In her parenting book The Strength Switch, Lea Waters looks at parenting through the lens of strengths. Strengths-based parenting is a technique that encourages you to see what’s “right” about your children. Discovering and fostering their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses and fixing their areas of detriment is a somewhat novel approach. But are we doing children a disservice by turning a blind-eye to some aspects while embracing others?
What defines a strength?
It’s important to be clear on what Professor Waters defines as a strength. Strengths need three elements:
- Performance (being good at something)
- Energy (felling good while doing it)
- High use (choosing to do it regularly)
Based on this definition, being good at something alone doesn’t mean it’s a strength. When I was a child I was a gifted dancer and a competitive gymnast. Dance was something I did on the beach, in the grocery store, and in the kitchen. Even after three hours of ballet I would still want more. Gymnastics on the other hand was something I was talented at. I was naturally strong and flexible, and I learned knew tricks and routines with ease. It took me quite few years of actively pursuing both dance and gymnastics to choose dance. One day I recognized that I really never enjoyed gymnastics despite my skill. Looking through Professor Waters criterion, dance was a strength for me and gymnastics was not.
Strengths Change as a Child Grows
Different strengths present at different times child development. In the early years Waters recommends parents let children develop passions by providing low-pressure opportunities of discovery- let them play! In the middle years, starting at pre- adolescence the role of the parent changes. During these years providing opportunities and resources to support the development of areas of identified strength is what helps children learn how to use their strength. This is the busiest time for most parents where children prepare for the demands of adulthood but don’t have adequately formed brains to make good decisions and make plans for their future. We also see some strengths pruned in this phase which can be hard on a parent who has enjoyed the relationships with other parents at a specific activity. As a parent your instinct might be to encourage your child to keep going at a tennis or soccer but the important thing to do in these situations is to help your child decide and then support their decision. In late adolescence the brain development allows teens to use their strengths more consistently and appropriately. This is the beginning of high performance becoming part of your child’s unique identity. These years are where kids reap the rewards of their areas of strength.
Helping Avoid Strength Distractions
As parents we want to help our children, but often. in the age of the helicopter-parent, helping turns into doing it for them. You know you are off track in your parenting if you’ve become more of a coach/agent/manager than a mom or dad. If you see yourself falling into this trap, using your desire to help in a better way will help you to avoid a major parenting pitfall. Helping your child stay focused without becoming a taskmaster means teaching them to:
- Recognize the difference between useful stress and dangerous levels of stress
- See emotions as a useful part of our physiology- encourage your kids to feel them and express them
- Make their own decisions and choices
- Resist impulses that are distracting or detrimental
What You Focus on Matters
Parenting through strengths becomes essential when you have a child who has an area of challenge. I have four children, one with severe autism and one with dyslexia. If I spend all my parenting time focusing on the things my daughter with autism and son with dyslexia need help with I might think I am helping them to overcome their greatest challenges. But what am I missing? My son is fabulously creative in design and art, he has a brilliant memory and a gift for spotting details that most people don’t notice. My daughter has a keen sense of smell, a memory for music, and she enjoys nature. When I spend regular time encouraging them to use their strengths they can see themselves as successful, vital, individuals. This positivity provides a foundation that protects them from the epidemic of anxiety and depression that is challenging our youth. Knowing their strengths fosters resilience, optimism and a sense of achievement. To learn more about strengths-based parenting, I recommend looking at Dr. Water’s work and familiarizing yourself with another type of strengths, the VIA character strengths. Parenting can be both more difficult than you ever imagined and more rewarding. If you are struggling, reach out. Form a parenting book club and maybe spend a little time thinking about YOUR strengths too!
Imagine what can happen when you bring together 1200 stakeholders in the positive education field including academics, educators, students, parents, lawyers, policy-makers, and psychologists all with the common purpose of making a quantum leap in the ways positive education impacts academics and well-being globally.
The World Positive Education Accelerator is an IPEN event that just might change the world! With so many mike-drops it was difficult to choose but here are my top 10 aha moments from this four day appreciative inquiry summit.
1. “We are expecting our children to change the world and we aren’t giving them the skills to do it.” Champlain University President Don Laackman discussed how a radically pragmatic approach is needed in rethinking how we educate. To make our world a place, where children and learners of all ages can thrive, he suggested that connecting professional success with life’s purpose was one of the keys.
2. “We need to change our deficit oriented way of looking at the mental health of students.” In her keynote Lea Waters suggested parents and educators need help to see and build strengths in children. When this happens it protects children against depression and anxiety, it increases self-confidence and life satisfaction, it buffers stress and anxiety, and it enhances self-efficacy. She included a reminder that it is our responsibility to educate not just children but also their parents about the strength-based approach.
