Magazine article Success

Power Parenting

Magazine article Success

Power Parenting

Article excerpt


Like many parents, financial adviser Dennis Ryan has two daughters with starkly different personalities. Emma, 18, is introverted and intellectual, and she hated competitive sports as a young child. "She was the kid in left field with the glove on her head picking dandelions," he says. Annie, 15, is the polar opposite: She's incredibly social, a leader among her friends and always glued to her cellphone. "She never wants to miss a single text or Instagram post," Ryan says.

He has paid close attention to his daughters' contrasting personalities as they've grown older. He inspired Emma to participate in the Latin club and charity work, while he encouraged Annie to take advantage of what he calls her "gift of gab" by using her popularity to be a positive leader among her friends.

Ryan's parenting style is a prime example of what Lea Waters, Ph.D., head of the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Melbourne, calls strength-based parenting: an approach to parenting in which "parents place more of their focus and energy on the strengths, talents and positive qualities of their children, as compared to focusing their time and energy on fixing the faults, flaws and weaknesses in their kids."

Strength-based parenting--which is fueled by the concepts of positive psychology--is still in the nascent stages of research, but many parents already do it subconsciously. Waters says the handful of scientific studies on the topic have shown it can help children become more successful as adults. Other valuable parenting techniques for raising well-rounded children include stressing the importance of soft skills, teaching children that failure is acceptable and inevitable, defining more broadly what it means to be smart and using the concepts of positive psychology to help children be happier.

Waters says most people were raised to believe the best way to improve a child is to fix what is wrong with him or her, when instead we should focus on nurturing his or her inherent strengths. Johnny isn't good at math? Don't drill it into him 24/7. Instead build on his natural talent for language by encouraging him to write short stories.

In attempting to fix our children's' flaws, Waters says, we think we're doing the right thing, when instead "whether you mean it or not, you're consistently and constantly telling your child, You're not good enough. You are impatient. You don't have good social skills. You're uncoordinated." Instead of fixing the negative qualities, improve upon your child's naturally strong character strengths, such as kindness, grit, creativity and leadership.


Although strength-based parenting is imperative for raising conscientious, well-adjusted children, most parents also want their children to be considered smart. They want their children to flourish and fare better than they did--to score better on the SATs, to land a better job than they did. to go on to make more money than they do. Although raising children to be intelligent is crucial, it's not enough. In today's world, with so much competition for quality jobs and other jobs giving way to technology, prospective employers want candidates who are creative, deep thinkers, too. Happiness, grit, creativity, communication, courage and critical thinking are arguably more important for developing your child's intelligence than being able to name the capitals of every state.

"It can't be that everything can be reduced to your score on a narrowly construed bubble test," says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, co-author of Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children. "It has to be that success means more than just preparing our children in reading, writing and math."

We need to redefine the word smart, says Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, co-author of Becoming Brilliant. …

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