Take an average car. If a salesman calls the car a “cherry”, it means it’s in perfect condition. But if a salesman calls the same car a “lemon”, it means it has expensive mechanical problems. The name means everything to a buyer, whether it’s accurate or not.
If you see a ‘lemon’ child, it will change the way you anticipate behavior and treat him or her. Start noticing your child’s “cherry” behaviors. What’s great about him or her? Even problematic behaviors are strengths in some circumstances. For example: resistance and wilfulness are good survival traits for the future:
- Your child will need to resist being taken advantage of.
- He or she will need to resist ‘friends’ who pressure them to use drugs.
- Your child will need to stick with schoolwork or a job without the distractions of parties or alcohol or other time bandits.
Make a list of ‘awesome-ness’
What is your child or teen good at? When is he or she at their best? What character “flaw” is actually a good thing? What shows intelligence, nimble thinking, a sense of right and wrong, athletic prowess, social maturity, artistic depth, or compassion for those who are vulnerable?
It’s not important to know why they have problems. It’s important to know what strengths they have to overcome them.
An overwhelmed mom once asked for help with her adult son and daughter. They were still not ready for adulthood, in fact, they were both falling apart. They needed her more than she could handle emotionally. After she shared all her concerns, I asked her to list what was great about them. It took her off guard at first, but she scribbled out a few things and kept the list, and many months later pulled it out to show me that she still referred to it. She said it totally changed her mindset.
Instead of working on your child’s weaknesses, help your child master existing strengths.
Allow your child ample time to do the positive things he or she is already good at, the things that bring out self-esteem and confidence. Proactively provide the materials and time to attend a class or camp, join a team, write poetry, make art or music, train the dog, style a friend’s hair… anything he or she can be proud of that has value for their future. Your child’s behavior will improve, and your mutual interactions will improve.
Use the positive power of self-fulfilling prophecy
In her list , my friend wrote that her daughter had compassion for people and wanted to make the world a better place. What would you suggest this mother do to support her 24-year-old daughter’s interests and strengths? One idea: tell her daughter she believed she would be “a natural” at this. Another idea: encourage her daughter to get involved in a charity organization. And the daughter did.
Lets take another situation where your troubled son plays online video games to the exclusion of all else. What do you see? Rapid mental processing, hand-eye coordination, focus, a passion for technology. If you need to limit the video-gaming, what can you replace it with? There are robot kits for kids; he could build a robot and program its behavior. A remote control helicopter could be given an obstacle course to go through. Perhaps the obstacles are altered to make them harder to get through. Perhaps there’s a reward for getting through a really difficult course. Use your imagination, and ask your son to do the same. Collaborate. It’s a better form of interaction and it plays to his natural gifts and interests.
It’s a disability, that’s why they can’t be good at everything
Let’s be realistic, some children with serious mental health problems may never be well-rounded or competent in the many subjects and skills they need for adulthood. (It is the tragedy of their disability.) If this is your child, they’ll probably do better in the long run if not pressured to overcome their weaknesses with extra classwork, homework, or incessant behavioral modifications. Your son or daughter can catch up later, or if they can’t, they at least have something to carry with them into adulthood.
Now about YOU
What are YOUR strengths as a person and as a parent?
- You care enough to go online and learn how to be a better parent.
- You admit that you need help, and you know how to find it.
- (now add your own… and be generous with yourself)