4 Strengths Kids Build When They Take On Challenges

By Kate Kelly
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At a Glance

  • Kids who learn and think differently can build strengths through the challenges they face.

  • These strengths can help with other situations they’ll experience.

  • Reminding kids of their strengths can build self-esteem and confidence.

Kids who learn and think differently may struggle with schoolwork or socially, or both. But the challenges they face can actually help them develop some amazing inner strengths.

Because these qualities are often overlooked in kids, it’s important to point them out when you notice them—and to talk about them openly and often. They’re important skills that can help with all kinds of situations in life.

Below are four key strengths your child is probably developing right now. Encourage them. Talk about why they’re so valuable. This will help boost self-esteem and let your child know how much progress they’re making.

1. Grit

What to look for: Some people call it perseverance. Others call it grit. When things don’t come easily, your child keeps at it and doesn’t give up. Your child has stick-to-itiveness.

Point out this strength: You can say something like, “Math was super tough this week, but you studied a lot and got extra help from the teacher. You didn’t get an A, but you set a goal and you stuck to it. I’m proud of you.”

Explain why it matters: “Working twice as hard as everyone else is frustrating. But hard work carries over into everything you do in life. You know how to stick with it even when something is hard.”

2. Empathy

What to look for: Being a different kind of learner can help kids be more understanding and thoughtful about other people’s differences. Some people call it empathy. This ability to see what another person might be feeling is one of the most important skills a kid can have.

Point out this strength: “Remember when the new kid started at your school in the middle of the year? Your teacher told me you were the first person to make room for him at the table. You know what it’s like when people aren’t friendly—and that makes you a great friend.”

Explain why it matters: “Being able to imagine what another person is feeling is a valuable skill. People who can do it are great at making friends and helping people. To work with others, you’ll need to be kind and empathetic.”

3. Courage

What to look for: Your child is brave and keeps going even in tricky situations. You might notice that your child busts out of a comfort zone to meet daily challenges or tasks head-on—or to try new things. This shows courage.

Point out this strength: “When you tried out for the swim team, you didn’t know the coach or the other kids. You weren’t sure if you were fast enough. But you jumped in and did your best even though you were nervous.”

Explain why it matters: “It’s scary to take risks. But being brave enough to try even when you don’t know how something will turn out is a great skill. That will help you get ahead in life.”

4. Confidence

What to look for: Your child doesn’t hesitate to raise a hand for help or to explain to teachers and peers when feeling concerned. Confident kids can ask for what they need when they need it.

Point out this strength: “I’m impressed by how you asked the teacher for study notes. You knew that would help you, and you explained why. You got what you needed and it helped.”

Explain why it matters: “At some point, everyone faces uncomfortable situations. You might not understand the question in class or feel like you don’t know how to begin a school project. Speaking up for yourself will help you solve the problem—and that’s so much better than giving up.”

Your child might not even realize what skills are growing as a result of learning and thinking differently. But these qualities are valuable and can actually help boost your child’s self-esteem.

Key Takeaways

  • Point out your child’s hidden strengths.

  • Explain to your child why these strengths matter.

  • These strengths can help kids navigate real-world situations.

About the Author

About the Author

Kate Kelly 

has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Molly Algermissen, PhD 

is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.

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