by Judy Galbraith, president and founder of Free Spirit Publishing and coauthor of What Kids Need to Succeed
I’ve always believed in focusing on kids’ strengths rather than on what they aren’t doing well. This value has also been a focus of Search Institute’s research with 3 million young people in the United States over the past 20+ years. Search wanted to know why some kids grow up with relative ease while others struggle. Why do some kids “beat the odds” in difficult situations, and others get caught in a circle of negative factors? Search’s survey results showed that the difference is the presence (or absence) of Developmental Assets—internal and external resources that every young person needs. Assets help kids make good decisions and grow up caring, competent, and responsible.
Free Spirit published, in collaboration with Search Institute, What Kids Need to Succeed, which outlines all 40 assets. More importantly, the book offers more than 900 ideas for supporting young people in school, at home, in communities, and in their faith communities. In honor of Free Spirit’s 30th anniversary, I’ve cherry-picked 30 of my favorite ideas and suggestions from the book. They’re listed in no particular order. Are any of the ideas ones you already use on a regular basis? Are there any new ideas you hadn’t thought of before? Everyone can be an asset builder, and our kids benefit when we make regular efforts to help them grow up healthy inside and out.
When kids talk, really listen. Accept the fact that you won’t agree on everything. Never label a child’s opinions, beliefs, feelings, or experiences “silly,” “stupid,” “childish,” or “wrong.” If we want kids to turn to us for advice and support, we have to be approachable and open.
2. Ask for kids’ opinion or advice about something. When you do, you’re letting them know you value their ideas and that they’re important to you.
3. Help your children develop a feelings vocabulary. If you want to get to the root of what’s going on with them, they have to have a repertoire of words to choose from. For example, there’s a big difference between feeling mad and being frustrated.
4. As parents, get to know your children’s friends. Help them feel welcome in your home.
5. As an educator, have an open-door policy for students who want to talk. Let them know what days and times are especially good to “pop in” to chat.
Whether you’re a parent or teacher, occasionally eat lunch in the cafeteria with students.
7. Get to know your neighbors, and work to learn the names of every young person in your neighborhood. Smile and greet them by name when you see them.
8. Encourage students to find ways to serve in their neighborhood and/or in their school’s neighborhood. Brainstorm ideas together, and make a plan for putting those ideas into action.
9. Engage children in creating a school or neighborhood garden.
10. Ask kids how they feel about school. Do they see it as a caring, nurturing place? Why or why not? Encourage them to give specifics about how they feel. Talk about ways to improve the school climate.
Make attending school events a family priority. If you’re an educator, work to make everyone welcome in your school.
12. If you’re a parent, regularly thank teachers for the work they do.
13. Ask young people what makes them feel valued. Then work to enhance ways to increase this asset.
14. Encourage young people to get involved in community service.
15. Include your children or students in decision making.
Cultivate leadership roles and skills in as many students as possible, not just a select few.
17. Be a role model for children by serving others and by being a leader.
18. Publicize service opportunities for young people and families.
19. At home and in school, make it a priority to create safe environments. Don’t tolerate hurtful actions or words. Model mutual caring and respect.
20. Teach children how to talk to a trusted adult about bad things that happen to them.
Work to keep student-teacher ratios low so teachers can spend more time teaching and less time trying to manage students’ behavior.
22. Encourage kids to get involved with whatever arts endeavors interest them—learn to act, play music, sing, dance, paint, draw—arts involvement not only enriches life but it usually involves a variety of core curriculum learning as well.
23. When school budgets are tight, the arts are among the first programs to be cut. Work to keep them in schools or bring them back.
24. Sponsor free community events that expose kids to a broad range of arts performances.
25. Role model continuous learning. Let kids know about something new you’re learning to do. Involve them in your interests and hobbies.
Tie learning, especially in the classroom, to real-life situations, issues, and concerns. Help kids see how what they’re learning relates to what’s happening in their lives, in their communities, and around the world.
27. Model reading for pleasure. Set aside regular time for reading, and give kids access to a broad range of reading materials.
28. Pay regular visits to the library, and make sure kids have their own library cards.
29. Limit screen time for kids. Limit your own screen time, too.
30. Make sure kids know you respect them and that you love them. Show them and tell them how much they mean to you.
What are your most effective ways for building assets in kids? How have you seen kids change and grow as a result of your support?
Judy Galbraith, M.A., has a master’s degree in guidance and counseling of the gifted. A former classroom teacher, she has worked with and taught gifted children and teens, their parents, and their teachers for many years. In 1983 she started Free Spirit Publishing. Judy is the author or coauthor of several books, including The Survival Guide for Gifted Kids, The Gifted Teen Survival Guide, When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers, What Kids Need to Succeed, and What Teens Need to Succeed.
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