Strengths-Based Parenting: How to Understand the Needs of Your Children
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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.
This is the essence of strengths-based parenting, and if more of us practiced it every day, our world would be a much more positive place to raise kids.
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.
Disclaimer: Though the views expressed are of the author’s own, this article has been checked for its authenticity of information and resource links provided for a better and deeper understanding of the subject matter. However, you're suggested to make your diligent research and consult subject experts to decide what is best for you. If you spot any factual errors, spelling, or grammatical mistakes in the article, please report at [email protected]. Thanks.
I really like how you simplified and integrated a few of the self-awareness tools for revealing and realizing your strengths.
I also like Martin Seligman’s Character Strengths, as well as the strengths work by Donald Clifton and Marcus Buckingham. I think Buckingham added huge value when he showed people how to dive deep with their strengths in Go Put Your Strengths to Work.
I also like the Hidden Strengths work, by Thuy Sindell and Milo Sindell, as an active approach for developing your strengths, beyond your natural talents, and applying a Growth Mindset to realize your potential.
Hello J D Meier:
Your comments on my blog are much appreciated, and you certainly seem to have some knowledge of the topic as well. I appreciate the work of Martin Seligman and have had the opportunity to hear him speak at a Positive Psychology conference a few years ago. Have a great day.
Great post. What an excellent method for self-development and communication with everyone in the house hold. Understanding temperaments is a wonderful way of doing things.
I was reading down the post and thinking about Charlene. I would be following my kid out with hot chocolate and snacks for all her friends because I would not have been able to say, ‘No’. Hence I don’t have kids. I don’t have the strength in exercising what is good for a child or tough love. I know this to be true as I am a push over with everyone else’s kids. They say it is different with your own kids but a pleading looking in a childs eyes has me softening. So hats off to parents.
Strenghts based parenting is certainly a great way to understand and communicate. However I think it is asking too much of a child to think about the routine they have with mum. That does not change the fact that parents have the final say.
I find children ego centric not because they are selfish, but they get caught up in the moment and get excited and forget everything else they have responsibility for. As you explained Samantha gave her mum a quick kiss (acknowledging her mum) and then went up to do a quick change (caught up in the moment). I agree we have to teach kids they have responsibilities and commitments and they can’t always be amended because a child wills it. But that is a slow learning process.
I find this approach a super way of communicating and it just may make life just a little easier when it comes negotiating with a child.
I appreciate your well thought-out comments. I am guessing that you are the Blue/Dolphin/Idealist type when you mention that you soften with kids. That is wonderful, and you can do so much with that inner core need for peace and harmony and wonderful relationships.
Having said that, don’t sell children short. They have the ability to understand others’ feelings and empathize (after about age 4/5), so can have an understanding (albeit at a different level) of what mom would like to happen in the household.
That said, I would re-affirm that the critical piece is looking at the core strengths of the other person and building upon those innate understandings, talents and abilities.
Thanks for this important post on parenting. Being aware of the different personalities of our kids is absolutely crucial. When my kids were babies they already showed their different personalities. One woke up shouting like crazy; one woke up giggling and playing in the crib. They are both fantastic; but with different personalities.
As much as we want to be absolutely fair as parents; we have to consider that one kid needs more encouragement, one needs to be helped to focus and one needs own ways to be creative. Being close to our kids helps to know what they need; even that gets harder with teens 😉
I loved when you said that we have to put our ego away and focus on the child.
All the best, Ilka
Great to see that you are enjoying the parenting journey. All the best as the kids develop and show their unique personalities in different settings.
I am glad to meet you here and read your invaluable perspective on parenting.
Strengths-based parenting is a very interesting advice and I hope it reaches a wider spectrum because young parents hardly know their own temperament. Often they have difference of opinion on how to raise a child over trivial issues and ego always steers their judgment. What if one parent is Blue/Dolphin/Idealist type and the other Aggressive/Introvert/Dominating?
Nobody anticipates how challenging parenting can be! Nobody likes to take any lessons in parenting and often embark on the journey with rosy dreams of holding a bundle of joy in their hands. When it is ‘time for action’ they fail to focus on the strengths and weaknesses. I wish there were more Wayne Jones around to guide. I have raised two children with entirely different temperaments and was always changing my strategies to become a better mother but there were always those moments of agitation on both sides.
I would like to share this informative piece with my young friends. Thanks. Have a blessed week.
Thanks for the kind, positive comments. Yes, parenting is a huge challenge and it is a job (or a calling, I guess) that never ends. Many parents today are finding their older children returning to the “nest” due to lack of finances, divorce etc. And this is unfortunate, but a golden opportunity for the parent to once again show unconditional love and support.
