Just. Can’t. Never.
These simple, unassuming words have the power to snatch the wind from your sails and leave you drifting on a sea of disappointment. “I’m just not good enough,” you may say. “I can’t do it. I’ll never figure this out.”
As much as we might feel like a failure, though, we’d be wise to remember these words from Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “our Heavenly Father did not put us on earth to fail but to succeed gloriously.”1 As parents, teachers, and mentors, we can help children and teens develop a healthy pattern of thinking that focuses on growth and opportunity rather than on failure or limitation. This is called having a growth mindset.
How do we help our children achieve it? Keep in mind these three concepts: discover, build, and share.
DISCOVER your child’s gifts.
It’s easy for kids and adults alike to fall into the comparison trap and get discouraged by their perceived lack of ability. But we are taught that everyone “is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:11). That means there is no such thing as a talentless person. Each of us was given unique strengths.
To help the children you know recognize their own gifts, encourage them to explore what they’re good at and what they enjoy. Are they good at listening? Working as a team? Being kind to others? Making people laugh? All of these are valuable talents that are not always recognized. Here are some ways to help young children explore their spiritual gifts.2
Point out positive attributes you notice day to day and continually reinforce the good you see in them. If your child has received their patriarchal blessing, this is a great resource to help them discover their gifts. Review it with them carefully, and identify the words and phrases that indicate their strengths.
Help children BUILD on what God has given them.
As we learn in the parable of the talents, we’re not meant to simply hold on to the gifts we have; we’re supposed to multiply them (see Matthew 25:14–30). That is how we gradually grow and develop to become more like our Heavenly Father, by building on what we were given while seeking “earnestly the best gifts” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:8).
For some children, building on and multiplying their gifts and talents can be challenging. They may lack confidence in their own abilities. Or they may lack faith. Or they may simply have a limited vision or attitude, meaning they are so focused on the “now,” that they fail to consider the future. To help them, parents can help them focus on improvement instead of demanding immediate perfection. Jesus Christ has promised us that by His grace and our own humble efforts, He will “make weak things become strong unto [us]” (Ether 12:27).
To help children develop a growth-focused mentality that allows them to build on existing strengths, verbally reinforce their sincere efforts. Try not to only compliment their talents or intelligence; instead, concentrate on the process of improvement—their hard work, their focus, their dedication, their determination. Reward their progress and encourage them to explore new ventures with an excitement for learning rather than a fear of failure.
Give children opportunities to SHARE their talents.
With such a focus on our individual potential, we sometimes forget that our purpose on earth is not simply to prepare ourselves for glory but also to lift and serve those around us. The Savior taught, “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
As you teach your children to look inward to discover and build their strengths, also teach them to look outward and find ways to share them. Encourage children to ask, first, “What are my personal gifts?” and, second, “How can I use them to make the world a better place?”
Give your children ample opportunities to share their talents, and then help them recognize the joy that comes from sincere service. Explain how using our gifts to help others allows us to fulfill our individual missions and create harmony with others. When we combine our individual strengths, we can care for and edify each other perfectly, “having [our] hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21).
- Do a “strengths brainstorm” with your child. Sit down with them and talk about all the things they think are their strengths and write them down. If your child has a patriarchal blessing, review it with them for more insights.
- Go a step further and ask your child to come up with ways to improve and share those strengths. This can lead right into setting goals and making plans.
- Praise and encourage them in their efforts.