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Concept development and text: Russell Deal Illustration and design: Mat Jones Editorial Team: John Holton & Jennie Mellberg



First edition published 1996 Reprinted 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 This edition published 2009 Concept development and text: Russell Deal Illustration and design: Mat Jones Editorial Team: John Holton & Jennie Mellberg © St Luke’s Innovative Resources and Mat Jones 2009 ISBN: 978-1-920945-38-1 Innovative Resources is the publishing arm of St Luke’s Anglicare All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Cards and booklet printed by: Centre State Printing Box printed by: Custom Industries

Table of contents Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iv Preface to New Edition. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . v In the Beginning. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Strengths Rule‌OK?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Building Conversations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 The Cards. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Being Mindful. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 About St Luke’s and Innovative Resources. . . . . . . . . . . . 14


Acknowledgements Many people have contributed directly and indirectly to the evolution of Strength Cards for Kids. For this new edition special thanks needs to go to Mat Jones whose quirky and energetic monkeys and toucan gave the cards a whole new flavour. This design will ensure the cards continue to ‘live’ for many years to come. Mat, your patience as we kept modifying our ideas until they seemed just right was greatly appreciated! Innovative Resources’ dynamic editorial team of John Holton and Jennie Mellberg, as always, brought their professional eyes for detail to the project—carefully interrogating each word and illustration. To all former and current members of the St Luke’s Innovative . Resources team: once again thanks for your tolerance, trust . and enthusiasm.

Russell Deal. Creative Director Innovative Resources


Preface to the New Edition:

A World of Strengths We all live in a world of strengths. We learn, combine and shape strengths as key components of our identity. And we all have our . own unique repertoire of strengths. Each of our lives is made stronger by the networks and communities— families, friends, classmates, team mates, neighbours, teachers and anyone to whom we are positively connected. Yet, sadly, it is often not this world of strengths that we are . aware of. Problems, deficits, disappointments, frustrations, mistakes, poor decisions, human failures, frailties and disasters tend to catch our attention and make headlines. These deficits fill the TV news and overshadow the world of possibilities, positives, achievements, potentials, triumphs, realisations, qualities and capabilities that are as real and so much more helpful than doom and gloom. Yet there are times when we need to sit with, and in, the pain of others and ourselves. But sitting with pain is different from being consumed by it. When deficits rule our lives, fatalism inevitably reigns and hope is lost; we become blinded to our strengths and the possibilities they can lead us into.    A humble set of 40 illustrated cards cannot address all challenges and Strength Cards for Kids does not pretend to be a panacea or miracle cure. . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . And no single idea, intention or artifact can undo the worlds of deficits we have created. But as one small social work publisher, Innovative Resources is committed to challenging the fatalism and loss of hope that so weighs down those afflicted by it. Our motto, Seriously Optimistic, reflects our fierce optimism that . we can support people who want to, or want to influence others to, . re-establish ownership of their strengths. Strength Cards for Kids has a simple message: all children deserve to have their strengths recognised and celebrated. The best people . to give children this gift are the adults who know them well. In Strength Cards for Kids we have made an attempt to reclaim the world of strengths for our children and, hopefully, our . children’s children. v.

In the Beginning… How people navigate their way through their Big Problems has always been hugely fascinating to St Luke’s Anglicare. Although armed with . a repertoire of services, resources, diagnostic and treatment tools, St Luke’s decision to abandon a deficits-focused model in favour of a strengths-based emphasis revolutionised their way of responding to the families with whom they worked. (See: W McCashen, The Strengths Approach, Innovative Resources, Bendigo, 2005). It is important to understand that a focus on strengths does not mean problems are overlooked. Instead, the language of a strengths approach allows for reframing (using our thoughts to change our feelings), the identification of exceptions (times when the problem is under control), the acknowledgement that change is possible and the idea that harnessing all the ‘little’ strengths can equip a person to deal effectively with the Big Problem. St Luke’s did not invent strengths-based work. But they did help pioneer its evolution and application into public welfare domains. . Their first foray into publishing saw the emergence of Strength Cards which has enjoyed outstanding success and is now into its fourth edition. Kids deserve the kind of empowerment that insight into strengths . can bring. 1.

