My exploration into Positive Psychology and optimal human functioning happened to perfectly coincide with the birth and early years of my children. This led to my early attempts to get creative with ways to use these evidence-based strategies to enhance their wellbeing, from about the age of three.
In all honesty, I had a lot of fun coming up with ways in which exercises, then only used for school-going kids and adults, could be adapted to suit my young children. And as they grew, my ideas, strategies and research grew alongside them. Fortunately, however, I am no longer alone in my creative endeavour to adapt and develop wellbeing strategies for children. Dr. Lea Waters recently published her book, The Strength Switch. In this book she beautifully takes parents on a journey of understanding the intricacies and practicalities of applying Positive Psychology in parenting – specifically, using a strength focus as the main strategy from which to parent.
Choosing to focus on a child’s strengths may give rise to several questions, let’s look at a few of these:
1. What about improving weaknesses?
The image (below) beautifully sums up how working on strengths can strengthen weaknesses simultaneously.
Weaknesses, when using a strengths-approach, are not ignored. They are simply approached from a different angle. Using strengths to address weaknesses is far less frustrating and demotivating than attacking weaknesses in isolation – not to mention, approaching a weakness in this way is far less likely to result in conflict.
2. Won’t my child get a big head / grow an unhealthy ego?
Human beings are neurologically programmed to have a negativity bias. This means that we are far more likely to naturally notice the negative, than we are likely to notice the positive things in life. Very simply put, this is because Mr. Caveman would never have survived if he were more likely to notice the breathtaking sunset than the wild animal stalking him. It was imperative to survival for humans to take note, first and foremost, of the dangers, problems, issues and challenges of any given moment. Spotting what we are terrible at is second nature to most of us (the post, Choose Your Lens, goes into more detail on this). As a result of the negativity bias, it is highly unlikely that focusing on your child’s strengths will tip the scales too far in the positive direction; In fact, in order to move in the direction of true, sustainable wellbeing (or flourishing) a ratio of one negative (comment, thought, feeling, experience) to three positives is needed. In a world where children are exposed to a myriad of messages about fads, fashions, body image, wealth and popularity, it has become critical that our voices as parents become decidedly more positive – to rage against the storm of negativity and unhealthy comparisons washing over our kids.
3. So it’s all moonshine and roses?
Absolutely not – parenting has never been about the moonshine and the roses. If you think it was, I’m guessing you’re not a parent just yet. Parenting is tough, and a big part of being a parent is teaching children how to verbalise and express emotions in a healthy way. This starts at about the same time as the “terrible twos” (I’m sure you can figure out why) and stretches deep into the trenches of adolescence. Big, bad feelings are new to children, it’s our job to guide and support them as they experience, process, manage and express them. Having a strength (or positive) parenting focus doesn’t mean that we sweep negative emotions or behaviours under the carpet – not at all! What it means is that we firstly, communicate to them that they are capable individuals with existing skills, and secondly, help them understand and use these existing skills to deal with new challenges. Approaching a challenge in this manner relieves the child of the sense of failure and disapproval when struggling with something, and gives them the opportunity to approach challenges with a measure of confidence.
This is just the tip of the iceberg and I would LOVE to share more about positive parenting with you! The good news is that I am presenting a Positive Parenting webinar (free of charge) on 1 March 2022 from 19:00 to about 19:45 (SAST) – leaving plenty of time for questions and discussion afterwards. If you’d like to register for this event, please click on the following link to book your spot, as spaces are limited. I look forward to seeing you there!