Soon after I started studying Positive Psychology I had the opportunity to hear Martin Seligman (considered the founding father of Positive Psychology) speak. He started by asking the room of about 300 to think about what we most hoped for our children or other loved ones. He then asked us to raise our hands if “happiness” was at the top of the list. A sea of hands went up! This seems to be the holy grail......
But what does that look like, what’s involved? How can we help our kids find lasting happiness?
I don’t think there’s a foolproof plan, but I’m excited about the new study of Strengths based parenting which focuses on looking first for what’s going well rather than following our natural human tendency to rush to fix weaknesses.
We all tend to notice problems faster than we spot what’s going well
When we were cavemen this was extremely useful as a survival tool, but it doesn’t serve us as well in today’s world. For example, I confess that in the past I’ve read my child’s school report and honed in quickly on the 20% that could be improved rather than celebrating the good comments and grades. This term I’ll try to focus first on the great stuff to highlight to my daughters what they’re capable of and to build optimism that effort is worth it.
So, why give Strengths based parenting a go?
Recent studies show that children and adolescents who have strength based parents:
- Have higher levels of life satisfaction
- Have a better understanding of their own strengths
- Cope with conflict in more pro-active ways
- Use their strengths to help them meet homework deadlines
- Have lower levels of stress
These are practical outcomes which help create flourishing, high functioning families.
Strengths based parenting involves deliberately identifying and cultivating strengths in our children
It’s about connecting our kids with their inborn strengths such as strengths of character (eg. humour, kindness) as well as their talents such as writing or sporting ability.
To do this we can start with simply keeping our eyes open for the strengths in our kids. We can train our minds to look out for the moments when our kids are awesome and work out what strengths are being used. For example, imagine your child asks to take a piece of cake home for their sister from a party; you might be seeing their strength of kindness or fairness in action.
As we become familiar with strengths we can start talking to our kids about them and let them know that we recognise and appreciate their best qualities. This is what helps our children flourish. If you’d like to learn more about character strengths the VIA Institute on Character is a terrific place to start. http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths
But wait there’s more!
Making an effort to focus on the strengths of our children can also improve our own life satisfaction and confidence in our parenting skills! The research also shows that parents who completed a course in strengths based parenting reported they were finding parenting more interesting and felt more confident in their role as a parent. They also experienced more positive emotions towards their children. It all makes a pretty compelling case!
We’ve been inspired by the work of Dr Lea Waters and the stories of parents who are trying to be strengths based. You can watch some parent stories here: http://www.the-strengths-exchange.com.au/parents.html
Please contact us if you’d like to discuss how to get started with strengths based parenting and as this is a new and evolving field of study we’ll definitely tell you more about it in the future!