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Dr. Magryta: Focusing on strengths, challenging weaknesses

I often wonder what is the best way to help a child rise above an impediment in learning or any aspect of their being, or just to succeed in general.

What is the best path? Is it to focus on the weakness and induce stress or focus on the strengths? The answers are not so simple.

The prevailing wisdom in most articles on this topic is to focus all the efforts on the strengths and leave the weaknesses alone, as strengths bring happiness and success.

Is this really true? Clearly, a highly gifted, musically inclined child is more likely to achieve great things by pursuing this line of activity. Does this bring happiness? I am not so sure. There are many variables involved in happiness.

For example, was there an overbearing parent who pushed the child to destruction pursuing this strength goal? I think of Andre Agassi’s memoirs here.

If a strength aligns with the child’s desires, then there is a match to happiness and the odds are great that a parent does not need to push. They can just support consistently.

However, avoiding the weakness entirely cannot be a good thing in my mind. I think of high IQ and low EQ children in this case. To focus on intelligence only and forgo the emotional learning is a recipe for social frustration with age.

Another example is the cerebral art-centered child that struggles with coordination and sports. It is likely that life is more beautiful and full if they can improve their coordination and challenge themselves with sport or activity, even if it never enters the competition realm. Activity and exercise are key parts of a heathy life.

What resolutely aligns with my heart and mind is self-directed child-centered learning where a parent opens up a world of choice and the child chooses. You may need to push them to a few things until they settle on an interest that is in line with their path. The strengths will show themselves, as will the weaknesses.

I think of music, in my case. I remember a fall elementary school day in the gymnasium of Hagan Elementary circa 1979. The gym was littered with a line of most of the traditional musical instruments that make up a school band. It started with the piccolo and ended with percussion. As we meandered down the line, my parents eagerly awaited my choice as the instruments passed by in time. My siblings played the flute and violin. So of course, I would follow suit. As the process wound down, it was clear that my choice was either nothing or drums. Drums it was.

God bless them for allowing me to choose and then put up with the years of racket until I became proficient at playing. This is a clear example of self-directed learning with my strength in mind, as I loved music and had a passion to play. Previously unknown to my parents, it also happened to help with a weakness of attention and hyperactivity.

I think that the critical part of this process is patience. I asked my son one day, “How can I help you with this?” His reply surprised me. He said, “be patient with me.” He intuitively knew that it would come in time, and he did not need an overbearing parent driving him.

Be there for them in both realms of life, the strengths and the weaknesses. Be patient. Let the process be the key.

If they become good or excellent at a few things, than their chances of success greatly increase compared to the general population.

Enhancing the learning process with outside- the-box activity is my favorite path. If physical balance is an issue, for instance, buy a slack line and play games with them while trying to balance on a slack line. If reading is an issue, spend time in reading therapy but also encourage audio learning. If they are great at art, find them a mentor to apprentice under.

Keep patiently encouraging them to push their boundaries and comfort zones with exploration as they find their joys, passions and weaknesses. Remember that the process is the key. Rewarding the process is the path to self empowerment through repeated failures and self growth.

Patience, love and support are key,


Dr. M

Dr. Chris Magryta is a physician at Salisbury Pediatric Associates. Contact him at newsletter@salisburypediatrics.com

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