Nobody can build your child’s character strengths like you can. You are it. That is how important you are in your child’s life.
When we start realizing the super power we mothers have, to be the ones who believe in our children and to see divine germination in them, we will start becoming more aware and awake of how we can validate our children when we see their strengths. We have to be careful of false praise when no effort or if something isn’t a strength of theirs. Empty or false praise makes children afraid to try and also afraid to fail.
In my last post we learned from Dr. Seligman that character strengths are teachable. There is so much hope for our children! Using Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on a “growth mindset”, which I posted about before, we are able to realize we and our children are more than the genes we were born with.
“The key to instilling a growth mindset is teaching kids that their brains are like muscles that can be strengthened through hard work and persistence. So rather than saying “Not everybody is a good at math. Just do your best,” a teacher or parent should say “When you learn how to do a new math problem, it grows your brain.” Or instead of saying “Maybe math is not one of your strengths,” a better approach is adding “yet” to the end of the sentence: “Maybe math is not one of your strengths yet.”1
I love the growth mindset! It is a game changer!
Character traits that have been modeled for hundreds of years are being sidelined by “the Personality Ethic”2 which has been on the rise since the early 1900’s. Being charming has become more important than being honest. Being fast at something is seen as being smarter, instead of being methodical and careful. Dr. Martin Seligman coauthored this weighty tome of 814 pages. I am not here to try to talk you into reading it— you can look here, to find his list of 24 character strengths. When we understand that character strengths are something we can help our children develop–
that is mothering from the inside out.
From the description of the book on amazon.com:
“Character Strengths and Virtues classifies twenty-four specific strengths under six broad virtues that consistently emerge across history and culture: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.”
Here is an 7:45 minute film you can watch with your children to start the discussion of what their character strengths are:
I love that the little girl at the end of the film already knows she is funny.
About 6 months ago, I felt like I was just focusing on the weaknesses of one of my children. I actually went through this very same character strengths list and wrote down their strengths. Then I also listed the spiritual gifts that are mentioned in their patriarchal blessing. It really helped me focus on the right things they were doing instead of their weaknesses, and who they really are. I believe Dr. Seligman when he says that we can help our children increase their strengths— by letting them know we see a certain character trait in them, and then validating them every time we see it being used well.
Stephen R. Covey was a master at focusing on the strengths of those around him. Recently my husband attended the opening of the Stephen R. Covey Leadership Center at Utah State University, in Logan, Utah. Steve Young, the football player/famous quarterback, told story after story of how Stephen had mentored him. Steve Young related,
“Stephen R. Covey said, ‘The definition of leadership is to communicate the value you see in others so clearly that they can see it in themselves.'”
Boom! I would substitute “mothership” for leadership.
(I know it isn’t a real word, but again it highlights how important our work with our children is. You are the big, bad, mothership in your house!)
One of my sons, Chase, is so creative! For his sister’s “Beach” 8th birthday party, he built a hotdog stand out of cardboard boxes and served hotdogs from it. I have a picture of him grinning from ear to ear, so happy with his creation and the impact it had on the party. This strength– “creativity [originality, ingenuity]: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things”–propelled him into hours of drawing on reams of paper donated from a relative’s political race, building a sled on skis, and silk screening shirts in high school. It was easy to encourage a strength that kept him busy for hours at a time. Also we banned traditional TV from our home, so that children had to figure out how to entertain themselves.
Another son, Ross was in the 5th grade and had a thoughtful, careful personality. We were on two paddle boats in a small lake. Our adult friend, Justin, was on one boat with the boys, including Ross. Justin said, “Let’s go and takeover the girl’s boat!” Ross turned to him and said, “Do we have insurance?” That strength of prudence–Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted— has served Ross well in his life. But when Justin told us privately that day we had a good laugh about it. We rejoiced in his strength!
Here is the link to the strengths test that Dr. Seligman offers for free.
These wonderful, divine strengths are in our children. Like the video says, they are their superpowers. As we learn more about the potential that this knowledge of their strengths can wield in our children’s lives, and how it can be an inner core of steel to help protect them emotionally— it will matter less and less what other people say, or post, or text about them.
They will know that they are made of titanium, divine elements.
2. Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People