We are always trying to raise a perfect child by being perfect parents. Unfortunately, this approach only makes our children feel anxious and stressed, as they try to fulfil our expectations.
But, what if we use an approach that focusses on helping our children feel empowered? Strength-based parenting is one such positive approach that promises a joyful and rewarding experience for both you and your child. So, what exactly is strength-based parenting?
This approach encourages parents to focus on a child’s strengths and natural talents rather than his weaknesses or imperfections. Professor Lea Waters, a Melbourne-based Psychologist and author of ‘The Strength Switch’, defines strength-based parenting as “an approach where parents deliberately identify and cultivate positive states, processes and qualities in their children.”
Aparna Samuel Balasundaram, psychotherapist, parent and child expert, says, “Strength-based parenting is a concept that evolves from positive psychology and is a purposeful way of parenting, where parents look at the innate strengths of the child and encourage him to build upon these.” These strengths could either be character-based, like being empathetic or compassionate, or skill-based, like being good in music or sport, for instance.
Benefits of strength-based parenting
Making an effort to nurture a child’s natural talents and positive qualities eases much of the pressure that parents face. According to Ms Aparna, “As parents, by default, we tend to focus on the negative and what children are not doing. So, children tend to believe that there is something wrong with them as they are constantly being corrected about something either at home or in school. Strength-based parenting helps a child believe in himself and his innate abilities. It encourages his own feeling of self-worth and self-esteem.” Children are also able to cope with stress, conflict or anxiety, which are common difficulties that they tend to face these days. As a result, they feel good about themselves, and are able to see the good aspects of others, and this, in turn, has a positive outcome on their social skills. Also, when you use the strength-based parenting approach, children are better equipped to face failure. “For a child brought up with a strength-based approach, failure is acceptable; he is willing to take risks and does not strive to be perfect,” adds Ms Aparna.
Techniques for strength-based parenting
- Shift the focus: Yes, it is quite normal for parents to point out a child’s weaknesses or shortcomings. “Correcting and disciplining is important; but, purposefully reinforce the positive in a child,” says Ms Aparna. For instance, when your child indulges in an act of kindness, be sure to label and appreciate the good behaviour. By shifting focus, you will help your child recognise her positive characteristics. But by constantly concentrating on her negative attributes or correcting her, you may make her believe that she is never good enough. “It is important for parents to be aware of their own strengths as well,” says Ms Aparna. This will make way for a constructive change in the parenting approach. Besides, by focussing on your child’s strengths, you can, in fact, help her overcome her shortcomings too.
- Spot the strengths: There are several online psychological assessment tools that can help identify your child’s strengths. The ‘Gallup StrengthsFinder’ is one such tool that offers tests for children aged 10 and above. A multiple intelligence assessment is another option to test for talents or interests. However, for young children, observation is the best way to discover their strengths. Look for activities that your child enjoys. For, not only will he learn them easily and quickly, but also take a keen interest in engaging in them, which will keep him occupied. Your child’s strength can also be a positive characteristic like kindness or compassion. “You can even ask teachers, grandparents or other family members to share what they might have observed about your child’s interests,” suggests Ms Aparna.
- Accept and respect: Your child’s interests could be something quite different from what you might have expected. Whatever they are, don’t discount them or she will feel that she is never good enough. This can deal a blow to her self-esteem. “Parents need to recalibrate their own expectations and nurture the talent instead,” says Ms Aparna. And, you must be mindful especially of gender biases. “Be supportive even if your son is interested in learning ballet or if your daughter wants to play football. Don’t look at it as a career choice but as an interest or talent,” she explains. So, avoid being judgemental and let your child feel confident of herself.
- Provide experiences: Once you have identified your child’s strengths, it is important that he has first-hand experiences to help nurture these interests. According to Ms Aparna, “Parents must verbalise the strength to the child else he might take it for granted. So, provide opportunities to showcase the talent and gain confidence in it.” For instance, if she displays an interest in a particular sport, then enrol her in a class where she can train in that discipline. If she has a talent for art, you could provide her with basic tools that she can use to finetune her skill. If you recognise that she is passionate about a cause like animal cruelty, she can volunteer with an organisation that supports the cause. “However, make sure you do not end up shaming or forcing your child in your endeavour to foster his interests,” adds Ms Aparna.
- Share your observations: Let your child’s teachers at school be aware of your approach to parenting and that character-building is as important as academics. “It is important that parents and teachers are in partnership with this approach”, says Ms Aparna. Along with identifying your child’s strengths, interests and passions, his teachers can also encourage and motivate him. Sometimes, connecting with the child through these interests is helpful when he faces challenges or learning difficulties at school. You can even connect with like-minded parents who are inspired by a similar parenting approach. Support from the community and an environment outside the home always provides valuable reinforcement.
So, go ahead and look at your child’s strengths and talents, and let him know that you see them too!
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