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PARENTING: October 2020 - Volume 1, Issue 5

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

A quick read for practitioners, researchers, and educators to stay informed on the science & practice of character strengths.

In this issue, I focus on the timely issue of strengths-based parenting (and grandparenting and family-ing). As family members attempt to navigate “the new normal” around schooling and home-life, they can look at character strengths for grounding to provide a dose of certainty, comfort, and normalcy. Let’s turn to some research to further these points and guide us toward positive action.


It would be trite, if not ludicrous, to focus on one single way to be a strengths-based parent. But, a good case can be made for role modeling. If you closely examine the classic Peterson/Seligman (2004) book, Character Strengths and Virtues, you’ll see sections on each strength called “enablers” and “inhibitors.” These are among the least discussed areas of this 800+ page text. Yet, they offer insightful scientific findings around the individual and system factors that foster or block the expression of character strengths. If we look closely, we see an important theme emerge on “how to enable a strength.” The theme of role modeling, observing others, and/or mentoring comes up again and again as an enabling factor. Is there a more natural or better opportunity for role modeling/mentoring than parenting?

Let’s turn this into a self-reflection activity (adapted from Niemiec, 2018, intervention on mentors/role models).

  1. Name a person who has served as a mentor or role model to you. The individual might become clear as you think about a time in your life when you were struggling and someone stepped in to help you.
  2. What was their core belief about you and your strengths? What did they see in you? How did they communicate this with you?
  3. What impact did this have on you at the time? What is the impact on you today?
  4. Looking back, what were their character strengths? How did they use their strengths to help you?
  5. How might you apply these insights as a role model for your own children?


  • Consider these recent studies on character strengths parenting:
    • It boosts well-being in kids. Adolescents who perceive their parents as strengths-based report higher well-being and more strengths use (Jach et al., 2018).
    • It empowers kids through adversity. In one study, strengths-based parenting was connected with less stress and improved coping in the children themselves (Waters, 2015).
    • It is linked with the healthiest parenting style. Authoritative parenting involves a style of warmth/sensitivity combined with boundary/limit-setting. Authoritative parenting showed positive correlations with 10 character strengths, far stronger than any other parenting style (Weber, 2019).
  • How to Apply This Research
    • Parents, grandparents, and other family members who are strengths-based make an effort to spot the character strengths of their kids in action. They observe the child when doing homework, at play, and in conversation. They use the SEA model of Spot, Explain, Appreciate (Niemiec, 2018) to pave the way toward well-being and adversity management.
      • Spot: Label the strength the child is expressing, e.g., “I saw kindness in you today.”
      • Explain: Offer rationale for the strength being spotted, e.g., “I saw perseverance in you when you challenged yourself to stick with those difficult math problems.”
      • Appreciate: Convey the child is valued for their strengths, e.g., “I appreciated all the questions you were asking at dinner. Our whole family benefited from your curiosity and the lively discussion!”


  1. Ryan Niemiec was interviewed by international parenting luminary, Shefali Tsabary, and strengths pioneer, Renee Jain, as part of a free, online parenting conference this month called Superpowered.
  2. As part of the VIA Institute’s free United in Strengths talks each week, Ryan interviewed character strengths and parenting expert, Sarah Zawaly, from the prestigious Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
  3. In an interview with the leading parenting agency in the Cincinnati region, Beech Acres Parenting Center, Ryan offered some stories and practices on using character strengths as a parent.


Every other month Dr. Ryan Niemiec, VIA's Education Director, sends a newsletter to connect with researchers, strengths practitioners and educators from around the world. He offers things such as a character strengths research finding, a practical nugget, and/or a character strengths story or dialogue he's found inspiring. His hope is that it will prime your day and week with character strengths. Also, let it serve as a reminder that you can reach out at anytime to share your study, your strength applications, and your latest innovations! This article captures a past newsletter. To receive newsletters in real-time, click to subscribe

Empowering You to Bring Out the Best in Others Using Character Strengths

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Jach, H. K., Sun, J., Loton, D., Chin, T. C., & Waters, L. E. (2018). Strengths and subjective wellbeing in adolescence: Strength-based parenting and the moderating effect of mindset. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19, 567-586. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-016-9841-y

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

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.

Waters, L. (2015). The relationship between strength-based parenting with children’s stress levels and strength-based coping approaches. Psychology, 6, 689-699.

Weber, M. (2019). On the relations between classical parenting styles, strength-based parenting, and children’s character strengths. Conference presentation at the International Positive Psychology Association, in Melbourne, Australia.