How do I discover my child’s strengths and interests?
You may use formal and informal channels for determining where your child’s strengths and interests lie. You probably are more of an expert on this than you think. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What does my child do during her free time?
- How does he like to experience new things? (Through listening, talking, doing, creating, looking, or a combination of these).
- What does she like to spend her time and money on?
- What are his favorite classes at school?
- Who is one of his favorite teachers?
- What teaching style is used in that class?
- How does he tackle a problem?
Another way to tap into your child’s interests and strengths is to use active listening. When talking with your child, you may want to do something active, like throw a ball, grocery shop, or walk the dog. This is especially important for teens and pre-teens who are more likely to open up if it is not a face-to-face conversation at the kitchen table. You may want to start with a couple of open-ended questions and then follow his lead. You may want to find a weekly or daily time to check-in with your child. This puts less pressure on the conversation, and generally gives you a fuller picture of how your child perceives his world.
Try one of the following open-ended questions:
- What is something you’re enjoying right now?
- What is something you’re looking forward to?
- How would you like to spend your time this weekend/school break?
- Which class do you like the most right now? Tell me about it.
- Who is your all-time favorite teacher?
- What do you like about the way he teaches?
- Do you have any projects coming up?
- How do you plan to tackle that?
Remember, your objective is to listen and learn from your child. If this becomes an advice-giving session, chances are your child will shut down or will not be as open in future conversations. Let your child know that you value his point-of-view. You may want to thank him for sharing with you.
It’s likely that you also have formal achievement testing, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) assessment, or an outside evaluation. A good report will include both relative strengths and weaknesses. Be wary of testing that only points out weaknesses. If you have the opportunity, ask one of your child’s teachers or therapists what she thinks your child’s strengths and weaknesses are. Ask what she thinks your child’s learning style is. Request concrete examples of how your child uses this learning style.
Classroom observation and a sample of your child’s tests, projects, and assignments often can provide a fuller understanding of your child’s abilities and interests. As a parent, you can request that a member of the IEP team conduct a classroom observation, and even suggest which classes you’d like information about. It may be helpful to compare an observation in a class that your child enjoys and one that is a struggle for her. You may want to bring examples of your child’s work that are particularly strong with you to a school meeting in order to highlight areas where she excels.