The Magic of a Strength-Based Approach

Strengths, Confidence and Self-Esteem 

[I Am, I Can!]

I always had been curious about the WHY of so many people living their lives with a negative or less positive view of themselves.  Why are people conditioned to perceive themselves as not good enough, not valuable, not loveable…while it surely is the hope of every parent and educator for their child or student to leave home and school and be confident, courageous, take risks and be the best they can be and live happy and purposeful lives.   

It is no wonder that the Live Out Loud team is passionate about supporting and encouraging children, young people, their families and educators to incorporate a person-centred and strength-based approach to parenting, teaching, learning and being.   

In the light of the neurodiversity movement and the words of Thomas Armstrong (2012:4): “Instead of spending all of our efforts in trying to make students with special needs more like ‘normal’ students, I propose we devote more attention to accepting and celebrating their differences.”  

Reasoner (2005) viewed self-esteem as composed of two distinct dimensions: competence and worth. On the basis of these two components, he defines self-esteem as “the experience of being capable of meeting life challenges and being worthy of happiness”.   

Confidence is the belief that you will be successful or that you have made the right choice in a particular situation.  Confidence also means feeling positive about yourself and knowing you can cope when things are hard or are new or unexpected.  Confidence provides the individual the ability to attempt these situations and be successful.  It is a positive cycle.

All children and teens, with low confidence, especially neurodivergent children, can find these situations extremely difficult to work with.  They might be less likely to try new things, might be very hard on themselves and might think they can’t do anything right.  

Confidence grows when children and teens understand that they are good at things and can be successful.  By paying special attention to your child’s strengths, you can develop and strengthen their confidence.  This is important for your child’s positive self-esteem, happiness and wellbeing. 

Your child’s strengths are exactly that: their strengths! So often, we talk about the challenges a child has, with the spotlight on the behaviours, the deficits, and weaknesses, and the diagnosis. These negative aspects are often the focus of other’s engagement, support and what the child might be reprimanded on.  It’s what makes them stand out (in the eyes of the child or young person) and makes them different than their peers. However, when their strengths are highlighted, the focus is shifted to the positive.

All individuals have strengths.  Everyone has interests, positive aspects, special skills, talents, gifts and abilities that make them unique.  Strengths are any personal trait that makes them who they are!

The best of a strength-based approach is the magic that happens in the brain.  When an individual’s personal strengths are highlighted, dopamine is released which offers feedback through the nervous system. There is a feeling of “good” that travels through the brain and body. This positive feedback can support regulation, mood, emotions, behaviour, communication, and participation.

Returning to self-esteem, confidence and strengths:  A mantra:  I am loveable, I am capable, I am valuable as human being! [I Am; I Can!]  A sense of liking the self, taking pride in what the individual is doing every day, which makes the individual feel worthwhile and know that they are here for a reason and can contribute to life as any other.  It allows the individual to feel valued and loved by those in their circle and provides the motivation to embark on developing new relationships and risk to take on and learn new tasks and skills.  A high(er) level of self-esteem also places individuals in a better position to accept who they are, with all limitations, needs and ask for help when required, simply because they can learn to focus on their strengths and what makes them unique.  Without it, life may always be experienced as an uphill struggle.

Limitations, weaknesses and needs, we all have them!  Do they determine our worth as an individual.  Definitely not.  There is huge value in recognizing our personal areas for growth.  

Self-esteem, however, starts with acknowledging strengths, abilities, interests, talents and gifts.   Strengths vary from individual to individual and may manifest physically, mentally, emotionally, socially or spiritually. 

To best support an autistic, neurodivergent child and young person or any child with different needs (or not), a comprehensive assessment of their strengths is crucial, as this profile will guide the teaching and learning process and be facilitated through strength-based learning strategies.

An example of a Neurodiversity Strengths Checklist (Armstrong, 2012) can be found here:

A classification of character strengths can be found here:

The suggestion is to raise your child’s awareness about their strengths and qualities, also their character strengths; to select the topmost 1 or 2 and encourage them to select activities they can engage in in service of those strengths.  The chances are very good, when they engage in these activities, they may feel positive and good about themselves as these activities are impactful and provide satisfaction. 

Essy Knoff argues that neurodivergent children and young people who might be struggling with self-esteem difficulties, can be encouraged to consciously create a plan to engage in at least one of the two activities, when they feel down or as if they are struggling.  Engaging in an activity of choice, affirms the strength and also improves their self-esteem.  Knoff further argues that if young people are really interested in growing their self-esteem, they can work towards making these activities into habits.  Why is this important?  Because habits create a powerful snowball effect.  “The more capable we feel, the greater our sense of self-worth.  The greater our sense of self-worth, the more likely we are to embrace our strengths – and so the cycle goes.” 

Armstrong, Thomas.  2012.  Neurodiversity in the Classroom