Strengths-Based Parenting. How to build on the positive.

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Parenting is hard. You’d think that 10 years and two kids into it, we’d be getting into a groove. But in reality, each year brings new challenges. The challenges are certainly different than in years past – we’re no longer focused on the basics like teaching them to feed and dress themselves – they figured those things out a while back.

These days we spend a lot of time trying to figure out homework routines and coaching the boys through their first crushes. We’re working on emotional self-regulation, personal advocacy and self-management related to homework.

It seems like the stakes get higher each year and the emotional stuff becomes increasingly complex. I imagine that you, like me, are intensely motivated to raise happy, healthy children – children who will become happy, self-sufficient adults.

Strengths Based Parenting

At our house, we focus on a Strengths-Based Parenting approach. It’s not a fluffy, no-consequences kind of approach. Rather it requires that Rob and I focus on the good in our kids, that our first goal is to build on their strengths. We don’t always get there.

The last few weeks have been a struggle. There have been days that I thought the plague had descended on us – a kidney infection, migraines, a concussion, new ADHD medications, a stomach bug. Drop into the mix a new job for my husband and we’ve all been a little frazzled.

I’ve been short-tempered and grumpy. The boys have been hassling each other. Nothing is catastrophic; rather, I’ve just been off my game.

Last week I decided that I needed to course correct. Our family works much better when Rob and I focus on our kids’ strengths and stop trying to correct small annoying behaviors.

This isn’t as flighty as it sounds. These are the practical ways we use a strengths-based parenting approach:

Know your kids.

Don’t just know what they like, know what makes them tick. Know what they look forward to every day and how they express and receive love. Know their strengths. We have used Gallup’s work on Strengths Finders to find common language for our family’s strengths.

Help your kids know their strengths.

We keep our strengths displayed on our fridge. It’s a quick reminder that each of us has unique gifts; that each of us brings value to the family and to every situation we encounter. We talk about how these strengths benefit them and those around them. We work to instill pride.

Strength Finders

Promote a positive self-dialogue.

If I want my kids to think positively about themselves and believe in their strengths and innate goodness, then I have to teach them. I have to teach them how to use positive language when thinking about themselves. If this doesn’t come naturally to my kids, then I have to show them consistently how do to this. My words matter. The especially matter when teaching tools to combat the self-doubt that destroys self-esteem.

Set them up for success.

Davis is a relator. He builds long-lasting, deep friendships. He also likes to explore new things. Sometimes these strengths clash. Our job is to help him navigate and balance the old and the new.

Catch them doing a good job.

Do you know about the Magic Ratio of Praise to Criticism? It says that you should provide praise 5 times more frequently than you criticize. 5 TIMES! Honestly, we should probably be closer to a 10:1 with Davis because of his anxiety disorder. (If you need a place to start, check out the Rubber Band Method of Discipline and build from there.) When we provide positive feedback, it gives him confidence that we know him inside and out. It lets him focus on the good and build on a firm foundation.

Develop a sense of family pride.

We work hard to develop a sense of family pride. It’s something I’m hyper focused on now, during their pre-teen years. I want my boys entering their teen years with a healthy sense of self and a firm foundation of our family values before they have to experiment in creating their own world order!

It seems that the language we have about our strengths, along with our Family Code of Living, helps build a sense of belonging. (I’ll write about our Code of Living soon.)

It doesn’t hurt that all four of us are “Relators,” meaning we like to build deep, lasting friendships.

Focus on their innate goodness.

Kids make mistakes. I try to operate on the assumption that my kids (all kids, all people) are well intentioned. It helps me to see their mistakes as growth opportunities and a normal part of growing up. The malicious attempt to deceive or disobey is rare. My focus must stay on guiding them past a mistake and learning a new way of handling the problem they face.

Give them a chance to shine.

Patrick likes to be the center of attention. Most of the time, it is his “Presence” strength shining through. Davis’ sense of “Confidence” has been known to end in boasting or taunting during a pick-up basketball game. When these get out of hand, it is normally because they don’t have a pro-social way to display these strengths. It’s good reminder for me to channel their strengths into activities that let them shine – like public speaking and drama for Patrick and social justice opportunities for Davis.


This parenting thing is hard. We all want the best for our kids and none of us want our decisions as parents to limit our kids in their adulthood. The stakes are high and we are hard on ourselves. (Check out these 10 Tips for Guilt Free Parenting!)

Take a few minutes to think about your kid’s strengths – think about their personalities, not their accomplishments. Find a ways to help them understand what makes them unique and how they shine. Be gracious when they mess up, so they know that their mistakes and missteps don’t define them – their strengths do!


How Full Is Your Bucket Gallup Strength’s Finders for kids ages 4 – 9

Strengths Explorers Gallup Strength’s Finders for kids ages 10 – 14

Strengths Finders Gallup Strengths Finders for adults

The Magic Ratio

Praise’s Magic Reinforcement Ratio

The Ideal Praise to Criticism Ratio – Harvard Business Review

The Rubber Band Method of Discipline

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  1. Jane says:

    So great to read, especially since your ahead of me (older kids) in the parenting game. We are also trying to build on our kids’ strengths, so those are some great strategies!

  2. I love this! Right now I am in the middle of taking a 13 week (1 hour a week) course. It is called , “Raising Highly Capable Kids.” It is a course to help parents who didn’t have the best parenting roll models (me!) become the kind of parent that can naturally start doing things the way you describe in your blog.

    When you don’t have a great parenting role model; you may know intuitively that you want to do things better or from a positive standpoint, but knowing you want to and knowing how to achieve that are two different things. Your information and links will help me be successful. My 9 1/2 year-old girl is also beginning her journey into puberty and all I can say is, “Wow!” If this is a hint as to what is coming… I am going to be one busy mama!!

    • Maggie says:

      Joyi – You should totally check out the Strengths Explorers stuff. There are workbooks for both the kids and parents and it does a great job helping you learn how to really play to your kids strengths. It might be a good addition once you are done with the Raising Highly Capable Kids program.

    • Maggie says:

      Yes! And it is so important to help them know themselves. I know we are working on accurate self appraisal right now with our two 10 year olds.

  3. LOVE this! Marli is only 2, but I could definitely use these tips for her NOW. I also read that by determining what temperament your child has can also help you hone in on how to communicate with them better as well as finding ways to keep them busy/entertained/engaged in activities. :) Great read!

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