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Have you ever noticed that even if your kid does a dozen things right today, you notice, and more often comment on, the one she missed? If you’re like me, you may often kick yourself later, wishing you’d been more positive. And of course, this doesn’t just happen with kids and parents; it can be true at work or between members of a couple.

It turns out that our brains have a built-in negativity bias, that is, we tend to see and focus on the bad stuff. To do so was a survival benefit: being attentive to harmful or negative things allowed us to protect ourselves, to live. The problem is that our brains are like Teflon for the positive and like Velcro for the negative. If we’re not intentional, life can seem pretty yucky.

The Positive Psychology Movement, led by Dr. Martin Seligman from University of Pennsylvania, began to address that by identifying 24 personal strengths. Each of us has a unique, positive way of being a better person, overcoming difficulties, solving problems. Some of us use qualities like love or fairness; some rely more on humor and hope; while yet other people demonstrate perseverance or zest. Like a secret tool box, each of us has a combination of strengths which gives us “super powers” when we deploy them to challenges. A strength is something more than what you or your kid is good at; it’s something we do often, easily, naturally. It’s like our default method. Research has shown that when middle school kids were involved in learning about strengths and took a survey to identify their own, they could develop goals to use them more often and in new ways. . . at home, at school, in athletics, anywhere.

In one research study,  parents enrolled in a mini-course teaching about strengths and how to deploy them with their kids. Those parents approached disciplining or guiding their kids by encouraging the kids to use their strengths to solve problems. Simply acknowledging a child’s strength with him encourages him to see himself more positively. For example, strengths commonly associated with happiness, success and meaningful living are: optimism, gratitude, curiosity, social intelligence, self-control, enthusiasm and perseverance.

This summer, why not take a Positive Parenting Challenge:

  1. Watch the Strengths VIA video on Youtube:   
  2. You and your child could take the survey of your own personal strengths, free of charge, at https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths-Survey
  3. You could talk about ways you’re similar and ways you’re different; you could discuss ways your child’s strengths can be used in possible situations at home, school or with friends.

Learning of your kid’s strengths is helpful for 2 reasons:

  • It helps your child grow in self esteem and self confidence;
  • It helps you appreciate the individual he/she is and gives you a starting point to work positively with when challenges arise.

Keep in mind, what we pay attention to grows stronger.