How to Use Positive Psychology To Build Your Child’s Character

July 13, 2014

How to Use Positive Psychology To Build Your Child's Character

When it comes to raising our children, there are many available methodologies to help them build character. Positive psychology is one of them. Positive psychology focuses on the achievement of authentic happiness, as well as the ability of individuals to enhance themselves, their experiences and ultimately, their lives. I am a conventionally trained child psychologist, so it took me a long time to accept positive psychology as a legitimate science, yet there is undeniable evidence that it works for many patients.

Positive psychology focuses on fostering positive emotions, positive traits and positive institutions. These three pillars can be incredibly beneficial in the development of your child’s character.  Positive psychology  teaches parents that in order to build their child’s character, they must focus on the strengths and positive aspects of the child’s development. It is imperative to remember that capacities differ from one child to another; your child’s capacity to love, to be creative, courageous, or compassionate may differ from that of other children.

My staff and I do a lot of psychological assessments for children, and during that testing, especially during social emotional psychological testing, we can observe the effects of different parenting techniques. There is clearly a very strong correlation between the parenting style you use and child’s emotional health. Positive parenting style focusing on child’s strengths rather than weaknesses is the best approach to raise confident, emotionally mature person.

Parents must always remember to reward their children with praise whenever appropriate. Positive reinforcement is essential for positive child development. Children can identify the desired behaviors that elicited the meaningful praise. It is vital to provide children with specific feedback, especially when they believe no one is watching them.  This will help developing a child’s inner strengths and virtues that will have a positive effect on their thoughts, emotions, and actions. Teamwork, an example of character strength, can be praised when siblings clean up their playroom together. Honesty, another example of character strength, can be complemented when your child admits that he got in trouble at school or tells you that returned a toy that he took without permission from his sibling. The praise should be honest, meaningful, and relevant. When such praise is given to a child, he develops healthy self-esteem, that is an essential component of emotional intelligence..

When employing positive psychology methods, it is beneficial for parents and children to have discussions about character strengths and weaknesses. These discussions should be context-relevant, for example after reading a book, watching a play, television series, or movie. If a child is watching a movie with a parent, the parent should ask questions, such as “Do you think the ______ did the right thing by doing ______?” or “If you were in the same situation, would you have ___________ or would you have _________?” This line of questioning will require the child to contemplate the character strengths or lack thereof in others. This will also allow children to reflect on their own character.

It is crucial for parents to model desired behavior to assist in the development of their child’s character. The well-known adage, “the leaf doesn’t fall far from the tree”, supports this statement. A child will emulate what he sees, hears and learns from his peers and his family. As a parent, you must model character strengths, including curiosity, compassion, honesty, teamwork, kindness, resilience, patience, etc.  If a parent is going through the closet to purge his clothing inventory, pose the question of what to do with the clothes to the child. If the child is having difficulty with the answer, lead the child with, “Should I donate these clothes to people who don’t have their own?”

In order to apply the ideologies of positive psychology to developing a child’s character, parents must try to always be optimistic. When a child grows up in a negative environment, it is extremely probable that he will develop a negative attitude, emotions and traits. For example, if a child grows up under constant criticism, that child may grow into an adult that constantly criticizes others. Negative emotions, attitudes and behaviors hinder an individual’s ability to achieve happiness and lead a fulfilling life. It’s critical for parents to display a positive attitude and communicate optimism, even during difficult times.

It is important to actively listen to your child. Encourage him to speak about his day as well as the thoughts and emotions that he felt throughout it. It is particularly important to truly listen to what the child is verbally and non-verbally communicating. Lending an attentive ear is all a child needs sometimes. Listening to a child will allow that child to explicitly work through and validate his experiences, thoughts and emotions, which will assist in character development. Sometimes, talking through an experience can allow a child to reflect and draw conclusions about past behavior or to decide on appropriate course of action in order to resolve the problem. In order to encourage discussions with a child, pose questions that will require deeper cognition, decision making and recognition of character strengths.

As parents aid their children in character development, it is wise to remind them that their character strengths may differ from those of their children. Celebrate the unique character strengths, traits and positive emotions of the child to maximize the potential of the child’s positive character development. The foundation of positive psychology is the belief that an individual’s purpose is to lead a happy, meaningful and fulfilled life, and this makes it an excellent tool for parents to help bring up their children.

Dr. Tali Shenfield, CPsych

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