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Character Strengths in Children

April 6, 2016

Character Strengths

What makes children happy throughout their lives? Is it indulging them with material things and giving in to all demands or is it helping them recognize character strengths within themselves? Knowing and cultivating character strengths allows individuals to shine.

Character strengths are defined as positive qualities that are mirrored in beliefs, feelings and behavior. It’s important that adults help children focus on, identify and practice these positive qualities, which can lead to increased happiness and self-esteem. By better understanding character strengths, adults can help children identify what their future contributions to the world might be.

According to a 2006 study conducted by Park and Peterson, certain character strengths develop according to cognitive maturation. For example, young children cultivate the fundamental character strengths of love, zest and hope and begin linking those strengths with being happy. At age 7, children begin forming connections to the character strengths of gratitude and happiness.

But before you can identify and build character strengths in your children, it is helpful to know and understand your own strengths. This online survey at VIA Institute of on Character Survey can help.

Once you understand your own strengths, you can begin to identify and nurture your child’s by watching them play and observing their interactions with others. Listen and notice. Do you see your child being kind, curious or creative? If your child shows a quality from the Character Survey, praise them. For example, you can say, “I admire your kindness when you gave your truck to a friend,” or “I appreciate your curiosity when you ask about dinosaurs.”

Character strength building helps create positive emotional and mental well-being. When you recognize your child’s assets, you are reinforcing the child’s value and gifts. Children learn to internalize and own skills that make them special and unique, which results in them excelling at what they are good at and finding their place in the world.

By encouraging children to identify, embrace and exercise character strengths, you can help them create lives filled with happiness and fulfillment. Isn’t this the best gift a parent can give a child?

Parents can encourage character strength building in children in a number of ways.

Below are activities to use with your child:

  • Read books together that highlight strengths. Point out specific strengths of the characters and engage your child in conversation by asking questions like, “What strengths did the character show and what characters are most like you?” This will reinforce the child’s concept of attributes.
  • At dinner, have each family member share how they shined during the day and identify the strengths used.
  • Create an “I am...” keepsake. Have children wrap a shoebox with a brown paper bag and decorate it with paint, crayons, stickers, etc. Inspire them to collect items to keep in the box that reminds them of their best selves.
  • Have children draw or write on poster board about each family member’s strengths. Display it where it will be seen daily.

These activities will inspire children to recognize and appreciate their positive qualities as well as the positive qualities of others.

This article was written for the April 2016 edition of Parent Source.