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—just look at the handy list below from the book. 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.”
So if you don’t want to buy the book for $109.00 in paperback, here are the authors’ classification of Character Strengths:
The VIA Classification of Character Strengths
1. Wisdom and Knowledge – Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
• Creativity [originality, ingenuity]: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it
• Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering
• Judgment [critical thinking]: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly
• Love of Learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally; obviously related to the strength of curiosity but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows
• Perspective [wisdom]: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people
2. Courage – Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
• Bravery [valor]: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it
• Perseverance [persistence, industriousness]: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; “getting it out the door”; taking pleasure in completing tasks
• Honesty [authenticity, integrity]: Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions • Zest [vitality, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated
3. Humanity – Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
• Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people
• Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, “niceness”]: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them
• Social Intelligence [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick
4. Justice – Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
• Teamwork [citizenship, social responsibility, loyalty]: Working well as a member of a group or team;being loyal to the group; doing one’s share
• Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.
• Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the time maintain time good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen.
5. Temperance – Strengths that protect against excess
• Forgiveness: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful
• Humility: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves; not regarding oneself as more special than one is
• Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted
• Self-Regulation [self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one’s appetites and emotions
6. Transcendence – Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
• Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence [awe, wonder, elevation]: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience
• Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks
• Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about
• Humor [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes
• Spirituality [faith, purpose]: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe; knowing where one fits within the larger scheme; having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort
You can add other character strengths as well—this is just Dr. Seligman’s list. I would have this list in your kitchen and car, or wherever your children tell you the stories of their day. You can help them find their strengths in their own stories that they tell you. Pretty soon they will be able to spot their character building efforts on their own.
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