Dr Robert Brooks, in his article, The Search for Islands of Competence: A Metaphor of Hope and Strength, supports finding something a child is great at as a way of changing their negative self-concept.  I remember hearing this idea for the first time in my behaviour internship. I remember thinking what a wonderful, strength-based, positive and proactive approach to looking at challenging behaviour.

Dr Brooks goes on to say, “Many of these children and adults seem to be drowning in an ocean of self-perceived inadequacy. If there is an ocean of inadequacy, then there must be islands of competence – areas that have been or have the potential to be sources of pride and accomplishment. We must help children and adults to identify and reinforce these islands so that at some point they become more dominant than the ocean of inadequacy.”

How do we help our children and maybe even ourselves stay on the island and not get “voted” off by others or by our very selves?

Dig into these three ways to stay on your island:

1. Make a list with permanent marker

It is not enough to simply make a list or help your child make a list, make the list and mean it! Dive into the junk drawer for a Sharpie. A Sharpie proves you mean business. Make a comprehensive list of your child’s talents. Be sure to think about how you are going to use these strengths as ways to grow self-esteem. How are you going to celebrate? How are you going to ensure you use this strategy when you fall into the negative? Build serious self-acceptance grit by using talents, strengths, and island pieces! 

My Island of Competence: I have always been good at relationships, but no one ever tests you on that in school. I could be found sitting on my relationship towel on my island quite often. I used this ability to change my work. I took the math and science field of behaviour and flipped it on its ear and now I look at it as a relationship field! It is a different perspective, one that empowers children to be their best and makes a world of difference!

2. Remember that time is necessary

It is quite difficult to become strength-based when you are so incredibly used to the traditional negative way of thinking. Schools force us to chase a carrot and use all sorts of garbage as motivation. When time is given to finding a child’s island of competence and giving a child time to get used to the idea that they have amazing strengths, chasing a motivation carrot is no longer necessary.

Become a facilitator, a supporter, a thinker, an understander (totally made that up), a strong warrior for yourself and for the children in your life. They need you on their island!

3. Who is inhabiting the island with you?

When I am helping children with big emotions, I introduce myself as a calm helper. They know that I will stay calm, not meet their intensity, no matter big their emotions get. I once worked with a boy that first rolled his eyes, then yelled obscenities at me, and then ignored me for the better part of 20 minutes.

He was always so mad at me for staying calm. Until one day I walked into the classroom, we made eye contact, he stood from his seat and reached out for my hand. He fought me for months until one day he realized that if he took my hand we could go looking for his island together. It is better and safer to travel in pairs!

Image Credit: Discover Mleiha Adventures