Strengths Rule…OK? If we think carefully about our own strengths we soon see that they play a vital role as we tackle the challenges life throws at us. . Consider the strength of being able to be ‘practical’. How many fetes, working bees, kids’ parties or holidays have succeeded because the organiser had this strength? Knowing where we are strong has myriad benefits—perhaps the greatest is the capacity to make positive personal decisions. But strengths are not just for adults. As we encourage children to recognise and name their strengths we are laying down a pattern for . a lifetime of optimism. And strengths are like our muscles: use them and they get stronger; neglect them and they atrophy. What potential lies dormant in our schools, clubs, towns and suburbs when kids are not able to recognise, mobilise and celebrate—and be appreciated for—their individual strengths? As we set out to build this awareness of strengths we would be wise to keep the following in mind: • Each child will have their own individual blend of strengths • Children do not automatically develop or recognise their strengths • If we accept different learning styles, perhaps we can also accept that an awareness of strengths will develop differently in different . individuals and that we may need to present the concept in a variety . of ways

• Some children may find it utterly foreign or embarrassing to talk about their strengths • It is not ‘showing off’ or ‘bragging’ to name a strength • A group session where individual strengths are named and celebrated can be a great team-building exercise. Despite a heartfelt desire to protect our children from Big Problems, . it is almost inevitable that sometimes small children end up facing great difficulties. The injustice and frustration can be paralysing for both those wanting to be supportive and the child themselves. Yet the discovery that they have capacities to help them cope may be a lifeline for children. A caring adult who notices and affirms a child’s strengths might be thought of as hanging on to the other end of that lifeline. Strength Cards for Kids is a great way for grown-ups and kids to experience the positive impact of naming strengths.

Building Conversations Talking to Kids About Strengths Like all Innovative Resources’ publications there are no recipes or instructions—no rules or formulas—to follow. How and when these cards are introduced depends upon you, the user. Aside from a desire to gift children with an awareness of their many, varied and wonderful strengths, Strength Cards for Kids also seeks to heighten the creativity of those who use them. And, wonderful as these cards are, they are primarily a tool; a means . to an end. It is the conversations they build that truly matter. . The following suggestions offer a framework for how you might use Strength Cards for Kids.

Bump into Therapy Simply making the cards available by having them on a desk or table, or in a box or bag, invites curiosity and inquisitiveness. Most kids like to explore and, when they find something of genuine interest, chances are they will be happy to talk about it. Allowing kids to ‘bump into’ materials and engage their own curiosity can provide significant learnings. It can encourage the person who has . introduced the cards to take a back seat and see what the child makes of their discovery.


You might build a conversation by asking: • What do you like about these cards? • What do they say about you? • Who else do they remind you of? Why?

Serendipity Allowing kids to pick a card—or cards—at random opens up conversations about the serendipitous events in life. Consider these questions: • Is this card special for you? • What do you think it means?

Spread, Scan and Sort Spreading the cards out on a table enables them to be scanned and sorted in any number of ways. Try these questions: • Can you find your strengths? • What could you work on? • Which card reminds you of Mum or Dad? Your friends? Your team mates? Kids in your grade? • Where did your strengths come from? • What is your greatest strength? Try spreading the cards on the floor. Being able to physically walk around them provides a different perspective many kids will enjoy.

Imagining How Others See Us A most enlightening conversation can follow if you ask kids to choose cards they think others would select for them. This may be quite a challenge for some children: it asks for a level of empathy and insight that younger kids might find particularly difficult to apprehend. But imagining the perspective of others can serve several purposes. Firstly, it may make a child less self-conscious talking about themselves. And memories, related to the person they are focused upon, may be evoked. This activity helps us recognise that people often see us differently to how we see ourselves. 4.

Reframing When difficult or challenging situations arise it can seem so much easier to notice and talk about the problems and negatives. Reframing is a technique that challenges this tendency. To reframe is not to . deny a problem exists—or that the problem is very serious. Instead, it is a way of looking at a problem and asking: Is there any other way I could think about this so that I am less overwhelmed by it? We give children a great gift when we teach them that they have—at least some—choices about how they think about what they are experiencing. Strength Cards for Kids can help introduce reframing to children. Consider the following questions: • Can you choose a card that might help you to feel better about a problem? • What do you think the monkey in…(eg: I stick up for myself)… is thinking? • Can you choose some cards to help you think your way out of a problem? • Even though things may be tough at the moment, what are you good at? 5.

Shadow Questions Sometimes strength-based and solution-focused approaches are criticised for being too saccharine or ‘Pollyanna-ish’ by only looking . at the positives. Shadow questions focus on that place where strengths become deficits. Consider these: • Do any of your strengths get you into trouble? • Do you use some strengths more than others? • Has anyone ever criticised your strengths? Do you think they were right? • Do you have strengths that don’t get along? Which ones win? Which lose? • What strengths do you need to work on? • Have you lost some strengths you used to have? Why did they go? Could you get them back?

The Iceberg At times, kids may find it hard to name even one strength. Imagining how others see them, reframing and exploring exceptions, can help. . But older children may be able to relate the metaphor of the iceberg . to their situations. (Even if they can’t, the adult with them can use the iceberg metaphor to find the strengths that lie beneath the one they have been able to identify.) The iceberg is used in this way: Imagine that single strength as the tip of an iceberg that sits above the water. That tiny tip being visible is reliant on the tons and tons of ice that are submerged beneath the surface of the sea. So it is with strengths: even though they may not be apparent at first glance, they will be there—bolstering up the one the child is aware of. It can be a surprising and powerful experience for a child to comprehend that they have qualities and capabilities they had never realised.

