Nagging, critizing, correcting and punishing comes naturally to many parents, but it’s not the greatest way to raise children, according to a major new field of psychology.
‘Strength-based parenting’ is an emerging approach that’s being proven to make children happier and more resilient.
Dr Lea Waters, author of The Strength Switch and director of the Centre for Positive Psychology, is a leader in this field of study.
She has found that children whose parents focus on their strengths instead of their flaws, have higher levels of life satisfaction, are less stressed, and cope with conflict better.
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What is Strength-Based Parenting?
Based in the positive psychology movement, strength-based parenting focusses on building up a child’s positive traits—rather than constantly correcting and trying to fix their failures.
Dr Waters’ book is called The Strength Switch, as it encourages parents to ‘switch’ their attention away from negatives and onto the positives.
“Sometimes as parents we can be overly-critical on our kids, pick up on their weak spots and faults, and things we need to correct,” Dr Waters told Hope 103.2. “We think, ‘I need to fix all these limitations and weaknesses and flaws and faults now’.
“But if you’re being a strength-based parent…the focus is on identifying the strengths in your kids and building those up before you focus on minimising the weakness and correcting what’s wrong.”
The top three outcomes of strength-based parenting are that it:
- Helps children to reach their full potential
- Builds wellbeing and self-confidence
- Creates a foundation for a positive parent-child bond
What’s more, it also helps adults to feel better about their parenting when they see their children thrive.
How to Get Started with Strength-Based Parenting
The first step in strength-based parenting is to identify what your children’s best traits are, equip yourself with a vocabulary of words about them, and start to use them.
Dr Waters’ website The Strengths Exchange contains a list of positive character qualities to get you started.
Look for your child’s or teen’s best qualities, skills and talents, then point them out and praise your child for it. Another tip is to ask your child questions that highlight their strengths, such as “What strengths did you use at school today?”, giving them a chance to recognise their best qualities at work.
A Strength-Based Response to Bad Behaviour
Strength-based parenting is not about being artificially positive, or turning a blind eye to bad behaviour. It just takes a different approach to correction and discipline.
Instead of telling your children ‘Don’t’, look for the positive opposite behaviour and encourage them to work on that instead.
“Instead of saying ‘don’t lie’, it would be ‘I really value honesty, let’s be truthful here’,” explains Dr Waters. “You’re still disciplining them, you’re showing them what you don’t want, but more importantly you’re showing them what you do want in the future.”
The ‘Strength Switch’ Works with Teens and Adults Too
Even if your children are teens or in their 20s, as long as you still have a role in their life, then you can switch to more positive parenting. Research has shown that even parents of adult children can build a better relationship with this approach.
“The minute you start connecting the child with their strengths, you’re helping to unlock something that was already in your child,” Dr Waters says. “That’s why it’s never too late.”
In fact the approach can be applied in any relationship at work, in your family, even in your marriage—and in your “relationship with yourself” according to Dr Waters.
“We unlock our strengths when we start to see ourselves this way instead of always being critical,” she said.
Find out more about Strength-Based parenting and relationships at The Strengths Exchange.