What are the qualities you like best about yourself?
If you’re like me, I’ll bet you haven’t thought about that question much. You may tend to focus more on the things you don’t like about yourself or the qualities you see in other people that you wish you had.
One of my favorite quotes is “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Isn’t that so true? When we spend our time wishing we were more like someone else, we’re definitely not creating good, joyful feelings in ourselves. And our kids are not learning how to appreciate their own good qualities.
As parents, camp counselors, teachers, or anyone else who works with kids and young adults, we can positively impact young people by learning to talk about ourselves and our kids using the language of strengths.
Why is it important to know our strengths? For us to be as fulfilled and happy as possible, it’s important that we know and use the qualities that come most naturally to us. In fact, when we use our “signature” strengths, whether in a hobby or our work, we get in the state of flow and ease that makes us feel great. When we use our strengths, we are able to be our best and truest self.
Alternatively, if we consistently talk about things we don’t like about ourselves and don’t tap into and use the strengths we possess, we don’t give our kids a good example, and we risk raising kids who learn not to like themselves. And that does not promote happiness.
I’m not advocating constantly talking about how great we are. Instead, I propose we model self-awareness and self-acceptance by showing kids how to celebrate strengths while also acknowledging weaknesses. From us, our kids can learn to see themselves in a more positive way and not condemn themselves for qualities they lack.
I’ve used the VIA character strengths survey for our leadership staff and junior counselors at camp, as well as my own family, for the past two years. It has been remarkable to witness what happens when people have that “aha” moment of seeing a list of their strengths, finding out more about them, and learning how to use their strengths in different settings. When given a name to a part of themselves they recognize and intuitively know, kids gain a vocabulary to talk about themselves more positively.
VIA lists the following character strengths and definitions:
1. Wisdom and Knowledge – Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
- Creativity [originality, ingenuity]: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it
- Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering
- Judgment [critical thinking]: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly
- Love of Learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally; obviously related to the strength of curiosity but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows
- Perspective [wisdom]: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people
2. Courage – Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
- Bravery [valor]: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it
- Perseverance [persistence, industriousness]: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; “getting it out the door”; taking pleasure in completing tasks
- Honesty [authenticity, integrity]: Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions
- Zest [vitality, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated
3. Humanity – Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
- Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people
- Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, “niceness”]: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them
- Social Intelligence [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick
4. Justice – Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
- Teamwork [citizenship, social responsibility, loyalty]: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group; doing one’s share
- Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.
- Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done, and at the same time maintaining good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen.
5. Temperance- Strengths that protect against excess
- Forgiveness: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful
- Humility: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves; not regarding oneself as more special than one is
- Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted
- Self-Regulation [self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one’s appetites and emotions
6. Transcendence – Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
- Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence [awe,wonder, elevation]: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience
- Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks
- Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about
- Humor [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes
- Spirituality [faith, purpose]: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe; knowing where one fits within the larger scheme; having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort
When you read through the list, which qualities stand out as strengths that you possess?
What about your kids? Which character traits do you see in them?
You don’t need to take the VIA Survey to figure out your or your kids’ strengths. It’s as easy as asking, like our camp counselors do around the campfire, “What do you like about yourself?”
This summer, I’m challenging myself to focus on my own strengths, the strengths of the staff and campers with whom I work, and the strengths of my own kids.
I hope you’ll join me in celebrating strengths!
There are about a billion different ways you could have spent the last five minutes, and you spent them reading my post. Thank you! If you like Sunshine Parenting, please subscribe to get an email update each time I post (use box in right column of my blog). Follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter for links to articles and ideas about camp and parenting. Have a happy day!
Focusing on our Kids’ Strengths