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Most parents want to help develop their child’s strengths but don’t know where to start. It can be overwhelming to determine what your child’s strengths are and then to set up experiences where your child is challenged to activate those strengths.
When I ask parents to describe their child’s strengths, I get answers like, “He’s good at getting his way,” or “She excels in soccer” or “He’s a natural artist.” While these are all skills worth cultivating, I want to challenge you to think differently about strengths. In their landmark book, Character Strengths and Virtues ( Oxford University Press, 2004), Peterson and Seligman developed a taxonomy of universal virtues and the strengths associated with each of those six virtues.
The six virtues found in all cultures include Wisdom, Courage, Humanity Justice, Temperance and Transcendence.
Acting on these virtues not only defines an individual as living a superior life, but also leads to greater life satisfaction both individually and collectively.
Peterson and Seligman assigned different strengths that embody each of the universal virtues. They are listed below.
Wisdom and Knowledge— acquiring and using knowledge
Judgement and critical thinking
Love of learning
Courage— accomplishing goals in the face of opposition
Humanity— strengths of befriending and tending to others
Social and emotional intelligence
Justice–strengths that build community
Temperance–strengths that protect against excess
Forgiveness and mercy
Transcendence— strengths that connect us to the larger universe
Appreciation of beauty
While some of these strengths become evident in the first years of life, others do not develop until adolescence. Although young children can express forgiveness, for example, it is almost always conditional and typically includes an element of revenge. It requires emotional and intellectual development, along with an abundance of life experience to be able to show mercy, forgiveness without revenge. Young children can tell jokes and be funny, but humor, the capacity to change another’s affect through bittersweet observation, is often not cultivated until much later in life.
Cultivating Core Strengths
To cultivate a child’s core strengths, that child must be exposed to activities that align with their strengths. No child will have all the virtues and strengths; a good rule of thumb is to determine the top five and the lowest five. Plan abundant activities that allow a child to use their top strengths and limit activities that require use of their lowest strengths to maximize life satisfaction and general well-being.
If you child is high in appreciation of beauty, you could attend art exhibits, hike to beautiful places or find environments that allow her to get in touch with her appreciation and awe. Conversely, if your child is low in persistence, assign chores that don’t pay great attention to details.
Daniel Trussell, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, CPCS is author of How Families Flourish, a parenting guide using the constructs of applied positive psychology. To learn more about his program go to http://www.howfamiliesflourish.com