Lea Waters, Ph.D.—head of the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Melbourne and author of the forthcoming The Strength Switch: Using the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting to Help You and Your Child Flourish—shares her tips for being a parent who uses the concepts of positive psychology to cultivate your child’s inherent strengths.
Related: The 5 Most Common Strengths
1. Make a “strengths silhouette.”
When her son Nick, 13, was 4 years old, Waters rolled out a piece of white butcher paper, traced his body against it and taped it onto his bedroom dresser. Every time she saw him exhibit a character strength (below), she would write it in his silhouette. “The idea behind the silhouette is that it’s showing him visually that these things are inside of him, so it’s very symbolic.” She left the silhouette up in his room until he was 10 years old.
2. Create fulfilling environments.
If your daughter exhibits signs of creativity, enroll her in a painting class. If your son shows his empathetic side, encourage him to volunteer at the local food pantry.
3. Connect over personality differences.
Once children are old enough, they’ll begin spotting character strengths in their parents, too. “It can help parents and children who are different understand each other,” Waters says. “For example, if you have a father who is full of zest and is the life of the party and a more introverted son, they might not get each other. But when you look at the strengths of introversion and extroversion, you start to find a bit of common ground.”
4. Remember: All children have strengths.
Waters says identifying strengths in children ensures parents that even though some strengths, such as gratitude and perspective, might not appear very strong in their children, all 24 are there. “Even if some of them don’t show very often, they’re universal. That helps me as a parent.”
5. Remind yourself that it’s never too early, and it’s never too late.
Waters emphasizes that although you can begin spotting strengths in your children starting at age 3 or 4, it’s never too late. “Even if you have a 25-year-old and you haven’t done it yet, you can start doing it now and it will change the dynamic of the relationship between you and your child.”
6. Vocally recognize your child’s inherent strengths.
Once you spot a strength in your child, label it (e.g., How kind of you to share with your sister, Nick.). “Everyone, even grown-ups, wants to be seen for who they are and want to be validated for their good qualities,” Waters says.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.