on their areas of strengths and weaknesses, but I’m the first to admit that my wife has the softer touch in relaying this information than I do, which creates a balance between us. I’m doing better though. You can, as they say, observe a lot just by watching. Just the other day, my daughter asked if she should pursue playing on a soccer or a baseball team? I told her, that she’s probably more physically coordinated to play soccer, to which she agreed and replied, “That’s what I thought too.”
Deep down, I think our kids know where their talents lie. They don’t need us as parents to be disingenuous and say that they’re good at everything. Communicating to them openly about both strengths and weaknesses helps foster an honest relationship between you and your children. To not use one’s natural talents is probably one of the greatest travesties a human being can experience in life and that’s one experience I don’t want my children to have.
Guiding them along the path of learning where their strengths and weaknesses lie is key to avoiding that.
Zachery Román is a writer.