There is a success gap between what our kids have achieved and what we as parents expect of them, according to Jennifer Fox at the Discovering and Developing Your Child’s Strengths talk.
“Your kids are really freaking out about your expectations,” she said.
That struck a nerve. We want our kids to be happy and to find what fulfills them but those two “goals” may not meet our own ideas about what success looks like, and that gap is what Fox was addressing. She spoke as part of the Hinsdale High School District 86’s community speaker series, which is also sponsored by the District 181 Foundation, Hinsdale Central PTO and The Community House.
Fox is a former public and private school administrator and teacher.
“I’ve been everywhere, and I’ve seen every kind of kid,” she said.
She is the author of parenting and teaching books which advocate nurturing each child’s own innate strengths and talents. As parents and even as educators, she said we spend too much time focusing on children’s deficits — think of the class your child has a “C” in and what anguish that is causing, for example — instead of nurturing and kindling his or her strengths.
Fox earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and went on to earn master’s degrees from both Middlebury College and Harvard University, yet she claims that as a child and teenager in the 1970s she was the kind of kid who skipped school and who regularly got “bad” grades. As a teen today, she might be branded a “problem student” and our expectations for her future might be rather low, and yet we see an accomplished and credible educator, author and public speaker in her.
“So many people believe that their kids’ achievements are their reports cards,” Fox said.
She illustrated that point with a graphic of a cars’ rear windshield decorated with college names, sports teams and kids’ honor roll status.
“Every single person has a gift inside,” she said.
Our job has parents is to find that gift and nurture it. Their strengths are their innate qualities — which can include anything such as designing, organizing, connecting, listening, inventing, recovering, failing, learning, competing and creating — and if these can combine with a talent and an interest, this is a child who will grow up to be a success.
According to Fox, one of the fast growing departments at many of the nation’s top universities are those that offer counseling and mental health services. Focus less on how well your kids are doing intellectually, she said, and instead look at how they are doing emotionally. Fox’s book for parents is “Your Child’s Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them.”
I am always glad to listen to the speakers and topics our community schools have offered in this series. They have been enlightening, encouraging and certainly provocative. In February, the series will continue with Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg talking about “Resilience: the Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Child.” In May, Jack Myers will talk about “Hooked Up — How Kids and Technology are Changing the World Today.”