"What if I cannot find anything good about her?" was a response from a mum when I asked them to do an exercise to identify the strengths in their kids.
Some of the things she said "She is very lazy, and even when I ask her to do her homework, she will just sit on the sofa and ignore me.", "She is not friendly, whenever I ask her to say hi to my friends, she just turns away. So rude!" She literally listed 10 examples of why her child had no strengths.
When I suggested that she had gotten into this school (quite a good one), she brushed it off with "she got lucky". I know what you are thinking.. WHAT?
Focusing on weakness and trying to fix it seems common; however it is not the same as identifying what is good in a child and elevating it, creating opportunities for them to excel. In this mum's eyes, her daughter was filled with weaknesses and no matter how many she attempted to fix, there appeared another one. It's like trying to knock the gopher on the head!
Focusing on what they are good at (their strengths) has the opposite effect. Research has found that when kids are given opportunities to exercise their strengths, they experience an increase in:
It also acts as a buffer for stress, as they can look back on their strengths and use those to problem solve (as opposed to looking at their weaknesses and not knowing how to even get started.)
Strengths in positive psychology are what we might call values or virtues e.g. leadership, humility, gratitude, courage. The good news is:
>> Strengths function like muscles. For them to be cultivated, they need to be exercised.
>> Cultivating these strengths leads to the development of good character
>> This strength of character can help them make good decisions, weather challenges. In other words, help them to THRIVE.
Implications for us as their mums?
>> Notice their strengths more than their weaknesses. This means pointing it out to them when you see them e.g. "You helped your sister pick up Buster (the dog) when he fell onto the floor. That was very KIND of you."
>> Give them opportunities to exercise their strengths. E.g. if you want to help them cultivate LEADERSHIP, give them a project in which they can take full control over what is to be done e.g. I've asked Sherrie to be the planner for Zoey's upcoming 2-year-old birthday party.
>> When they fail or face challenges, remind them of the strengths they are using to deal with it e.g. When Sherrie gets discouraged after making mistakes practicing for her piano exam, I remind her that she has PERSEVERED for the past 6 months, practicing daily, that she only has another day to go before the exam. This helps her feel motivated, and exercise perseverance again
Points to note!
>> Be careful not to just say "You're so WISE!" without the explanation of what it is they did that constitutes wise, or it may become a label they need to live up to. Be specific, and focus on process & effort
>> Strengths change over time. What they exhibit at age 2 may not be what they exhibit at age 7. This is because they are still in the development stage, but also that their experiences can influence how strong that muscle is.
>> Like a muscle, a strength can be underused (not fulfilling potential) or overused (get worn out). E.g. HUMILITY that is overused can make them feel like their efforts are not worth taking credit for. LOVE underused can make people in their lives feel underappreciated.
Back to the mum: I shared with her that to take the national exam and be posted to a good secondary school, her daughter likely has strengths of SELF-REGULATION cos that exam is not easy and there is so much to cover. She acknowledged that that's probably true.