Why It's Important to See and Nurture the Best In Your Child

By Dr. Lea Waters

Most parents want to raise their kids to be optimistic, resilient, accomplished and caring toward themselves and others. But, society has a bad case of "right intention, wrong direction.” You may try to achieve positive ends through negative means: You criticize, push, cajole and nag your kids about their weaknesses and how they’re falling short of the mark—and end up feeling like bad cop, wet blanket and killjoy all rolled into one.

Are you so busy raising your kids to be the person society says they should be that you are not allowing them to grow into the person they actually are?

The good news is that, as parents raising the future generations who will be charged with stewardship of this revolving wonder called Earth, you can directly influence the process, challenge these negative habits and do things differently.

The bonus: You get off the criticism-go-round and have a happier, more harmonious family life.

Strength-based parenting is a new, powerful way to help you notice your child’s strengths and then find natural opportunities for those strengths to be developed—even as part of disciplining your child.

Research has discovered that every child has the capacity to express 24 character strengths, such as curiosity, perseverance, teamwork and creativity. The way your child expresses their unique profile of strengths will be unique to him/her.

The key to becoming a strength-based parent is to form the habit of swapping the question “What needs to be fixed?” with “What strengths are needed to handle this situation?” In other words, flipping the Strength Switch.

Best of all, you can start today—by noticing a strength in your child and having a conversation about it: Asking your child which of her strengths she might use to solve a problem she’s facing. Letting your child know you appreciate how his strengths help the family. Or doing the “what went well” exercise together by naming three things that went well for your child that day.

Three decades of science confirm the advantages of focusing on strengths. Strength awareness benefits your kids in four ways:

1. It helps kids reach their full potential People at the top of their field—say, Pulitzer Prize winners or Olympians—don’t excel because they eradicated their weaknesses, but because they’ve learned to maximize their strengths.

Your kids’ path to their personal best is through building their strengths. Focusing on weakness takes performance from a low baseline to average. When you focus on strengths, there’s no ceiling.

2. It builds kids’ well-being Using their strengths to navigate the world is connected to increases in kids’ life satisfaction, confidence and positive emotions. Research indicates children and teenagers with strength-based parents are less stressed, better at handling friendship issues, better at meeting homework deadlines, and get better grades—important counterweights to concerns about teen depression, bullying, and underachievement

3. Kids improve faster when working on strengths Psychologists call this the multiplier effect. Because their strengths have a genetic component, when they work on improving their strengths, they improve much faster and reach higher milestones than when they work on improving weakness.

4. It fosters a better parent-child connection Strengths are a positive common ground where parents and kids can connect. You learn to see and appreciate the best in each other. That builds trust and affection. And when tensions arise, it’s easier to remember that your kid isn’t always like this.

There are countless stories of strength-based resilience, improved problem-solving, character-building prowess and family bonding.

From Kids:

  • Before searching for the negatives in something, I seek out the positives. The “what went well” exercise encourages me to do this. My family and I share three “what went wells” each night. My mom even uses it at work!

  • Learning my strengths made me think about my moods and how I can improve them to be a better person.

  • I used to let stress and anxiety consume my thoughts. Now I’ve learned to identify the cause of the problem and look for ways to address it.

From Parents:

  • We did a strengths profile of our family and put it on the fridge. Now, we know our strengths I create opportunities for the kids to use their strengths at home. I ask Olivia and Jackson to use their zest to welcome guests, while Elijah’s judgment is used to rein in risk. The kids appreciate playing to each others’ strengths within the family.

  • I love seeing Will’s quiet confidence when he methodically tackles problems. We make eye contact and I see his almost imperceptible nod to say, “I’ve got this,” and my nod back that says, “I know.”

Once kids learn to see their strengths, they can start encouraging them in others. Perhaps with this special kind of awareness spreading through communities this world will become a stronger, more supportive place.

Explore More Strategies to Activate Strengths

What does science say about your child’s best qualities? Find out with the research-based VIA Youth Report and help them reach their greatest potential. Each report includes Parent and Teacher Guides with tips and conversation starters around top character strengths.