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All parents want to do the best job possible in raising their kids – that’s a given.
But when I look around, I often see parents saying and doing things that I just shake my head at and think “what are you thinking – what are you doing?”
Too often, parents just don’t seem to get it right. Maybe they are overwhelmed, totally stressed out, or too tired to come up with a better plan. I get that. I’ve been there, done that.
I was a middle school principal with two girls, and they were good kids. Thankfully, far more often than not, they did the “right” thing and were successful.
However, as a middle school educational leader, I was often asked tough parenting questions as students struggled to make good choices as they passed through the awkward developmental/social stage of adolescence.
The key, for me, was promoting a strengths-based approach to learning and parenting.
So, what do I mean by this terminology?
Well, bottom line – parent to the strengths of your child by first understanding his/her core needs – and then begin the journey of meeting those needs as best you can.
Who Am I
We all have unique personalities. That said, there are four basic ones (called temperaments).
Various scholars use different analogies: colours (Blue, Green, Gold, Orange), animals from folklore (Dolphin, Owl, Beaver, Fox), or titles (Idealist, Rationalist, Guardian, Artisan).
In order to begin your strengths-based parenting journey, you must first figure out your own temperament.
There are many temperament assessments or sorters on the market, some free, some with a small cost attached.
Complete a reliable research-based one that will give you results that make sense to you. It should include a description of your personality’s core needs and values.
With any good assessment, you will discover that you were born to behave in a certain way, including how you communicate, how you learn best, how and why you get stressed and how you perceive the world around you.
Knowing yourself is a big and very important first step!
Then, repeat the process for your child. Figure out their temperament strengths and challenges. I suggest writing these on a chart: strengths on the left, challenges on the right.
So let’s explore these four temperaments so you can get a broad overview of what you might be dealing with, in this very rewarding parenting process.
Your Core Being
As I mentioned earlier, we all have core needs and values – an innate personality that we were born with. We are hard-wired with these.
As we live our lives, various filters come into play that shape how we view ourselves and the world around us. These include such things as the environment (nature versus nature), culture, work and family interactions.
One temperament is the Gold/Beaver/Guardian type.
Their core needs are belonging, duty and responsibility. These folks live by the motto “Be Prepared”.
They are industrious, organized and logical in their approach to issues. They value stability and security and resist change for change’s sake.
Home life and family values are very important to the Gold/Beaver/Guardian.
Another temperament is the Green/Owl/Rationalist type.
Their core needs are knowledge and competence. These folks seem always to be asking “Why?”
They are visionaries who value expertise, logic, and analysis. Autonomy and progress are important to them, and relationship building may be challenging.
You often find the Green/Owl/Rationalist deep in research.
A third temperament to discover is the Blue/Dolphin/Idealist type.
Their core needs are relationships, meaning, and significance. These folks live by the axiom “Be Yourself”.
They are usually very social and communicative as they value connecting with others and building relationships.
They desire harmony and want to see everyone cooperating with each other as much as possible.
The Blue/Dolphin/Idealist is an empathetic individual.
Finally, let’s discover the Orange/Fox/Artisan type.
Their core need, in a word, is freedom! (yes, freedom with an exclamation mark!). These folks love lots of action and variety.
They communicate in short phrases and use current jargon frequently. They act at the moment and appreciate being noticed when they do so.
The Orange/Fox Artisan is often a great negotiator.
Time For Action : Strengths-based Parenting
Now the fun begins! In order to enjoy your strengths-based parenting journey, put your ego aside and focus on your child.
Take one of their strengths and figure out how you can celebrate that with them. It may be as simple as giving them a genuine compliment.
Try doing this for a few other strengths. It gets easier and more automatic over time.
Once in a while, check the challenge side of the equation. Think about how you can create conditions that will minimize the challenge and try doing that.
Sure, there will be some hiccups along the way, but the effort will pay big rewards.
So, how about a practical example of this strengths-based parenting. What does it look like and feel like? Read on, my friends!
Our little foxy orange artisan, Samantha, has just come home from school, excited by the stimulation of finishing her day with her two favourite subjects – music and physical education.
She loves these subjects because the teachers build in lots of activities that focus on “learning by doing” rather than rote memorization of facts and figures.
In addition, the activities in these classes are usually concise and sprinkled with humour.
Samantha loves the freedom she has to improvise in music and interact with team members in the physical education games. She is a leader due to her physical capabilities and effervescent spirit.
Samantha’s mom, Charlene, is the gold guardian type, which you might think is good for the parenting role.
Charlene loves her checklists and keeps her home neat and orderly with many mementos of her New England heritage.
She believes in conservative family values and traditions, and having a family dinner every evening is important to her.
Today, she is ready to welcome Samantha home with a big hug, and chat about how school went, over a steaming mug of hot chocolate and some home-baked cookies.
Then they would start homework together so that it could be finished before dinner.
Today, however, Samantha ran in, ready to change into her soccer outfit to play in the park (across the street) with her friends.
She raced by her mom, giving her a quick peck on the cheek and bounded up to her room to change. In two minutes, she was ready to fly out the front door.
Charlene stopped her abruptly and gave her a rather stern look, “you know we always review the day over a nutritious snack, and then we get our homework done. Those are the house rules.”
So here is a recipe for potential disaster.
How can strengths-based parenting help? Well, to begin with, let’s look at the roles in the scenario.
Who is the parent, and how can they help, or at least diffuse the situation?
Clearly, Charlene is the adult and has the advantage of maturity and wisdom to help guide decisions and actions.
It is Charlene that must take much of the responsibility in creating a win-win outcome. How?
As a gold guardian type, she needs to understand that she is hard-wired with a core need for order, structure, and rules. But she must consciously temper this with an understanding of exactly what kind of child she has.
Since Charlene is the more mature individual, she can more readily initiate changes.
Instead of sticking so tightly to her plan, she needs to allow her child some time to unwind – give Samantha a bit of space to show her individuality.
Maybe let her change into her soccer outfit and then compliment her on how wonderful she looks in it. Give her a verbal “high five”.
Then Charlene could suggest that a quick snack will provide some extra energy Samantha will need to play her best.
Charlene could tell Samantha that since the weather is nice, on this special occasion, mom is letting her play before doing homework, but that this is usually not the way we operate. I think you get the picture.
Samantha, too, needs to bear some responsibility in this scenario. Recognizing that she is the child, the expectations would be different.
First and foremost, Samantha needs to respect and follow the directions of her mother.
She needs to take some time to slow down and allow her mind and body to change gears. The desire for freedom can be played out in different ways.
Samantha needs to show that she is grateful for the ways in which her mom is assisting her to be a unique individual.
That can be as simple as a genuine “thanks, mom!” to an apology for ignoring what is clearly the household expectation.
Strengths-based parenting is all about understanding and supporting the needs of your children without completely ignoring your own.
It is a fine line, a balancing act.
The deeper your knowledge of temperament and personality, the more effective your actions in life can be.
I think Stephen Covey said it best in his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”; Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.
Over To You –
What do you do to relate most effectively to your kids? If you asked your child(ren) what qualities they most admired in you, what would they say? Are you able to discern your own temperament and that of your child(ren)?
Were there changes in your child’s temperament once they started attending school? Please share your experiences in the comments below.