Strength-Based Parenting: Is It The Right Approach For Your Family?

Updated: November 4, 2019
A new radical parenting approach has taken the internet by storm, strength-based parenting, which focuses on developing and nurturing your child's character. Dr. Dan Tomasulo breaks down whether this new parenting approach could work for you and your family.
mom practicing strength-based parenting with son

Dr. Lea Waters is the Director of the Centre for Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne, Australia and has been studying how to improve parent’s interaction with their children for decades. Most recently she’s identified a program known as Strength Switch for parents based on her best-selling book of the same name.  

At the core of this groundbreaking work is helping parents identify and nurture their child’s character strengths. This approach is a dynamic new tool because it differs radically from the more traditional approaches to parenting.  

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Rather than trying to improve IQ, skill, behavior, or learning this new approach gives parents and kids real hope for promoting happiness and achievement by developing their character. Interestingly, the research shows that as their character improves—so do many of the things traditional approaches were aimed at influencing.

The two psychologists who developed the classification of character strengths, Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman, identified 24 strengths based on six universally appealing human virtues. 

Strength-Based Parenting Virtues and Characteristics

Below are the virtues followed by the strengths related to each. 

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge: Creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective
  2. Courage: Bravery, grit or persistence, integrity, vitality or zest
  3. Humanity: Love, kindness, social intelligence
  4. Justice: Citizenship, fairness, leadership
  5. Temperance: Forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self-control
  6. Transcendence: Appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality

How to Identify Your Child’s Strengths

There is a free survey to identify your own and your child’s strengths. As it turns out the top one are the ones we are most known by—our signature strengths. These are the essence of who you are. While all character strengths reflect the positive parts of your personality the signature strengths are how you are best known—and the key to becoming your best possible self.  

These top strengths are different than your talents and abilities. They are the best aspects of your personality and what makes you tick. By identifying your child’s top character strengths, you can begin to help them learn more about who they are, what they are good at, and what they need to do to succeed. By learning about your strengths, you'll find the best ways to spot and acknowledge why your child is displaying theirs. 

Strength-Based Parenting in Practice

To give you an example of how one such character strength works, Dr. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania has researched and made famous the character strength “grit,” the passion and perseverance for long-term goals. Her research has determined grit as a dominant non-intellectual factor that predicts achievement better than the more traditional measures of skill or IQ.

As a parent, focusing on your child's persistence in developing their ability will have more value and impact than simply praising their achievement. Focusing only on your child getting the home run, or an A on the paper or the lead in the play will miss where the emphasis will do the most good.  

Children only getting praised for their achievement are not as resilient when they stumble. By appreciating their effort rather than just the outcome, you are supporting the development of their character of persistence. As Dr. Duckworth has said: “as much as talent counts, effort counts twice.” 

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Dr. Dan Tomasulo is a core faculty member for the Spirituality Mind Body Institute (SMBI), Teachers College, Columbia University. Honored by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers on the issue of depression he authors the daily column, Ask the Therapist, for PsychCentral.com, and developed the Dare to be Happy experiential workshops for Kripalu.   His next book, Learned Hopefulness, will be published in 2020. For more information visit www.DanTomasulo.com