The Deficit Model vs the Gem Model

Updated: Jan 16

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (April 19, 2018)


I was once hosting a workshop for parents and asked them if they could each introduce their child to me. We went around the room and each parent told me their child’s gender, age and some characteristics. When talking about characteristics, the comments were mostly like this “my son is so argumentative, he always talks back”, “my daughter can’t focus at all”, “my son is so stubborn and just wants to do things his way” and the others sounded similar. I think partly it’s Chinese culture of not speaking highly of one’s child and partly how many parents have a deficit model of our child – where we identify something that is wrong, something that is missing and something we need to fix. So for example, the mother whose son “always talks back” sees him as having a lack of respect for her, that he is disobedient and she needs to get him to listen to what she says. While it may be true that he needs to grow in communicating respect to her, I think it’s damaging to look at our children and just see ‘what’s wrong’ with them without looking at ‘what’s right’.


And our culture is so good at looking at what’s wrong with someone or something. Just watching the news, it always highlights what’s wrong with the world, people are good at criticizing others and even in the education field, labels such as ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’ is becoming so common place. We’re always attuned to looking at what’s wrong, what’s missing and what we need to fix.


But the problem with the deficit model is that firstly, it’s a negative perspective and also it’s like telling an anxious person not to be anxious – to focus on the anxiety, even if wanting for it to go away, will just highlight it further. I’m not saying that we don’t all have weaknesses that we need to overcome but I think we need to take a different perspective in looking at others and ourselves. Professor Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, looked at how traditional psychology tried to fix what was wrong with people and noticed that people could learn to be negative and helpless. Instead, he looked at how we can be positive and look at what’s right with people. And with that, came the character strengths model – that everyone has a combination of 24 character strengths, like gratitude, kindness, bravery, zest, social intelligence – strengths that make us unique and help us thrive in the world.


I like to call this strengths model a ‘gem model’. Gemstones are often hidden inside rock and rubble and have to be discovered and polished before they can shine. Similarly, strengths in a person have to be discovered, nurtured and developed before they can shine.


I think we all know this to be true but the hardest thing is attuning ourselves to constantly have this ‘gem model mindset’. When we see our child acting up, doing something wrong or when we compare our child with others who are better, it’s so easy to fall back into the deficit model.


So how do we train ourselves to have this ‘gem model mindset’? I think below are some ideas:


1. Spend time to think about the different ‘gems’ your child has


It may be easy to think of some skills and subjects your child may be strong at but what about the ‘gems’ of character? Is your child generous, patient, caring, loving or encouraging? How can you encourage your child to develop these ‘gems’ to have them grow?


2. Explore gems


Sometimes having new opportunities will give us the ability to discover a gem we didn’t know we had. I know for me, I didn’t know I had public speaking abilities until I was given a chance to try. What new opportunities can you offer your child to help them discover skills, talents or character strengths they didn’t know they had?


3. Change of perspective


This is the hardest part of the ‘gem model mindset’ – where we have to look for the positive even when we are shown the negative. When my child is being stubborn, I need to see that the ‘gem’ is that he has a mind of his own with his own ideas (which I think is a good thing) and part of nurturing the gem is to help him see that he can’t always have his way. Or if my child is being slow, I need to see that the ‘gem’ is that he is thoughtful and careful in his actions (also a good thing), but I also need to help him speed up on tasks he needs to speed up on.


Do you have a deficit model mindset or a gem model mindset? And how can we all develop a gem model mindset of looking at ourselves, our children and others? The world would be a much more beautiful and bright place with everyone shining as gems.


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「缺失型」vs「寶石型」心態


我曾經主持一個家長講座,講座上我叫一般家長們遂一介紹他們的子女,每個父母都告訴我他們子女的性別、年齡及一些特徵,惟當談到特徵時,我不時聽到這種話——「我的兒子很愛跟我爭論,常常駁咀!」、「我的女兒常常不專心」、「我兒子非常固執,經常不聽我說」等等。我想這或許是中國文化所造成的現象,不少家長只會著重孩子的錯誤或缺失,例如控訴兒子經常「駁咀」的家長實際上是認為兒子沒有耐性、不聽從她的吩咐。然而,即使她的兒子真的需要對父母有多一點尊重,我認為若父母只會放大孩子的缺點而忽視其優點,這將摧毀我們對孩子的看法及親子關係來說實在是百害而無一利。


事實上,我們的社會傾向放大某些人或事的過失,新聞不時會報道世界不同角落的問題,人們習慣互相批評,即使在教育界,患有專注力失調的小朋友亦經常被標籤,我們經常只放大別人的錯誤、缺失及需要解決的問題。


然而,這種故意尋找別人過失的心態可視為負面的透視,就如叫一個非常緊張的人不要緊張,但這個安慰的方法反而把問題焦點放了在「緊張」這兩字上,並無助降低焦慮感。我不是說每人都有弱點需要克服,縱然我認為每個人都有弱點,惟但我們可用另外一種角度看待自己和別人。正向心理學之父馬丁.賽里格曼曾研究傳統心理學如何幫助人們解決心理問題,繼而發現人類若接二連三受到挫折,便會對一切感到無能為力,陷入無助。此後,他轉為研究人類優點和潛能,繼而發展出性格優勢品格特質的概念——每個人都擁有二十四項品格特質優點,如感恩、善良、勇敢、熱情及社交能力,這些特質特點會讓我們成為一個獨特的人,在這個世界上茁壯成長。


我會把性格優勢的概念稱之為「寶石型」的心態,埋藏在石頭和瓦礫中的寶石需要經打磨後才能發光發亮;同樣地,一個人的優點亦需經發掘及培育後才能綻放異采。


我相信大多的父母都認同這種教養方法,惟最難的是如何一直保持這種「寶石型」心態。當孩子做錯或搗亂時,家長很容易又會墮入「缺失型」的思維。


那麼父母可以如何訓練自己擁有「寶石型」的心態?以下是我一些意見:


1. 花時間思考孩子擁有的「寶石」


要發掘孩子的長處並不難,但這些特質有甚麼難能可貴之處?你的孩子慷慨、有耐性、懂得關心或安慰別人嗎?你可以如何打磨這些「寶石」,讓他們發光發亮呢?


2. 幫助孩子發掘「寶石」


發掘寶石需要不同的機會,就我來說,我小時候並不知道自己善於公開演講,直到我有機會嘗試。你會如何幫助你的孩子發掘一些鮮為人知的才能或長處?


3. 換個角度思考


這是「寶石型」心態最難的一點——如何在絕處中正面思考。當我的孩子非常固執時,我會視他為一個擁有自己想法的人(我個人認為是一件好事),要幫助這顆「寶石」發光發亮的其中一個方法是讓他知道他不能常常只顧自己。當我的孩子做事總是「慢吞吞」時,我會視他為一個思維縝密、做事謹慎的小孩(這也是一件好事),我需要做的只是適時在重要的事情上提醒他加快步伐。


作為父母,你養育孩子的心態是「缺失型」還是「寶石型」?我們可以如何以「寶石型」心態對待自己、孩子,甚至周遭的人?如果每個人都能像寶石一樣,經打磨後發光發亮,這個世界定可變得更美好。


2018年4月19日(香港經濟日報)



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