Parenting and positive psychology

‘Positive parenting’ techniques are being talked about more and more.  In this blog I'll briefly look at how positive psychology can add value to the positive parenting agenda.

What is positive parenting?

For me, positive parenting isn’t about constant praise.  Nor is it about creating a rose-tinted view of a wonderful world that leads my children to believe that they always will be successful at whatever they do.

But I do want my children to hear more praise than criticism; I want them to believe in themselves and their ability to achieve and, perhaps most pertinently right now, I want them to see the good in the world.

Learning from positive psychology

Positive psychology can teach us a lot about the sorts of things to encourage and focus on as parents that will have a meaningful and positive impact on our children.  I’ve picked out three specific areas here that I think are useful to reflect on:

The importance of emotions

Barbara Fredrickson’s work shows how important positive emotions are for enabling children to flourish – both in terms of their learning and their wellbeing.  By that I don’t just mean joy, I also mean hope, interest, curiosity, awe and whole range of other positive emotions.

We need to teach our children to seek and recognise those emotions for themselves – even when all is not well.  It’s important for children to understand what makes them happy and for them to take responsibility for how they feel. They are not likely to fare well as they grow up if they need praise and a world without problems to be able to experience emotional wellbeing.

Developing growth mindsets

Another area of interest is Carol Dweck’s research on mindset which is currently getting a lot of attention in education. Put simply, Dweck argues that we need to encourage growth mindsets in our children.  That is, we need to help them to understand that ability, intelligence and skill can all be grown with practice, hard work and focused learning.

Whilst it may not be the case that anyone can do anything, it is the case that most of us can do most things if we are prepared to focus our efforts and work hard.  How we engage with our children has a big impact on whether they recognise their capacity to develop or whether they see their abilities as fixed, unchangeable (and therefore not worth working on).  Dweck talks about the importance of praising children’s effort, not their achievements. If children think that we only value their success they are likely to be reluctant to try something they might fail at.  Research shows that those children who are praised for their effort will persist for a lot longer (and so have the opportunity to learn more) than those who are praised for their achievements.

Building on strengths

A third area that is of huge value in parenting is the idea of focusing on our strengths and building on what is working.  For me, this is where there is an opportunity to give praise in a meaningful way.  To talk to children specifically about what you appreciate in them and how their strengths have helped them, or had an impact on others, gives them something very tangible to be proud of.  It also helps to grow their self-awareness and helps them to better understand who they are at their best and how they can flourish.  Research by Lea Waters has indicated that strengths-based parenting can have a lasting positive impact on children’s life satisfaction levels.

If strengths-based parenting is something you’d like to know a bit more about, I recently wrote a blog for Green Familia that has some tips on how to encourage your children to build on their strengths.


Michele Deeks is an occupational psychologist and Director of Work Positive

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