Ryan M. Niemiec Psy.D.

What Matters Most?

Parenting

What is Mindful Strengths Parenting?

How to reframe common struggles in parenting using strengths.

Posted Mar 28, 2018

DepositPhotos/VIA Institute
Source: DepositPhotos/VIA Institute
  • Do you see your child's best qualities?
  • When you child does something bad, do you pause and take a breath before reacting?
  • Do you reframe parenting challenges using the lens of character strengths

If you say "yes" to these questions then you might be well on your way to becoming a Mindful Strengths Parent!

Consider this true story my co-worker shared about her friends. There is a young couple who are parents to a zest-filled and curious little boy. The parents worked hard to be attentive as much as possible to their son and learned from their mistakes. Their parenting struck a balance between offering guidance and allowing exploration. One day, when the parents had gone upstairs briefly to get something, their 2-year-old son discovered a set of permanent markers that had been left at the edge of the kitchen counter. With lightning quickness, the boy scurried over to a freshly painted wall and began to use the wall as his canvas. He scribbled and scribbled with purpose and intensity. When he was done he threw the markers down and walked away.

When the parents came upon the wall, they were stunned. Like statues, they stood there still, mouths gaping at what many parents would call destructive and upsetting. Then, the parents looked at each other for a moment. They knew just what to do. They went to the store and purchased a picture frame. They pounded the frame into the wall, several inches from the floor. They “framing in” the entire set of scribbles created by their son.

Instead of yelling at their son, they transformed it into a work of art. (This story first appeared in Mindfulness and Character Strengths, p. 191).

These parents decided not to take away what was already present but instead to work with it and use it for a positive end. This is at the heart of one of the central tools of Mindful Strengths Parenting. It's called positive reframing.

To reframe something is to offer a new perspective. To give yourself a different view of a situation.  When you are stressed in your parenting (which will happen a lot!), you can ask yourself: Is there another way I might look at this situation? How might I look at it through the lens of strengths? Sometimes reframing involves replacing only one word in your thought process. Consider these examples:

  • Your “stubborn child” becomes your “perseverant child.”
  • Your “distracted son” becomes your “highly curious son.”
  • Your “wild and hyperactive daughter” becomes your “zestful daughter.”
  • Your “clingy, dependent son” becomes “your warm and loving son.”
  • Your “slowly progressing daughter” becomes “your prudent and cautious daughter.”

Get the idea? Note that I’m not offering a replacement for a diagnosis here, nor am I suggesting that you never use the negative-oriented words. Instead I’m encouraging a more balanced approach to our parenting – one that does not fall into a deficit-only, problem-focused approach.

Reframing can move beyond your mental approach and into something that you share with others. When reframing is offered as verbal feedback to someone, this gives the person an empowering insight into themselves, and encouragement they can take to handle their issue.

This can be a powerful alternative to the “culture of no” operating in the majority of families today. If you were to get a transcript of your parenting lingo throughout a given week, you might be surprised to learn that your language is filled with multiple versions of “no.” For example, you’ll hear yourself say: “Don’t do that!” “No, you can’t,” “That’s not a good idea,” and “You shouldn’t be over there.”

What would it be like to add more “yes” responses in your parenting? Don’t condone inappropriate or dangerous behavior. Instead, observe yourself and see if you sometimes go a bit overboard with your “no” responses.

Another important element of Mindful Strengths Parenting is for you, the parent, to use your signature strengths to help you parent well. Why not use your internal tools? Why not boost your own energy (which signature strengths are known to do) while you parent? Why not manage your stressors with your strengths?

In sum, here are a few takeaway tips:

  • When you get upset with your child for their behavior. Pause and consider a positive reframe. What character strengths might they be using?
  • Be mindful of whether or not you are perpetrating a “culture of no” in your family.
  • Meet stress with strength. Deploy your signature strengths to boost your energy, confidence, and skill in parenting.

Resources

Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.

Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field-guide for practitioners. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.