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Strengths Based Parenting

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

What are your child's greatest weaknesses?

What are their greatest strengths?

Which of these questions was easier for you as a parent to answer?

Often as parents we can tend to be acutely aware of areas our child isn't living up to expectations - whether that be teacher's expectations, family or friends expectations, or our own expectations for them.

When we think this way, at times we can become focused on mitigating or minimising our child's weaknesses, without stopping to think much about what they are really good at.

This can be especially true for children who have had labels attached to them early in life- such as Developmental Delays, ADHD, ASD, Learning Disorders, or Oppositional Defiant Disorders. These labels can carry with them a narrative of deficiency - one where we are told all the ways our children are failing to meet the milestones required of them.

It's not just kids with labels either, this attitude of focusing on the deficits of our children can occur with children who do not have diagnoses. In a culture saturated with comparison and access to information about exceptional children via YouTube, Facebook and global news outlets, we can be consistently aware of what other children can do and how our own children do not measure up.

Is there another way? Mary Reckmeyer in her book 'Strengths Based Parenting' suggests there is. She comments that if children work hard on their weaknesses, they can probably become average in those areas, but if they hone our strengths, they can be exceptional in those few areas. Successful adults tend not to be the most well-rounded people who are competent in every area - they tend to be the people who have found their spark and have worked hard to develop it.

You may have a child that lights up a room and loves to perform, but doesn't excel in maths. You may have a musical child who hates sport. You may have a budding biologist on your hands who isn't interested in socialising. Reckmeyer identifies ten themes that may help you identify some of your child's areas of strength.


1. Achiever:

  • Energetic (physically, cognitively, emotional or any combination);

  • Goal Oriented; and

  • In a hurry to get started and make things happen.

If you have an achiever child:

  • Praise and encourage specifically to ensure they feel their efforts are noticed;

  • Give opportunities to use energy and choice in the direction they want to go; and

  • Help them make a list of a few things they would like to accomplish each day and help tick these off.

2. Caring:

  • Helping others is very important to your child;

  • You child feels good when reaching out to others and including them; and

  • Will help others without being asked.

If you have a caring child:

  • Find people your child can help- siblings, friends, neighbours;

  • Help your child figure out how to tell when a person wants their help; and

  • Praise your child for their caring, thoughtful and kind actions.

3. Competing:

  • Life is a game, and your child is always striving for first place;

  • Your child may pay attention to what others are doing and try to imitate them; and

  • Competitive children may jump in before they have listened to the rules or understand the activity.

If you have a competing child:

  • Give them ideas about how to compete with themselves (e.g. you did five situps last times, lets see if you can do six this time);

  • Document their accomplishments (sticker charts etc.); and

  • You may need to teach your child how to respond appropriately when others win or when they win and are interacting with others.

4. Confidence:

  • Children with confidence believe in themselves and what they can do;

  • Will try things no one else will; and

  • Feel capable of handling whatever they are engaged in.

If you have a confidence child:

  • Let them experiment and give them opportunities to shine;

  • Challenge them

  • Remember that although they are sure of themselves, they may need help at times- watch for these moments and give assistance where needed.

5. Dependability:

  • Children with this strength care about being trusted and seen as responsible;

  • They follow through on promises they make and responsibilities they have; and

  • Love to be given special jobs to do- constantly!

If you have a dependability child:

  • Find ways to give them developmentally appropriate responsibilities;

  • Give structure, security and routine; and

  • Let them check that the rules are the same every now and then- they are not challenging you, rather making sure that things remain predictable and that they are still on course.

6. Discoverer:

  • A thinker and learner, always asking questions;

  • Naturally curious and take the time to study what is in front of them, it's characteristics or how it works; and

  • May study an activity before starting it. May even be labelled as 'slow' when in fact they may actually be deliberating on a number of ways to approach a task.

If you have a discoverer child:

  • Give them novel ways to discover and connect every day;

  • Your child thrives on stimulation, don't squash their inner discoverer by dictating steps or methods; and

  • They will learn in their own way and will need freedom to change things around.

7. Future Thinker:

  • Like to image what might be in the future. May like to spend time role playing future adventures or jobs;

  • It's important to remember that your child's version of the future may be starting a new school year or imagining a new sibling arriving, rather than twenty years from now. Regardless of what they imagine, they will spend a lot of mental energy in this space; and

  • Sometimes they may appear to be ignoring those around them, but really they are thinking about what is coming up.

If you have a future thinker child:

  • Help them think about what they would like to do in the future and find role models who embody their interests and talents;

  • Role playing is a great way for them to think about what they would like to do in the future. You could set up an area dedicated to role playing; and

  • They may have dreams, ideas and visions for the future, so ask them what they have been imagining and help make their ideas a reality as and when appropriate.

8. Organiser:

  • Your child may enjoy scheduling, planning and organising, feeling most at ease when their physical environment is tidy and

  • They function better when they know the order of activities, and when arrangements have been made ahead of time.

If you have an organiser child:

  • Label toy storage, and explain what has changed if you move things around;

  • Help them keep their area fairly tidy; and

  • They may get upset if their routine changes, so try to keep routines and expectations as consistent as possible, or give warning when things are changing.

9. Presence:

  • These children will make a grand entrance wherever they go;

  • They thrive on being the centre of attention; and

  • Sometimes their attention seeking behaviours aren't socially appropriate, and it will take them time to learn how to elicit positive attention.

If you have a presence child:

  • Communicating with others energises your presence child. Think about how you can be the best audience for them, and guide them towards other appropriate audiences;

  • Consider how your presence child could teach by example, showing others how to stop bullying or how to perform dance steps; and

  • Give them freedom to be the centre of attention and bask in it, whilst guiding them towards pro-social behaviour and positive forms of attention.

10. Relating:

  • These kids want to relate to others, and watch other children closely to get to know them;

  • They wont' be first to charge out the door, preferring to wait until other children come along;

  • They will be happy and animated when interacting with a friend; and

  • Will be willing to share toys or make other sacrifices in order to form bonds.

If you have a relating child:

  • Playing with others is important for your child, so find out who their best friends are and arrange for them to get together;

  • May prefer one on one, small groups, or large groups. Watch for their preference; nad

  • Help your relating child grow their friendship circle and give them instruction on how to make connections with others.


Spending some time thinking about your children's strengths can help us as parents shift from a deficiency paradigm to a narrative of capability.

It can also help us use our children's strengths to assist when we do have to focus of their weaknesses- for example, if you have a relating child who struggles with maths, you may find a peer tutor makes it easier for them to engage in the work they have to do.

It might be worth asking yourself: On an average day, how much time do your children devote to honing their talents? And how much time do they spend deep in the weeds of their weaknesses, trying to work on or fix them? -Mary Reckmeyer.

Some information taken from: Reckmeyer, M. & Robison, J. (2016). Strengths Based Parenting. Gallup Publishing.


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