How to Practice Strengths-Based Parenting

Every kid is worthwhile exactly for who they are.

This is the core of strengths-based parenting, which encourages kids to know themselves and develop their unique gifts.

As psychologist and author Lea Waters writes, “Strength-based parenting is not about ignoring or unrealistically turning a blind eye to the downsides; it’s about where you place your attention first. When you look at strengths before weakness, you can help your kids use what they’re good at to overcome what they’re not so good at.”

The more we tune into who we truly are, the more we align with life itself. It’s a central Taoist principle, to work with life instead of against it. We must learn to tune to a life of effortless action as parents and then exemplify that process for our kids.

As Mary Reckmeyer, Ph.D., Executive Director of Gallup’s Child Development Center, says, “Our job as parents is to nurture our children’s nature, to be detectives and discover who our children already are and who they are becoming, to be coaches and create pathways that play to their strengths and manage their weaknesses.”

“Treat children as individuals,” she adds. “Respect their natural inclinations, talents and interest.”

Here are some tips to follow:

1. Ask strengths-based parenting questions

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What does my child love to do and will choose to spend their free time on? 
  • What do they do that enlivens and energizes them? 
  • What activities are they naturally good at or quick to learn?
  • When is my child the happiest? 

Questions to Ask Your Child

  • “What do you enjoy creating?”
  • “What kind of person do you want to become?”
  • “How do you want the world to be different?”

2. Name strengths when you see them in action.

Tell your child the strengths you see in them. 

  • Does your child get along well with others? This is the strength of social intelligence. 
  • Are they quick to say thank you? This is the strength of gratitude. 
  • Do they ask lots of questions? This is the strength of curiosity.

There are hundreds of unique strengths deserving of praise!

Whatever you see, name it in the moment. By focusing on what is going well, you reinforce and encourage these strengths.  

3. See strengths in hard times.

When your child is struggling, notice how they are using their strengths to cope and thrive. 

In hard moments do you see your child demonstrating self-regulation, perseverance, humor, or creativity? The more the realize that they have the capacity to do hard things, the more they will be able to solve their own problems, setting them up for success throughout their lives.

4. Be their guide, not their author.

Remember you are a guide, not the author. You cannot force strengths, passion, or purpose in your child. But you can pay attention, reflect back what you see, and create conditions where your child has experiences and conversations that allow their strengths to blossom.

“As a parent, you have to tailor your talents to the job of parenting,” Reckmeyer says. “And you might often feel you’re failing — full of guilt and worry. Instead of obsessing about your areas of weakness, spend more time enjoying your children. You can accomplish more if you adapt your parenting approach to fit your talents, just as some people have done with their careers.”

In short, let your strengths be yours and let your kids’ strengths be theirs. This is central to what it means to love others — to love them for exactly who they are.