An Unlikely Canvas


Every year I attend the World Strengths Summit and rub shoulders with several colleagues from around the world who engage organizations, as I do, to shift the focus of their developmental strategy to a strengths-based approach. At the most recent Summit, I was speaking with one of my “mates” (as they would say) from Australia who is a successful strengths coach in his neck of the world. We were chatting about my current book project and how we are both learning to apply our professional acumen around strengths development in our own home cultures.  We talked about what it takes to raise kids according to their strengths.

He proudly shared about his nine year old son and his unique and early interest in design, his little guy already dreams of designing for Disney one day. To encourage his son’s talents, my friend and his wife purchased a set of colored pens for his son to develop his strengths. However, one day, they noticed their son had been using the surface of his nice white desk to mix some of the colors from his pen set. Naturally, he and his wife expressed their displeasure with him using the desk to “practice” his art.

Sometimes we all need a fresh perspective to help re-calibrate our parenting strategy and see what we have been missing, don’t we? Well immediately, I thought - and consequently said - “What if you did the opposite next time with your son?” Curious, he asked what I meant. I went on to explain that while we don’t encourage our kids to write on the furniture , what if he and his wife played to their son’s strengths by allowing him to just use the desk as a surface for doodling, dreaming and designing? It is just a desk. What would be so wrong if years later his son could look at that desk and see the beginnings of his dream take shape as his parents let him express himself on an unlikely canvas?

With a tear in his eye, my mate expressed his gratitude for the shift in perspective and contemplated how he and his wife could shift course with their son. About a week later, I was received a message with a photo of the desk with several drawings on the surface and this message, “We had a chat with our son about his desk. He’s now started adding his creativity to it. Thanks for your coaching.”

When we shift our focus to a strengths-based approach, the possibilities open for us to engage our children through a different filter. The questions change. Dare I say even our rules may alter. Instead of, contemplating “What did they do wrong and how to fix them?” We can ask, “Why did they do that, and how can I see their strengths through this?” Maybe your child has an unlikely canvas, an unusual avenue they are pursuing to express their God-given strength. Find fresh joy in discovering and encouraging them as they practice the thing that lights them up and displays their natural talents!

Brandon Miller