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Focusing on Strengths: Guide for Parents

Why does it make sense to focus on strengths today?Why does it make sense to focus on strengths today?

Strengths empower us to live a fulfilling life using our own internal resources. When we learn to do this with our children, we help them to internalize their strengths and they can use them in their daily life.

  The “Strength Switch”

Each and every one of us have different skills and abilities (for example in some sport, in art, mathematics, etc.), as well as positive personality traits (for example, solidarity, empathy, courage, etc.). The Strength Switch, is a technique that seeks that we as parents, focus on the strengths of our children, as well as their progress and achievements, which will help them to come into contact with them.

Many times, we focus more on the weaknesses of our children, what they haven’t done or achieve yet, forgetting the other side of the coin in this regard. We must begin by recognizing their strengths and what they have already achieved, so that they can identify it by themselves. In this way, we will be helping them to internalize the idea that they have strengths and thus they will be able to learn to use them in different activities of their life.

The above may bring certain doubts, such as If my child also has defects, wouldn’t this be far from reality? Wouldn’t we be hiding the negative aspects of life? Will it cause my child to grow up with too much self-confidence?

Just because we put our attention on strengths doesn’t mean that we ignore the aspects that need to be improved, but rather that we approach them differently. Nor is it a way to avoid or hide the negative aspects of life, on the contrary, this technique considers that both moments of happiness and difficult times are beneficial for the development of the children. If adversity is handled properly, it will bring us a new learning and strength. To achieve this, what is sought at this time is to help them connect with their strengths, suggesting how they could handle the situation using a skill or strength that they already have.

As parents, we know how crucial the relationship we have with our children is, we are their support and we significantly influence in their cognitive, physical, social, emotional, spiritual and cultural formation. In this way, our work is to support them in their development, so that later they can be ready to face life on their own. If we want to cultivate well-being in them, we must help them manage their weaknesses and enhance their strengths. Furthermore, by applying this technique, self-confidence will be fostered in the child and he will be allowed to develop in a healthier way.

How to achieve it?

We must remember that our children observe our behaviors, perceive our emotions and constantly learn from us, for this reason we must be their best example. Moreover, our role as parents is to help them self-regulate so they can manage in a better way the different situations that will arise into their lives and here is where the use of the strength switch technique is essential.

Even though, it will be easier to focus on the strengths when we are in a state of calm, tranquility or in good mood and in situations of stress and emotional instability, it will be more difficult, not for these reason we have to surrender, it will take time, but it will come, because this technique requires practice.

To understand it better, we can imagine a light switch in our head. Visualize that when it’s on we are focusing on our children’s strengths and when it’s off, we are turning our focused into the negative. Our brain is an organ that detects patterns, so the more we “turn on the light”, the more often we will be training ourselves to see the positive side. Therefore, the easier it will be for you to use the switch technique.

Bringing attention to strengths

Strengths are positive qualities that, used productively, help us develop and reach our goals. As well, they are built over time and arise from a innate ability and / or our own effort.

Bringing our attention to our strengths, meaning focusing voluntarily on them, gives us the power to live well using our own internal resources. By doing it with our children, we will make them aware of them, which will allow them to develop them even more, knowing that they can use them to their benefit and getting them to polish their weak points.

Now then, if it’s so beneficial to focus on the positive, why don’t we always do it? The answer is that our brain is designed to be alert to any situation of possible danger, which leads us to focus on what may not be going well. However, this puts us at a disadvantage, making us blind to opportunities and hindering our adaptability and self-growth.

Making the effort to change our focus on the negative, will bring us many benefits. According to various studies, this lead to higher levels of happiness, satisfaction with life and with ourselves. As well as a better performance in our activities and a greater ability to face adversity.

Strengths vocabulary

Peterson and Seligman classified the strengths into 24 main ones, which would be good to keep in mind in order to recognize them in ourselves and in our children:

1. Wisdom  13. Justice
2. Creativity 14. Leadership
3. Curiosity 15. Teamwork
4. Mental openness 16. Moderation
5. Courage     17. The power to forgive 
6. Authenticity 18. Modesty
7. Courage  19. Prudence 
8. Persistence 20. Self-regulation
9. Encouragement or enthusiasm  21. Transcendence 
10. Friendliness 22. Gratitude
11. Love   23. Hope       
12. Social intelligence 24. Sense of humor

Identifying your own strengths

In order to see other people’s strengths, first it is necessary to start with ourselves, discovering and becoming aware of our own talents, positive qualities and achievements. To achieve that we could start by focusing on our role as parents. For this, we leave you the following exercise:

·         Think of a time when you consider yourself a good father and you were happy for what you did. Also, remember how your children responded to it.

