Focus on Strengths

Character Traits to Compliment
Blair Turner

Always assume the best about your students. Focus on STRENGTHS. Leave those negative feelings at the door!

Most adults think about 'strengths' as skills (e.g. athletic, verbal, social) or abilities (e.g. academic) that people are generally born with. Children and youth are often evaluated on their skills and abilities. Such evaluations only give a partial picture of the student's 'strengths'. As, or more important, are a person's unique character strengths – morally desirable traits such as kindness, creativity, courage, persistence, humor, and humility to name a few.

Identify and nurture CHARACTER STRENGTHS! