As a professional psychologist, and as a mum, strengths-based parenting makes sense to me. Apart from my personal gut feeling, there is a growing body of evidence, including research by Professor Lea Waters, that shows that focusing on a child’s strengths significantly enhances their life satisfaction and sense of wellbeing.
Quite simply, strengths-based parenting involves deliberately identifying and cultivating the strengths of your children. As a parent, you will make a point of recognising and commenting on what your child is doing well, and you will practise behaviours as a role model that show them how to build on what is working.
When we talk about strengths, we’re talking about those underlying qualities and attributes you see in your children that make them who they are. We’re not referring to knowledge and skills, but characteristics like persistence, bravery, hopefulness and curiosity. Their unique strengths are traits that they are naturally inclined towards.
The Power of Positivity
All too often, we focus on weaknesses, and how to fix problems. By spending too much time trying to make a young person ‘better behaved’ and set them on the path to becoming a ‘rounded individual’, we run the risk of demoralising them. We miss a golden opportunity to boost their enthusiasm and motivation by building on their strengths.
Professor Waters believes that strengths-based parenting opens up a positive dialogue between parents and young people that helps to change the way children look at the world and themselves. And that this is the root of its powerful effect on life satisfaction.
Strengths Based Parenting – 4 Step Guide
There are lots of simple things you can do to start to take a more strengths-based approach to how you parent. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Give specific, strengths-based praise
There is a big difference between general praising and helping children to recognise and build on their specific strengths. ‘Great job, well done’ is lovely to hear and might make your son or daughter proud of their achievement momentarily, but it doesn’t give them any information on WHAT you appreciated, or WHY you thought it was great.
Instead, tell your child something useful, so that they experience the positive emotion and learn something concrete to use again. For instance, “I really appreciated you helping your sister just now. I could see you were listening carefully to what she wanted to do and you helped her by showing her what to do and then letting her try for herself. It was great to hear you encouraging her to try again when it didn’t work the first time.”
- Strengths-spot in others
Take time to notice strengths in others and talk to your children about what you see. You could talk about the strengths you admire in famous people, or things you appreciate in family members and friends. Encourage your children to strengths-spot as well.
- Use strengths to overcome obstacles
It’s important to help your children to see that they can draw on their strengths in a wide range of situations. When they are facing a challenge, talk to them about which of their strengths they can draw on to help them overcome difficulties and praise them when you see them using their strengths to good effect.
- Identify your own strengths
One of the best ways to get a better understanding of strengths-based approaches is to reflect on what your own strengths are and then start to look for ways to use them more often. If you want a bit of help in identifying your strengths, try this free self-reflection tool to get you started at www.atmybest.com.
About the author:
Michele Deeks (BA, MSc, AFBPsS, C Psychol, HCPC Registered) is founding director of Work Positive. She is a Chartered Psychologist with a strong background in personal development and a passion for helping people to flourish. Outside of work, Michele spends most of her time entertaining and being entertained by her three children.