One of the most respected psychologists in the world today, Dr Martin Seligman, recently said:
“(Teaching) children is vastly more than fixing what is wrong with them. It is about identifying and nurturing their strongest qualities… and helping them find niches in which they can best live out their strengths.”
As parents we regularly fall into the trap of believing that we are supposed to “fix” our children. They make mistakes and we dive in to correct them. They do the wrong thing and we reprimand them. Rather than being their models and guides we become their judges and critics. And we often, if not always, do this at the expense of emphasising their strengths.
But aren’t we supposed to ‘fix’ them?
Unfortunately all of this “fixing” really only teaches our children (or our spouses or work colleagues) one thing:
“I am not good enough. I make mistakes all the time. I can’t do anything right.”
If our children are consistently being “fixed”, chances are they will feel like they can never get things the way they should be.
I know it is natural to want to dive in and sort the kids out. And I fully expect several emails from parents who are claiming that I’m teaching soft or permissive parenting. But that is not what I’m suggesting. Soft, permissive, indulgent parenting is neither effective in guiding, nor is it loving.
Our children need limits. Research tells us that they are most likely to thrive when they have parents who are capable of setting boundaries on behaviour and helping their children work within those boundaries.
Often our approach, though, is based on an almost total disregard for our child’s context. We respond to our kids as though they were thinking, “I plan on completely disregarding everyone’s rights and needs, and I will avoid all responsibility until I am at least 36 years old”.
But I don’t think most kids feel like that at all. When we understand the reasons that underlie our children’s challenging behaviour we can set limits more compassionately, with guidance and love.
When our children are not sharing with their little sibling we want to make them share. But we may discover that one child is threatening to break her brother’s favourite toy and that is why he won’t share – or he is simply too young to fully comprehend what it means to share.
When they’re speaking rudely we want to fix them, correct them, and make them speak nicely. When we seek to understand the reasons for their rudeness we may find that a child is exhausted from a big day at school, or he has been taunted by a sibling.
When they refuse to clean up the room, we think their laziness and slothfulness need fixing. But our patient investigations may lead us to discover that our child won’t tidy up the room because she is simply overwhelmed with the enormity of the task, or because her favourite tv show is on, and so forth.
Parents who take the time to really understand what is causing issues can effectively guide children to solutions that will work without having to try and change (or fix) their child’s nature. This approach means that we can spend less time emphasising all of the things that our kids are not good at (less time trying to fix their flaws), and more time nurturing our children’s strengths.
During the past decade some fascinating research has shown that when we (and our children) use our strengths, we feel great. Our children are less likely to do things that are negative or challenging because they are using their strengths to do things well.
Kids who use strengths experience increases in:
They will gain a sense that they have something to offer the world – and that means they don’t need to constantly try and fix themselves (or be fixed). Instead they can do what they are strong in, and manage weaknesses in other ways.
The great challenge we have as parents is to stop being the critic, and focus on presenting opportunities to our children to grow and develop.
To discover your own strengths so you can build them up more, visit viame.org.
To discover your child’s strengths, have them complete this survey (they need to be over ten)