Our strengths of character make us who we are. For children, just like adults, using their top (or signature) strengths feels energising, motivating and like we are using the best of ourselves. This builds a sense of self-esteem, competence and wellbeing that can grow over time.
By character strengths, I am referring to inner strengths that are morally valued, like courage and kindness, which help us address life challenges and live a better life.
As a parent, focusing on our children’s strengths, positive qualities and future potential—rather than what they don’t do well—enables them to see the best in themselves and work toward becoming better.
Research has shown that a strengths-based approach to parenting builds resilience in children. Professor Lea Waters of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education showed that when parents deliberately identify and nurture their child’s positive attributes and qualities, it helps them create a ‘positive filter’ that makes them more able to cope with and adapt to stress. Prof Waters says this promising new area of research offers parents proactive ways to build children’s resources in addition to providing a balance of warmth and control. By connecting kids with their innate strengths and developing them (strengths of character, abilities or talents), we help them feel more satisfied with their life and themselves.
This provides a buffer against developing mental health issues later on.
Home environment plays a huge part in developing children’s strengths. The more you nurture and expand their strengths potential the more confident, resilient and well-rounded they will become. While character strengths are akin to natural traits, they are considered malleable, so we can develop, teach and stretch them to grow stronger.
In young children some of the most common character strengths are love, kindness, creativity, curiosity, and humor. Love, zest and hope are associated with wellbeing in young children, and can be developed through a positive parent-child relationship. Adolescents with higher levels of zest, hope and leadership have shown lower levels of anxiety and depression than their peers. Other strengths such as appreciation of beauty and excellence, forgiveness, modesty and judgment tend to arise as children mature.
How do you know and grow strengths in your children (and yourself)?
You can spot strengths in your children and yourself quite easily if you pay attention to the things they enjoy and do well. For example, what activities do they do simply for the love of doing them? Chances are they are using a strength. Where do they excel? What do they learn most readily and can do even better with persistence and effort?
One really fun way to get children (and your whole family) thinking about strengths is spotting them in books and movies. Through the lens of character strengths, watching the movie Frozen can be a lesson in Love, while Inside Out shows the value of developing Wisdom and Decision-Making. For older kids, The Blindside, is a wonderful lesson in the value of expressing Gratitude.
The Character Challenge has a curriculum for teaching strengths and virtues to teens experiencing challenges. By exploring positive role models and discussing how protagonists demonstrate good character, they develop a foundation of self-worth and learn the value of working hard, building healthy relationships and regulating their behaviour.
Another great book on this topic is Positive Psychology at the Movies, by Ryan Niemic, Education Director of VIA Institute on Character. Dr Niemic regularly reviews movies that promote positive behaviours and explore positive psychology themes. Check out his latest list of top films!
To learn more about cultivating character strengths and applying positive psychology to nurture happiness and resilience in your kids, join my online Positive Parenting Course. The next set of classes starts on 29th August.