But… there IS something special about learning how to use them in ways that benefit not just you, but others. You see everyone has character strengths and in a world slightly obsessed with weakness, there is great power and liberation in unlocking our strengths and using them for good.
If you are new to the positive psychology world, Values in Action states that character strengths are:
“…positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave and are the keys to you being your best self.”
Third on our Mental Health Checklist is “Know and Grow Your Strengths”. At Grow Your Mind we encourage young children to find out what their positive personality traits are and to use them to face adversity, to flourish and to benefit people around them. Sound a little serious for a child? It doesn’t have to be.
In schools we pull out the LEGO. We have around 8 figurines in front of a wall. Each one is facing a struggle that is preventing them from climbing the wall and getting to the other side. Their struggles may seem small but they are real for that particular figurine. e.g. being excluded from a game, struggling to do a maths problem, an excursion being cancelled at the last minute etc etc. Around the wall are all of the individual VIA character strengths. Students can discuss and debate which strength might help that figurine. They then share which strength helps them in a similar situation.
At home we have our Strengths fabric print on the door. Occasionally we ask our kids as they go out, “Which strength of yours can you use today?” They pick one out, they are reminded there and then that they have strengths they can call on. They are also reminded that there will inevitably be a struggle today, whether it be HUGE or small. And that is ok. A term everyone is familiar with at Grow Your Mind is: No Mud, No Lotus. The stunning lotus flower grows from the mud. The message here: the hard times, the mistakes and the setbacks can often be our times of greatest growth. Especially if we aware of our positive personality traits. So how do you know and grow them?
No Mud, No Lotus. Photo by Xuan Nguyen
Find evidence for them in yourself and your child. E.g. You are a generous person as you easily share your toys. You are a perseverant person as I have seen time and time again how you continue to stick with things.
During your child’s next ‘mud’ moment remind them of one of their character strengths that might help them overcome their struggle. E.g. You could use your strength of flexibility right now to help you negotiate who goes first.
Model voicing your own strengths and calling on them. E.g. Patience where are you? I need you to help me from losing my cool with my delightful children who are currently ignoring me.
Switch from ‘fixing’ your child’s weakness, to celebrating their strengths. In the words of Dr Lea Waters from the University of Melbourne, “Attention on the negative helped us survive. Attention on the positive helps us thrive.” Dr Waters states that the reality is, we have more strengths than weaknesses and our strengths are our inner resources for developing optimism and resilience.
So if you are worried that focusing on the strengths of your students and/or children will only create an ego centric individual FEAR not. As stated, there is nothing special about having character strengths. We ALL have them and they are there waiting for our next ‘mud’ moment. I will leave you with the words of one of my favourite people, Dr. Brené Brown:
“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”