It is not often that I am at a loss for words. I know, you are surprised, right? But recently, I did an assessment with a 15-year-old boy who was in a special school for kids with emotional disabilities, and part of this assessment was to interview the parent. Now, I try my best not to be judgmental about parenting.* I mean, lets face it, it is a ridiculously difficult job, especially if your child has special needs.
So I was interviewing the mom about what she thought were her son’s strengths, and she replied, “He ain’t got none.” Wow. No strengths? I tried to guide her to some non-traditional strengths in case she thought she could only answer about academic strengths (he was significantly below grade level).
Me: Um, okay…what about hobbies? Does he like to do anything special? Is he good at a sport or a hobby or something?
Parent: He likes basketball, but I don’t let him play.
Me: Erm, uh
Parent: I don’t let him play because he does too bad in school.
Me: Well, I’ve seen him play basketball here and he seems like he’s pretty good!
Parent: Not really.
Me: Ummmmm. Well, sometimes kids are not always the best athletes, but they feel good about themselves when they improve, or when they are having fun with their friends playing basketball.
Parent: Are you saying that he has no self-esteem because I won’t let him play basketball?
Me: No, I’m just saying that kids tend to do better when they feel good about themselves in at least one area, and it doesn’t have to be school.
Me: Let’s see, other strengths…sometimes kids are not strong in school, but are street-smart and get along well with others. How would you describe your son, Jared?
Parent: Street smart? HA! He’s street dumb. I tell him all the time.
Right. I was speechless. How could you not think of ONE single strength?
At the meeting, after I tested him, it turned out he did have some strengths. He was an artist. He made beautiful drawings. He learned well visually. He had a friend at school that he was kind to. He was also pretty resilient for having such a negative parent. I gave my schpeal about self-esteem:
Let’s imagine this table has a bunch of little buckets on it, and each one is a part of self-esteem and we can fill them up. Now, there isn’t just one single bucket called “Self-Esteem” because there are a lot of different types of self-esteem. If we want to help Jared feel good about himself, we need to think of all the buckets we can help him fill up, like “Self-Esteem in Math,” “Self-Esteem in Basketball,” "Art Self-Esteem," or “Friendship-Making Self-Esteem.” Then, if you aren’t very good at one thing, maybe reading, then you have all these other buckets that you can rely on to feel good about yourself.
Parent: I know, I am always telling him how smart he is, how great he is in basketball, and all that.
Sigh. I really hope she does.
*I had a recent slip up in being a Judgy Judgerson in the Apple store though, when a parent was screaming at her 5 year old child that she was going to “break his finger if he flipped her off again.” I wanted to intervene, but thought the mom might not appreciate my card at that moment.