I make no apology for writing another blog about strengths because there are so many ways and situations that they can help transform individuals, groups and communities from languishing to flourishing: The goal of Positive Psychology (PP). I wish that I had known about character strengths earlier – the ‘backbone’ of PP – because I believe it would have made life a little easier and helped me to be a better parent.
My own children (now in their thirties) are both settled in positive marital relationships, own their own homes and have good jobs, but I am mostly proud of who they are as people – their strengths and values – so my husband and I reckon we have done a pretty good job, but I still think PP would have helped more.
The main concerns I have personally now are for my gorgeous grandson (14 months old), hoping that – between us as parents and grandparents – we have the tools to enable him to be heathy, happy and fulfilled as he grows up. Of course even adult children can still benefit from discovering and working to their strengths (www.viacharacter.org) but I am especially looking forward to ‘strengths-spotting’ with my grandson. Already I can see curiosity, zest and playfulness as major strengths and he gets into all kinds of mischief!
But isn’t talking about your strengths like boasting?
I am intrigued but not surprised at how many adults view discussing personal strengths as a form of boasting or arrogance rather than merely acknowledging positive aspects of their individual character. But we can learn to balance awareness of personal strengths such as humility and modesty – where self-recognition is tempered with openness to new ideas and advice and admitting mistakes – not under or over-using them, and by using other complementary strengths such as honesty and perspective. So why not teach this skill to children?
Increasing mental health issues in our children and grandchildren is worrying…
Whilst the figures are shocking, I don’t feel it necessary to quote statistics to ‘prove’ what we already know: that the mental and emotional wellbeing of our children is suffering and getting worse not better. Whether we blame this on social media perhaps creating a constant need for validation, academic or financial pressures, family breakdown or other causes, it doesn’t really help. Higher incomes, more money, ‘stuff’ and opportunities than ever before doesn’t seem to be enhancing our happiness, health or wellbeing.
Perhaps trying to create the perfect future for our children is stopping them (and us) enjoying the present moment and each stage in the process of growth and learning; the benefits of ‘not yet’ that psychologist Carol Dweck discusses in relation to encouraging a growth mindset in educational settings.
Strengths in Schools: Increasing Academic Achievement, Success and Happiness
For many young people school can be a stressful environment, not only academically but socially. My own memories of school days were not particularly enjoyable: being exceptionally tall and wearing glasses led to name-calling resulting in a lack of self-confidence in my appearance all through school. I was anxiously studious and only really grew into myself when I went to college at 17. It wasn’t until I studied PP that I understood how failing the 11+ (because I was so anxious) had affected my confidence and expectations for future studies. In true fixed mindset fashion, I translated failing the exam into I was a failure and whilst I was quickly promoted to the top set and succeeded in my chosen careers, confidence made it more stressful than it might have been. Learning about growth mindset and character strengths would undoubtedly have helped me and in turn influenced my parenting style.
As a grandparent I look forward to teaching our grandson about such key topics from positive psychology. Even as he learned new skills such as turning over, how to crawl, holding a spoon and is now as an aspiring toddler, we consciously praise ‘good effort’ rather than our natural tendency to say ‘clever boy’ (or praise only results) in reaching these developmental milestones.
In school, how valuable would it be to develop specific strengths that are highly predictive for future outcomes including academic achievement, success and happiness? KIPP schools in the US focus on these strengths after working with PP ‘giants’ Martin Seligman, Angela Duckworth and Chris Peterson, i.e.
Curiosity: actively exploring new topics, asking questions
Gratitude: recognising and appreciating opportunities and how others help them, saying thankyou
Grit (perseverance in projects and activities, resilience in dealing with failure, not giving up when finding things challenging)
Optimism: staying positive and motivated about future, belief that effort leads to improvement
Self-Control (self-regulation): paying attention, following instructions and resisting distractions, keeping temper in check
Social Intelligence: understanding and respecting motives and feelings of others, finding solutions to resolve conflict
Zest: enthusiastic and excited in new situations
(Although I would suggest that other strengths such as creativity, love of learning and open-mindedness could be equally important)
Why not start teaching our children and grandchildren to recognise and celebrate their signature strengths earlier?
So let’s start teaching our children and grandchildren to recognise and celebrate their signature strengths and how they can develop lesser strengths to support their personal development, success and happiness.
Whilst character strengths teaching is becoming more popular in schools in the UK, not all schools have the time or resources to introduce it fully so if parents, grandparents and other relatives start to introduce strengths spotting this could support our children, their families and communities.
Strengths teaching is not just about telling kids how wonderful they are or simply about increasing academic achievement. Discovering their personal strengths through completing the VIA youth survey https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register and learning about them using examples related to familiar situations from everyday life could support this process both at home and in school. Our children need love, positive support and greater self-confidence to become happy, healthy, flourishing adults.
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