Blog written for The Tutor Team published 28 January 2019.
Playing to their strengths: How to help your child pick their subjects
I recently read that the more attractive and ornate the bird, the worse it’s singing voice is. This example led me to think about how animals naturally play to their strengths and how we should be utilising this more in education. Playing to their strengths will help your child to choose great subjects to study at GCSE, A level and Degree.
Why is this so important?
I can remember a student in my tutor group, let’s call him Ed. Ed was an extremely talented musician and computer programmer. His talents had been spotted young and by age 13 he had several records!
When it came to choosing his GCSEs Ed’s had to choose options which did not include music or computing, this was because the school had a prescribed pathway for his high abilities. He was also keen to study graphic design but this was not in the prescribed pathway for him. Despite his requests and my support, the school would not accommodate his wishes. Needless to say, he did not enjoy most of his GCSE studies and although his grades were fine they were not what he could have achieved had he studied subjects that played to his strengths. He ended up leaving the school after his GCSE’s to study A levels elsewhere.
My point here, whatever your child picks make sure they will enjoy it. You can help your child to make these difficult choices. Qualifications are difficult and even harder if they’re battling against their true self.
Playing to our strengths is not a new revelation, business author Jim Collins wrote that the secret to going from good to great was playing to our strengths.
If your child focuses their attention on improving their talents they can become an expert, feeling celebrated and valued. As opposed to feeling mediocre and dissatisfied. I know I never want to see my daughter feeling this way, so when it comes to making subject choices try to help your child as much as possible.
If that hasn’t convinced you, here’s the science…
People respond to praise and it motivates them. If a student is not playing to their strengths they’re unlikely to receive praise resulting in a demotivated, dissatisfied and unhappy student.
There is a good chance that your child’s strengths will link to their true self. If they’re working inline with their values they will feel content and motivated.
Doing well at something with or without feedback, confirms their self-efficacy (belief in ability to do an action) and thus supports they’re self-esteem.
Lastly, it means that their actual self, ought self and ideal self are more likely to be alligned. Edward Higgins (1987) proposed the Self-discrepancy Theory to explain how internal psychological disagreements affect our motivation and emotions.
If we want to improve a skill, we may have a discrepancy with our ideal self. This can be positive because it motivates us to change and develop. We also anticipate positive outcomes from the change which results in positive emotions. For example, wanting to be the best pianist.
In contrast, a discrepancy with their ought and actual selves could be caused by studying subjects that they find extremely difficult or uninteresting. This could then result in a fear driven motivation as they await criticism for being inadequate in the skill, leading to negative emotions, procrastination, avoidance and stress.
So how can you make sure your child is picking subjects that play to their strengths?
Take a large piece of paper and pen. They might like to do this first on their own and then you could help your child with this. It’s worth taking time over this and going back to it.
1. Look back at your life, what have been your most enjoyable and memorable experiences? Think carefully and write down what made them so great.
2. Think about your subjects at school, when have you created your best work? What made your work so successful?
3. Which subjects are you excited about and why? (The teacher may be a reason but remember they won’t always have the same teacher so try and think about the subject)
4. Do you have any dreams or goals for the future? If so do they need specific qualifications?
If you’d like some help with this, sometimes a different person can really draw out your strengths then we can help you with this at The Tutor Team.
Sometimes your child might want to study a subject that isn’t available at their institution, so why not have a tutor for the subject instead?
Good luck with your choices and remember a happy and motivated student is a great one!
By Jessica Bloomfield-Harris
Jessica is a psychologist who loves inspiring and encouraging others to develop. She is also published in ethics and cognitive psychology.