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Identifying Strengths at The Academy

Our second module aims to identify and foster a child’s strengths so that they can firstly internalise their strengths and, secondly, have a better understanding of how to use it.

At The Academy, we noticed that one particular boy was very sensitive to the emotional needs of others and instinctively sought to help another child if they were upset. As a result, we encouraged him to take on greater responsibilities over his friends at The Academy – particular when they were upset. His actions during one particular session completely blew all of us away.

During this session, one of the children at The Academy was highly emotional due to factors outside of The Academy. Noticing that one of his friends was very upset, he took it upon himself to look after him. At first, he checked in with his friend to see if they were ok. He then put his arm around him, hugged him, and stayed with him even during group time. As amazing as this sounds, this had actually become the norm for the boy.

However, his friend continued to be emotional even after a significant period of time. In response to this, the boy shifted gears and attempted to use a completely different strategy – humour. He tried to tell jokes, recount funny stories involving farting cats and even tried to gently poke fun at his friend. As it was still group time, he did all of this quietly and appropriately without disrupting the rest of the group. The boy’s ability to change tact genuinely surprised all of us – especially considering he was engaging with someone who was upset. To be frank, we aren’t sure that even us, as adults, would have had the wherewithal to shift approaches when another person is upset.

What makes this story even more remarkable is the fact that after just the first session of The Academy program back in April, it was clear that adjustments were required if he were to continue with the program. During the first session, he had found it immensely difficult to remain with the rest of the group. Although he was able to engage well in the physical activities, group time proved challenging for him. This also reflected his experience in the mainstream schooling environment.

To help support him at The Academy, it was decided that the best strategy was to take a hybrid approach whereby he joined us for group time through Zoom before being dropped off on site for lunch and physical activities. He would then be picked up just before we did our second group time of the session. In order to maximise the likelihood that he would engage with group time over Zoom, we coordinated with his parents so that he would be online while they were in the car driving to our venue. With a carefully thought out plan, minor tweaks to the environment and two very understanding and supportive parents, the boy was eventually able to join us in person for the duration of a session after 7 weeks and has been able to ever since.

This boy’s story highlights the importance of being aware of a child’s challenges and supporting them to overcome those challenges while also actively looking for particular areas or qualities that they are strong at. By definition, early intervention focuses on addressing the specific challenges that each child faces and closing the gap between a child with additional needs and typically developing children. This often results in everyone around the child as well as the child themselves being acutely aware of their own challenges with little attention given to their strengths. Over time, this places a child at risk of developing a perception of themselves built primarily around things which they cannot do well rather than the things that they can do well. This is especially true when a child exhibits significant disruptive behaviours.

Let’s continue to empower children to shine bright and embrace their unique strengths! Together, we can create a world where every child feels valued and supported.

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