Importing Strengths No matter how talented, competent or enthusiastic a child may be, they will inevitably have gaps in their repertoire of strengths. When they get stuck in a problem situation that overwhelms them it is normal and desirable that they look to parents, carers, friends, teachers and other mentors for guidance. This ‘importing’ of strengths may take the form of directly asking for help and ideas or, less directly, through mimicking behaviour. (And although it is not part of this set of cards, the capacity to import strengths is in itself a strength!). More than anything, a child’s acute capacity for observation and copying of adult behaviours—and adoption of their values—is a reminder that children rely on us for their own strength development. When children are ‘at the end of their tether’ the following questions may be helpful: • Are there any strengths you wish you had? • What strengths could sort out this situation? • Do you know anyone who already has these strengths? • How could you get these strengths? 6.

At Innovative Resources we try not to be ageist or to make assumptions about who will find our material useful and enjoyable. . We know from the popularity of the original Strength Cards for Kids that many adults enjoy the artwork, humour and minimal text. Go for it!

Describing Behaviour For adults who care for—or work with—children the following questions can prompt useful conversations around the way children or their behaviour is described. For example: • Can I talk about a child or their situation using only Strength Cards for Kids? • Which of the statements on these cards also apply to me? • Could there be a strength (or strengths) lurking behind a problem behaviour? • Could challenging behaviour be due to overuse of a particular strength—such as ‘bravery’ tipping into ‘risk-taking’? • If I am choosing a selection of cards to present to a child, which ones might allow her/him to best reframe their situation? • If I look at the exceptions—those times when the force of the problem is diminished—are there strengths that become apparent?


Gifting with Strengths In a world gone mad with ‘retail therapy’ and ‘consumerism’ it can be refreshing to stop and think about what it is that children really need. It’s probably fair to claim that the child deprived of electronic gadgetry will suffer little when compared to the child deprived of affirmation and praise. Yet gifting to children in this way is not universal. Some families simply do not reflect on the power of naming and celebrating strengths—even if they do recognise them. There have been important stories told of the profoundly positive impact of families making the time and commitment to admire each other’s strengths. Possible questions to ask yourself about gifting children with strengths include: • What are this child’s strengths? • What difference might it make if I name them? • Is this the right time for them to hear their strengths? • Am I in the habit of celebrating the strengths of the children around me?


The Cards




Being Mindful Like all other ‘hands-on tools’ published by Innovative Resources it is important to consider some cautions before the cards are introduced. Here are some of the questions to consider before using any of our ‘hands-on tools’ in any situation: 1. Is this the best Innovative Resources tool for this situation? 2. Am I familiar and comfortable with these cards? 3. What is my purpose in introducing the cards? 4. Do I understand the child/children well enough to believe . the cards are appropriate? 5. Am I confident to take a risk?


6. Is the timing right?

10. Do I have a ‘Plan B’?

7. Have I considered the relevance and usefulness of each card and made a considered selection rather than simply using the whole set?

11. What if more time is required?

8. Am I prepared for strong feelings to emerge?

13. How will I evaluate the activity?

9. In a group, am I able to deal with the variety of responses that . may emerge?

14. Are these children/is this child old enough or mature enough . to comprehend metaphor?

12. How do I intend to end the activity?

About St Luke’s and Innovative Resources St Luke’s Innovative Resources is based in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia.   St Luke’s Anglicare (established in 1979) is part of the Anglicare human services network involved in extensive programs that support children and young people at risk as well as a being the initiators of a variety of community-building projects. Innovative Resources, St Luke’s publishing initiative, produce highquality sets of conversation-building cards used by psychologists, counsellors, therapists, parents, teachers, social workers and other professionals around the world. All Innovative Resources products are developed in consultation with experts in the field, and some have been translated into languages other than English. Our profits support St Luke’s in its wide-ranging roles. Innovative Resources is not only a publisher—we also have a thriving bookshop, an online bookshop and offer training in strength-based practice. To find out more about the work of St Luke’s: To find out more about Innovative Resources and to access our online bookshop:


Is there any more valuable gift we can bestow on our children than an appreciation of the strengths they have at their disposal?

Strength Cards for Kids has been reminding kids of their strengths for over a decade. Much loved by social workers, psychologists, teachers, chaplains, therapists, counsellors, early childhood professionals, family workers, parents and—most importantly—kids, this new 40-card edition of Strength Cards for Kids continues the tradition of a high-quality resource for building important conversations with children. Strength Cards for Kids uses gentle humour, vibrant illustration and child-friendly text to get to the important stuff in kids’ lives.

St Luke’s Innovative Resources 137 McCrae Street Bendigo Victoria 3550 Australia Ph: (03) 5442 0500 Fax: (03) 5442 0555 Email: Website:

Strength Cards for Kids