You do raise an interesting point about a blue, idealist parent married to a more domineering, aggressive partner. This does happen a lot – you know what they say: “opposites attract”. So, the key here, I believe, is again doing what works best with kids – “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.” But the critical piece here is that both parents (partners) need to do this. If the blue idealist is the only one willing to take this step, the problem will only get worse. If the aggressive one is the only one to take action on this, it might seem that the situation will improve (and it probably will in the short term), but then the partner relationship is not being built on authenticity and trust. Both parents need to be a team and work together, keeping in mind some common goals.
Hi Wayne, Welcome to Harleena’s place. How cool you were a middle school principal. I bet you saw a lot during your time.
What a fascinating way of looking at personalities! You’re right, I have three daughters how have two of these temperaments. . Two of them are Blue/Dolphin/Idealist types (like me) and the other is a Gold/Beaver/Guardian type. Growing up, my brother was a Green/Owl/Rationalist type, always questioning “Why?”
I think the types can compliment each other well, if they do as you and Stephen Covey recommend, understand. Celebrate the differences and see weaknesses as positives. That’s really how we should interact with everyone in our lives!
Thanks so much for this insightful article, Wayne. I feel as if I could read an entire book on this topic! Really interesting and thought-provoking information here.
Since my introduction to the field of type and temperament, I have been fascinated to see and learn how people interact and what makes each individual “tick”. We are all unique, and should be proud of our individual differences. As you well know, we must also support the differences we see in each other, so that we bring out each others’ best qualities.
This is an amazing and informative post by Wayne Jones. 🙂
Thanks for sharing such an educational piece for the benefit of parents.
It will surely be a good guide to all who are just entering that arena!
No doubt the yet to be parents too can preserve it for their future use! 🙂
Waye, i appreciate you for the well researched post.
The connected links within and outside is really worth reading.
I visited all of them and just had a quick reading.
I am going to share this to some of my friends who are in that category and will be a sure fire this one!! 🙂
Thanks Wayne for this informative piece at AhaNOW
Thanks Harleena and Vinay for bringing Wayne to the Ahaians! 🙂
May you all have a great week and a healthy parenting
Your positive comments are much appreciated! Educating kids and parents has been my lifelong quest – it is so rewarding. The critical piece for parents is their ability to parent to the personality of their child. If even one parent picks up on this and starts making positive changes in their parenting, I will have accomplished my goal in this blog. Have a great day.
Thank you so much for the quick response to my feedback. Good to know a bit more about you and your quest.
Keep it up!
All Good Wishes
Yes, wonderful post indeed, and so glad you liked it 🙂
I am sure Wayne’s post is going to help a lot of parents to understand the need of their children and strengthen the bonds. I agree about the informative links, as they always are an icing on the cake.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing the post, we appreciate it. 🙂
Hello Wayne and Harleena,
This is a wonderful post. I love the golden rule you shared about parenting, that’s exactly what I go by. My parents were awesome but they were old fashioned Hispanics…so talking about things like sex were a no-no.
As uncomfortable as it was, I encouraged my kids (especially as teens) to ask questions about anything. I would rather they get any information from me than from the streets.
Now that my daughter is grown up and has kids of her own, I tell her to look at my parenting and see what she would do differently with her boys.
It was a long time ago so I can’t remember seeing changes in their temperament when they started school. 🙂
I think my kids would say they admire my loyalty and willingness to serve others…I want to set the example so they can do they same.
Thank you for such an informative post.
I hope you both have a great week!
Thanks for sharing. Parenting certainly can have its share of “sticky moments” when you need to deal with difficult topics. I advocate open communication, as along as it is age appropriate. As for temperament changes when going to school, sometimes kids will act as they think they should and tend to submerge their true natures a bit. Have a positive day!
So glad you liked Wayne’s post 🙂
Yes, our parents were old fashioned and there was only a certain boundary or limit that we could cross with them, unlike our kids who are free to share what they like with us. I think that makes bonding better as you are more of friend’s with them, isn’t it?
Parenting never really ends, does it? Even with your daughter, who has kids of her own, we still have to guide them. You sure are a mom your kids are proud of as you manage them all so well.
Thanks for stopping by, we appreciate it. Have a wonderful week as well 🙂
I am looking forward to receiving your comments and questions about strengths-based parenting. Have a positive day!
Welcome to the blog as our guest this time Wayne 🙂
Thanks for your guest post which is really helpful and informational.
Hope you have a great time interacting with the blog audience, while I’d hop in to welcome the newbies and comments addressed to me 🙂
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