The Amazing Power of Building on a Child’s Strength

As I reflected on my busy and varied week, working with kids of all ages, I stopped to think what theme pervaded my week. The children displayed many strengths, but often, as adults, we don’t look beyond the tip of the iceberg, and just see them disguised as weaknesses. Why do we do that?

I thought of the near-teen boys in the group of 30 or so kids with which I work who are always throwing out silly comments from the back of the group.  That silliness, capitalized upon, encouraged genuine leadership. The boys led the others in song- yes, song! These typical pre-teens were singing in a group they did not choose, teaching one another valuable life lessons. The freedom of energy exhibited in their silliness – what a refreshing attitude! The boys’ attitude, energy, and freedom brought the energy level and freedom of the group up to where the boys were at and dispelled the anxiety-ridden seriousness of the group.

The non-verbal four-year-old who made every attempt to escape the new adult’s wishes stayed at the piano as I reflected his antics. The boy got on the trampoline, began to jump, and watched himself in the mirror.  The rhythm of his movement, reflected and contained by the music, brought a joyous smile as he got off the trampoline, went to the mirror, and repeated the phrase, “in the mirror.” The tiny non-verbal five-year-old, who would spend an entire session pulling items out of a can and putting them back in, began to make sounds, eye contact, and smile by my reflecting and encouraging this curious behavior. No longer was this an isolating behavior, but a jointly played game. As his energy level rose, so did the force he used to put into this action, which brought forth more sound. The more sound he made, and the more he heard the lyrics, “put it IN, take it OUT,” the more the sound took shape reciprocally of the vowel sounds IN (a held tone) and OUT (a held tone). The boy who walked in looking tired, weak, and limp walked out smiling with energy in his sure-footed step.

The group of cranky pre-teens who always limp, complaining at each other’s throats, are intolerant of every little difference. By listening and using their individual ideas and seating the kids physically closer, the children now help one another. The previously cranky kids come in and look forward to working together. Sometimes, they are put into small groups, as a therapist works with only one group at a time. The other group stays productive while getting along, not solving their own problems, but those intolerable differences just aren’t noticed anymore.

Then there is the older teen who is always responsible, listens to adults, and does everything she is told or expected. However, she has no voice of her own, but only parrots the adults who surround her. By encouraging her true voice, not one that mimics others, she began to show some confidence. Now, not only is she beginning to find and use her beautifully gentle yet clear voice, but sometimes the words that come out are those that belong to her, not someone else. She has the courage to say, “I will do that,” instead of “I’ll do that if you want me to.”

Each of us is born as an individual, having individual genetic personal makeups. We each have our own energy and rhythm whether we are male or female, child or adults, disabled or not. When we as facilitators, therapists, teachers, parents, or friends value that enough to nourish it. Whether we understand it at the moment or not, that is when amazing things begin to occur such as, growth, healing, development, or simply genuine moments of happiness. The key to finding these strengths is to look at exactly what the child presents to us.

Antoinette Morrison, MT-BC


Ryan Judd

Great post! Emphasizing and building off someone’s strengths not only boosts their self-esteem but achieves therapeutic goals. A win-win! Thanks for sharing.

David Pike

Hi Antionette

I found this post highly inspirational. I love the way other children’s behaviour sparked off another and that the environment you’re creating actually encourages this to happen – brilliant work! It looks to me that that the children themselves teach you as to what is required as long as we have the eyes to see (which needs a bit of practise I would reckon)

Thanks for sharing



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