We expect a whole lot from our kids these days. We want them to be attentive in the classroom, kind in the playground, competitive on the sports field, accomplished in their hobbies, motivated during the weekends, organised in their bedrooms, well-mannered with their grandparents, and civil with their siblings. On top of all that, we want them to be happy in themselves and resilient enough to handle the curveballs that life throws at them.
So yeah, how’s that going for you?
Raising confident kids
The very idea of raising confident, resilient and well rounded kids is baffling to most of us. No amount of money, time, love, or focused attention can necessarily make it any less challenging. It takes a lot of parental horsepower to wrangle our kids through homework, exams, practices, friendships, feelings, chores, and life in general. And all with a ‘good’ attitude, am I right?
In many ways young people today are better resourced than generations before them. Yet this same bunch of kids are experiencing devastating degrees of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. What’s going on here? What’s the secret to raising confident and resilient young people in today’s technologically saturated and vastly overwhelming culture?
The truth is, there is no ‘right’ way to parent. We’re all individuals, and each and every parent and child are utterly and uniquely different. But there is a powerful way to unlock your child’s potential and help them to realise their dreams. I want to introduce you to three very simple ideas that in the last twenty years have gained a whole lot of traction in the field of positive psychology. It’s called strengths-led parenting.
We all have strengths
As Einstein says “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” I want you to pick up a pen, take a piece of paper and sign your name three times. Pretend you’re signing the deal on your dream home. Good, now switch the pen to your other hand and sign your name again, three times. What did you notice? You will probably notice that you’re naturally so much better with one hand than the other. We’re all naturally wired to be so much better at some things more than others, it’s the same with our strengths.
In a nutshell, we are all different and so are our kids. One of my kids is brilliant at organising her room, and her friends, and another of my kids has a steely determination on the football field. Identifying and nurturing our kids strongest qualities, what they are best at, helps build resilience and self-esteem.
Name what is strong, not what is wrong
Let’s be honest, what gets most of your parenting attention – your child’s strengths or their weaknesses? As parents, we often spend the vast majority of our energy ‘helping’ our child with what they need to ‘work on’. I help my arty child with their maths and my maths child with their art. We’re wired that way. Our brain is a meaning-making machine and as parents, we naturally want to fix what is broken. We care deeply, so we set about helping, sorting, solving, encouraging, fixing all the things our child is ‘struggling’ with. We say things like, “Let me help you,” or, “If you would just,” or, “Slow down and try it this way.”
In focusing exclusively on where they need to improve, kids get the message that they’re not quite good enough. This chips away at their confidence. What if instead of training kids to be well rounded, we encouraged them to know their unique differences and helped them build on what they were already naturally good at?
Naming what your child is naturally good at and giving that your time, love and full attention is cultivating their strength (instead of improving on their weakness). Building on what’s right with your kids is proven to create resilience and confidence. For your child who loves maths – do more maths, and for your child who loves art – do more art. Simple.
Use strengths to manage challenges
“Hang on a minute,” I hear you say, “How does a strength like organising your room or playing football actually help your child to get through NCEA?”
Harness your child’s love of organising or determination and help them apply it to whatever challenge they’re faced with. One child’s ability to organise their room can help them to arrange a study timetable or their assessments to get things handed in on time.
Equally, a child with the strength of steely determination on the sports field can be apply that same strength to get the job done in the classroom, to persevere and overcome when it gets difficult. When the strengths that are innate in our kids are clearly named and celebrated, they can be applied in all sorts of contexts to achieve all sorts of things. That is resilience.
As parents, when we find a way to help our kids to navigate challenges through the language of their own natural strengths we send a powerful message to our kids. It says, ‘You’ve got this. I know you have what it takes to handle the challenges that come your way’.
You don’t need to become a different person to be successful, you just need to be yourself.
Waters, L. (2017). The strength switch. Sydney, N.S.W. Penguin Random House Australia, 2017.
Reckmeyer, M., Robinson, J., & Linden, T. C. (2016). Strengths-based parenting.