3. “!t’s happiness stupid!” was Sir Anthony Seldon‘s reminder to us to distinguish happiness from pleasure. Selden discussed the fourth education revolution pointing out that under the factory model of school we are not interested in who children are. that we are stronger together when we embrace the unknown, when we say goodbye to our binary ways of thinking, and when we get out of our own ways,
4. “Well-being is skill-based and learnable” according to Alejandro Adler. Investing in teacher well-being creates classrooms with a system of well-being which translates to advanced academic well-being, more pro-social behavior, and better health. His reminder that this begins with the educator was a key point.
5. “Optimism is the belief that our actions matter” according to Amy Blankson who spoke on the intersection of education and technology. Blankson implored us to become balanced technology users learning to love technology and live with it not to escape from it. Recognizing that the average smartphone user checks 150 times a day is the first step, the is second putting the phone away. She shared that the mere presence of a phone is a happiness zapper. The power of a potential dopamine hit keeps us addicted and distracted while our brain is partially focused on the task at hand and partially waiting for additional content that is released every time we see notifications on our phone. This reward system is highly addictive we need to delete the temptations minimize notifications .
She reminded us with a great visual but our concerns are not new they are just different her for rules embrace a growth mindset about technology minimize distracting technology teach self-awareness set healthy boundaries to gather invisible boundaries until kids can self regulate
6. ” I believe wealth is not meant to create more wealth. Wealth is meant to create well-being.” Martin Seligman asked us to think about what are we going to do with human prosperity? Together Seligman and David Cooperrider envisioned new opportunities and possibilities for accelerating positive education.
7. “The best person in the class to up the connection of curiosity is the student” according to Angela Duckworth who has launched a character lab at UPenn designed to help use psychological sciences to help people thrive. She uses the heart, mind, will. method of seeing strengths.
- heart to give to and receive from others
- mind to think imagining create
- will to achieve your goals through optimism growth mindset and grit
Her lab hopes to answer the question is character born or earned? Using the science of goal-setting to help increase your results, Duckworth suggests her WOOP model in creating a path to a goal:
- wish for something
- identify and imagine outcomes
- identify and imagine obstacles
- form a plan
8. “Progress not perfection” says David Cooperrider who compared planning to a jazz improvisation. Cooperrider said the world of leadership design is about legacy; it’s not just crazy creative it’s also detailed execution. To avoid constraints or see opportunities and to get more creative using the core question “how might we…?” to begin a conversation designed to creatively solve the problems of the world. He also sees a need to remove the barriers that keep students from moving forward and staying curious and joyful.
9. “The heliotropic principle reminds us that we move towards things that give us life” we need to activate the motivation of our children said Jacklyn Wong. Speaking from her personal experience of using positive education to transform Singapore as a city. “It’s the essence not the architecture that’s the difference between a house and a home. ” Wong is one of the keys to changing the way an organization uses positive psychology to give leaders, teams and individuals the tools-the house, but they need to make it a home themselves.
10. “To prepare young people for a changing world, we need to support them in their self-discovery and awareness and increase their empathy.” President of Universidad Tecmilenio, Hector Escamilla spoke passionately about 29 campuses across Mexico who redesigned their process to start from purpose. When education is connected to what matters to a student they go farther faster.
According to Psychology Today, we are wired to binge-watch television. Humans are social beings and we connect emotionally with the stories and the plights of others on the screen. There’s even a new field called neurocinematics which is the study of how television and film interact with the brain. Neurocinematics research is finding that people binge to take a break from their regular lives by zoning out and being engrossed in a world that isn’t their own and that watching helps to a avoid fatigue in hectic, digitally-driven lives.
Ryan Niemiec is the founder of VIA Character Strengths, a positive psychology framework using the work first described by Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson that identifies 24 universal strengths or virtues that impact well-being. Niemiec published a book positive psychology at the movies where he provides a deeply science-backed explanation of how the language of films allow us to experience the strengths and virtues that are universal across the population so we can have a meaningful experience while thinking about the virtues that we value most. Ultimately this can lift us or put us in an upward spiral towards more positive emotion. He calls this “cinematic elevation- the experience of positive emotion when watching a character displaying a character strength coupled with an intention to act for the good”.
In your life as a movie-goer or Netflix binger, this means there are actual physical and emotional benefits to screen time. In order to help you get the most out of your couch potato time, I encourage you to take the VIA survey and start watching through the lens of your strengths. My long-time favourite movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, aligns well with some of my top strengths including ZEST, CURIOSITY & CREATIVITY. Which movies or movie characters do you love and how do they relate to your strengths? Here’s a list of the strengths, grouped by category, along with some of the top movie suggestions for each one.
