Nurturing Strengths, Fostering Leadership

By Karen Cairone

Fearless, Assertive, Strong-willed, Opinionated, Persistent.

Often these words are used to describe children with challenging behaviors.

Often these words are used to describe leaders.

With the NAEYC Professional Development Institute approaching next week, the conference theme of leadership has been on my mind. What makes a great leader? If I am thinking of my own personal experience in the world of early childhood mental health, I can’t help but look to Linda Likins, director of the Devereux Early Childhood Initiative (DECI). She could not have accomplished all she did--building the DECI from the ground up over the past 15 years--if it weren’t for her fearlessness, assertiveness, strong will and opinions, and persistence.

Some of my favorite leaders have these characteristics, and some of my favorite children with challenging behaviors have these characteristics. So, what makes a child with all these great leadership qualities develop into a leader or fall by the wayside, often distracted from success and happiness by behavioral concerns? I’d like to propose that a vehicle to help these children go down the path toward leadership rather than another path without a positive outcome, is this: awareness of, fostering of, and use of one’s strengths.

Are you the caring adult in a child’s life who is going to celebrate and help nurture his or her strengths?

The American Psychological Association’s Road to Resilience states that many research studies identify a secure attachment with a caring adult as one of the strongest protective factors for children. All children need someone who understands the importance of and believes in identifying and fostering their strengths. These strengths could be related to skills and abilities, interests, the child’s personality, or social and emotional health. Promoting these strengths helps a child develop strong protective factors.

If you have not explored the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment as a tool to identify strengths related to social and emotional health and protective factors, I wonder, what are you waiting for? DECI’s suite of assessment tools and strategies to build strengths have the potential to identify which children are in need of stronger protective factors and healthier social and emotional skills as early as 4 weeks old and spanning the ages up to (at present) 8th grade.

As I attend NAEYC’s PDI conference on leadership next week, I am going with the child with challenging behaviors in mind. I am convinced we can help direct a path for these children if we just realize and promote their strengths and potential--supporting the healthy development of a future generation of leaders.

This post was contributed by Karen Cairone. Karen has been with the Devereux Center for Resilient Children, Early Childhood Initiative for the past 13 years. While with Devereux, she has co-authored several resources including Facing the Challenge DVD series, Classroom Moments DVD, For Now and Forever: A Family Guide for Infants and Toddlers, and Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure. Karen has two upcoming publications with Gryphon House. Karen is editor of the DCRC national newsletter and delivers training on topics related to social and emotional health and resilience around the country. Karen Cairone lives in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

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