This is the third in a series of posts exploring the strengths that make kids intelligent, courageous, good with other people, involved in their communities and connected with something larger than themselves. The purpose of the series is to give you new ideas for encouraging an insecure child.
Good relationships are key to a good life. So shows the research from the longest-running study on human development in history, conducted by Harvard University. Some of the findings, published in the 2012 book Triumphs of Experience, demonstrate how crucial it is for our kids to be able to form strong bonds with others: People who are more socially connected to family, friends or community are happier, physically healthier and live longer than people who are less well connected.
Here are three distinct interpersonal strengths and how you can nurture them in your child or teenager. Each can help them understand and connect with other people throughout their lives.
Kindness. Kindness is doing favors and good deeds for others, caring, giving and being nice. It’s one of the top five most prevalent strengths in the world, even in young children. Being kind to others feels good and it even helps buffer the negative effects of stress and trauma — something that might be particularly helpful for teenagers. Ideas for helping your child build their strength of Kindness: Affirm them when you see them doing something kind. Bring them along when you do kind things for others. As a family, choose outgrown clothes, toys and other items and donate it to charity. Do some random acts of kindness to show that the joy of giving is that warm feeling inside you, rather than on the praise or attention you get for doing it. Encourage your child to be kind and welcoming to a new student or someone he can see is feeling left out.
Love. Love is valuing close relationships with others, in particular those where two people share and care for each other. Kids with love as a strength will enjoy being close to others and will be able to allow others to get close to them. Love is one of the most common strengths in very young children; we’re wired from birth to connect this way. It’s also one of the top five strengths associated with life overall, echoing the research from Harvard mentioned above. Ideas for helping your child build their strength of Love: Loving your child and letting him or her love you back is the best place to start. Home is where children first learn to trust and rely on other people and learn that their own love is valuable to others. Build and keep the love by being reliable, keeping your word, being honest, listening when they talk, helping them navigate their challenges with kindness, being fair, and showing that you respect them for who they are on the inside. You will be teaching them the skills they will need to love and be loved by friends and partners one day, too.
Social Intelligence. The child with social intelligence as a strength will be aware of other people’s feelings and what motivates them; what makes them “tick.” She will understand herself this way as well. Her social intuition will help her know how to fit into different social situations. Ideas for helping your child build their strength of Social Intelligence: Being able to understand what drives other people can be incredibly helpful as children navigate school and friendships. You can help your child navigate it more easily and build their social intelligence by talking about why people do certain things. It might help them to know, for instance, that most teens feel insecure about themselves in one or more ways, and that their behavior may reflect their unhappiness, loneliness and their desire to feel better about themselves — even if they get it by putting someone else down. Encourage your child to have compassion for others and to see them as positively as possible; looking for their character strengths is a great way to do this and you can teach that with the help of this blog series and the 24 Ways to See the Best in Every Child booklet available to newsletter subscribers. I’ve taught those strengths to teenagers in several settings and it’s remarkable the way they begin to see themselves and each other in a new, positive way.
Tell me what you think! And if you try using any of this information to encourage your child, how did it go? What can we learn from you?