·         Write down this moment answering these questions: what action did you take? How did you feel at the beginning of this situation and after it? What impact did it have on your child?

·         Then write the strength or skill that you used in this situation.

Developing our attention to our children’s strengths

Once we have done the previous exercise, we can start using the strength switch technique with our childs. For this, we propose three exercises that will help you achieve this.

Exercise 1:

Remember a strength of your son and write it down. Make it your goal of the week to see this strength and tell him when you noticed it. For example:

·         “I admire your kindness very much, I really liked how you sought to share with your brother.”

·         “I am very happy because you finished with all your school homework, that shows your responsibility.”

·         “I loved how you put together the puzzle with your dad, you are very good at working as a team”

Exercise 2:

Another way to train our strength switch is to capture positive moments and build a “well-being reserve” to use it in difficult times, because keeping this experience in mind helps you find the positive sida of any situation or person. For this, follow the next exercise:

  1. On a piece of paper, make a list of the things or moments that always make you smile, inspire you, brighten your day, or bring you pleasure in some way. For example, it could be the smell of some food, the sound of the sea, greeting your pet, seeing your children laugh, a memory of a trip, etc.
  • Talk to your children about this list and explain him it’s meaning and purpose. Then, make a list of things that bring him happiness.
  • Make a “pact” to remember this list every time a situation becomes difficult or negative. In this way, by bring a dose of happiness to this moment, he will be more calm and positive, so it can be easier to manage the situation.
  • Finally, you could talk once a week about this list, how they used it and how they felt about it. Also, it is important that they share when they forgot to use it,  because in this way you will be able to notice in which situations it is more difficult for them to do so. Additionally, you can agree on how they would like to be reminded of the list. In the same way, knowing that they will have a specific day to talk about it, can motivate them to do it and adopt this as an habit.

Exercise 3:

Focusing on the strengths of our childs:

1. Make a list of all the activities your child does during the day and the situations that occur in them. Probably, several of them can be an opportunity of improvement for both, so they could be used to start working on the strength switch.

2. Choose one of the activities where you could improve your attention focus, which will also help your child improve his way of doing it. The idea is to change the meaning you give to the activity you have selected, looking at it as an opportunity rather than a problem.

  • Start with low stress or low importance situations, so it can be easier in the beginning and then progress towards situations that can be more complicated.

3. When you notice your having negative thoughts, do the following:

·         Observe how you feel: angry, furious, frustrated? Be aware of these emotions, without identifying with them, remember that it is only an emotion which you have momentarily.

·         Prepare to make the switch of your attention focus and say to yourself: “Do the switch.” This is important because our internal dialogue influences our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. As well, you can help yourself by visualizing the light switch and remembering the importance of making this change of focus. 

4. Select a fortress:

To accomplish this, first ask yourself the following questions:

1.        What strengths does my child possess? Is there any strength that my child have that will help him in this situation? → With this, instead of focusing on what our child is doing wrong or not being able to achieve, we turn our attention to his strengths.

2.        Once you have identify the strength, ask yourself: How can I resignify this activity for my children so that it is clear how it relates to their strengths? How can I help my children use their strengths to complete the activity and direct their attention to their strengths?

·         For example, if your child has to do a task that requires coloring a landscape and doesn’t want to do it, because he doesn’t have all the colors he thinks he needs, you could remind him of his creativity and how it helped him in other situations. In this way, he could mix two colors to create the ones that are missing or paint in different colors but imagine that they are what he wanted.

Finally, we must be compassionate with ourselves, recognize our effort and understand that in the beginning it may be hard for us to make this change of focus, because we are used to think and act differently and we have done it this way for a long time. However, our effort will bring positive results for us and our children.

Kevin Cosio – 2nd to 4th grade Psychologist

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