Category- Wisdom and Knowlege
The category wisdom and knowledge includes the strengths of perspective, love of learning, open-mindedness, curiosity, and creativity. Many consider this virtue category to be the core, the one that makes other virtues and strengths possible. Films that engender the wisdom and knowledge virtues often have the lead character directly or indirectly sharing insight and lifting others to higher levels of wisdom and knowledge, Archetypical characters that would fall into this category are Yoda, Gandolf, and Dumbledore.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
Meet the Robinsons (2007) G
Big Hero 6 (2014) G
The Secret Garden (1993)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) G
10 Items or Less (2006)
Jurassic Park (1994)
The Machinist (2004)
Mongolian Ping Pong (2005)
James and the Giant Peach (1996)
My Dinner with Andre (1981)
Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
Life as a House (2001)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Big Fish (2003)
Gone Girl (2014)
Inside Out (2015)
Love of Learning
Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
Billy Elliott (2000)
Dead Poets Society (1989)
The Karate Kid (1984)
Finding Forrester (2001)
The category of courage includes virtues that are emotional strengths. This includes bravery, persistence, integrity, and vitality. There have been attempts by psychologists to develop scales to measure courage and others believe courage to be a way to define meaning in an otherwise meaningless world. Scientifically very little is known about genetics and neuroscience of courage. There is also a distinction, sometimes made, between personal courage and general courage. General courage involves actions that impact everyone and personal courage is individualized.
Apollo 13 (1995)
The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)
Moana (2016) G
The Kite Runner (2007)
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
WALL-E (2008) G
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Finding Nemo (2003) G
Babe (1995) G
Homeward Bound (1993)
127 Hours (2010)
Forrest Gump (1994)
Shark Tale (2004) G
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) G
Shattered Glass (2003)
Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Mary Poppins (1964) G
Peter Pan (2003) G
Legally Blonde (2001)
Singing in the Rain (1952)
Big Fish (2003)
Virtues that fall under humanity includes love, kindness, and social intelligence. The humanity strengths are all involved in relationship building and reaching out to befriend others. Niemiec noted a trend in today’s world toward movies that emphasize the character strengths and virtues under the heading of humanity.
The Notebook (2004)
On Golden Pond (1981)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Friends With Benefits (2011)
As Good as it Gets (1997)
Schindler’s List (1993)
The Blind Side (2009)
Victoria and Abdul (2017)
The next category is the virtue of justice which contains citizenship, leadership, and fairness. This domain is the about interaction between an individual and the society around them. Of the six domains of virtues, justice and humanity, according to Peterson and Seligman, are the most universal. In cinema Justice films are often produced by indie film companies and seen at international film festivals- they aren’t the big box office winners and yet there are some fabulous gems in this category.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
Cool Runnings (1993)
A League of Their Own (1992)
Remember the Titans (2003)
Coach Carter (2005)
Pitch Perfect (2012)
Dead Man Walking (1995)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
The Lion King (1994) G
Black Panther (2018)
Saving Private Ryan (1992)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
The temperance domain is made up of four character strengths; modesty, prudence, mercy, and self-regulation. According to Niemiec, temperance is the category least portrayed in cinema and it’s one of the hardest to identify. It’s interesting to note that our movie heroes rarely show restraint in drinking, drug use, eating, behaving aggressively and having sex.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The Green Mile (1999)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Man on Fire (2004)
Mary and Max (2009)
The Music Man (1962)
Brian and the Boz (2014)
Prudence & Self-Regulation
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
A Man For All Seasons (1966)
12 Years a Slave (2013)
The final domain is the virtue of transcendence. Transcendence is described as an individual moving beyond the ordinary range of human experience and understanding. I think of transcendence as living for the greater good. The strengths that fall under this virtue include appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality. Transcendence can elicit a number of positive emotions that are related to our happiness including joy, awe, and admiration. Films in this category may contain a spiritual message or a feeling of deeper connection with something bigger than oneself.
Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
Pocahontas (1995) G
WALL-E (2008) G
Chariots of Fire (1981)
March of the Penguins (2005) G
Into The Wild (2007)
Freaky Friday (2003)
Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
It Could Happen to You (1994)
Trading Places (1983)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Pay It Forward (2000)
The Blindside (2009)
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Miracles From Heaven (2016)
Freedom Writers (2007)
Erin Brockovich (2000)
The Help (2011)
Austin Powers (1997)
Something About Mary (1998)
Meet the Parents (2000)
Ace Venture Pet Detective (1994)
Eat, Pray, Love (2010)
Little Buddha (1993)
If you think of one not on this list, please send it our way and we’ll add it. Get your popcorn ready and happy binge-watching!