It’s widely accepted in today’s culture that good parenting requires a balance of warmth and control. Research shows that parents who respond to the needs of children in loving ways, whilst setting rules that build independence and emotional intelligence, produce the best-adjusted, most resourceful, and highest-achieving kids.
Referred to as ‘authoritative parenting’, this style of parenting was identified by University of California, Los Angeles, psychologist Dr Diana Baumrind, whose research on parenting spans three decades, from 1960-1990.
Her work identified that authoritative parenting has the most positive effect on a child’s wellbeing and inspired further research that began in the 90s, on emotional coaching (the warmth aspect) and autonomy-granting parents (the control aspect), and still continues today.
While I certainly agree with an authoritative approach, I’d also argue that parenting research needs to evolve. Sure, parent-child relationships still need warmth and control but, as a psychology researcher and a mother of two, I’m interested in updating our knowledge of effective parenting. After all, we’re well and truly into the 21st Century and yet the bulk of parenting practices are based on ideas put forward in the 1960s and 1990s. Isn’t it time for an upgrade?
Taking a strength-based approach with positive psychology
My research examines the role that positive psychology can play in parenting. Positive psychology is a new and rapidly growing branch of psychology that offers us ways to our unlock potential (and the potential of our children), by showing us how to utilise the strengths and positive qualities that already reside within us.
Strength-based parenting is an approach where parents deliberately identify and cultivate positive states, processes and qualities in their children. It’s about connecting your kids with their inborn strengths such as strengths of character (eg. humour, kindness) as well as their talents such as writing or sporting ability. These strengths are the inner resources contained within our kids that help boost their life satisfaction.
Why is this important?
Adolescence is a time of real psychological vulnerability due to wide ranging hormonal, physical, neurological, and social changes. It’s also a time where life satisfaction drops.
We know that life satisfaction acts as a buffer against the development of psychological disorders during adolescence. Teenagers with high levels of life satisfaction have stronger emotional, academic and social skills. Hence, it’s critical for parents use find ways to boost their teenager’s life satisfaction during the trying teen years. Strength-based parenting is one such approach. My research shows that children and teenagers who have strength-based parents:
- Have higher levels of life satisfaction
- Have a better understanding of their own strengths
- Cope with conflict in more pro-active ways
- Use their strengths to help them meet homework deadlines
- Have lower levels of stress.
Benefits for parents and children alike
Strength-based parenting doesn’t just benefit our sons and daughters; it also improves the life satisfaction and confidence of the parents themselves. In one of my studies, parents who went through a four week strength-based parenting program found parenting more interesting, felt more confident in their role as a parent and experienced more positive emotions toward their children.
While the importance of providing love and emotional support to children is well understood, we now know the importance of deliberately identifying and building strengths in our children.
With the rising rates of youth mental illness and the increasing complexity of raising children in the 21st Century, strength-based parenting is a new and exciting avenue of research that holds much promise and practical value.
Practical tips for parents to apply to strength-based parenting
Strengths spotting: Think about the strengths that underpin your child’s actions and let them know what you see. Spot the kindness that underpins them sharing with their friends, their self-control to finish homework on time rather than watch TV and the persistence their using in sports training.
Strengths letter: Write a letter to your child letting them know about the strengths you see in them and how these strengths will help them cope with challenging time as well as helping them to thrive during the good time.
Strengths surveys: There are a number of online surveys that children can take to help them identify and think about their strengths. The Gallup Institute has the StrengthsExplorer for children aged 10-14 and the StrengthsQuest for children aged 15-25. If parents and children are interested in identifying personality strengths, they can go to The Values in Action Institute and complete the free online VIA-Youth survey.
Strengths role model: It always helps to see how other parents and kids are using their strengths. Visit the The Strengths Exchange and discover how parents and children of all ages apply character strength to everyday.
Professor Lea Waters is an Honorary Fellow of the Berry Street Childhood Institute. Her new book, The Strength Switch: How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Helps Your Child and Teen to Flourish, will be released on 29th May 2017. Pre-order it now.