Lea Waters, Ph.D., the Gerry Higgins Chair in Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and the president of the International Positive Psychology Association, has witnessed the powerful effects of strengths on students through her award-winning work with schools over the past decade. Lea knew that using strengths at home could be even more powerful and began applying them with her kids to help foster optimism and resilience. Her book is The Strength Switch: How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish
LIVE HAPPY: What is strength-based parenting?
LEA WATERS: Strength-based parenting (SBP) is an approach that focuses first on your child’s strengths—their talents, positive qualities, what your child does well—before attending to their faults and shortcomings.
Rather than putting your attention on fixing what’s wrong with your kids, it’s about switching your focus to amplify what’s right.
LH: How did you come up with the strength switch and how does it work?
LW: Once I trained myself what to look for, I could see strengths easily and everywhere. This was when life was calm and happy and my brain could focus. However, when I was stressed and tired or when my kids were acting out, I found it hard to see their strengths. I needed a real-time mental tool to short-circuit the negativity. I came up with the strength switch.
I literally picture a switch and watch it flick inside my head to turn the spotlight off the negative and on the positive. It reminds me that to be a successful strength-based parent, I need to look at what my kids have done right before I look at what they’ve done wrong.
LH:What results have you found?
LW: My parenting is more intentional, coherent and consistent. My children understand they have strengths that can be used to help them navigate tough times and make the most of the good times. They can also see the strengths in others, enabling them to form strong relationships and help others shine.
My research shows that when teenagers have strength-focused parents, they report better psychological outcomes, including greater life satisfaction, increased positive emotions such as joy and hope, enhanced understanding of their own strengths and decreased stress. Strengths help teens meet homework deadlines, deal with friendship issues and cope better with stress.
Listen to our podcast with Lea Waters:
Suzann Pileggi Pawelsi holds a master's in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and is a contributing editor to Live Happy. Her first book, Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts, written with her husband, James Pawelski, Ph.D., comes out in January 2018.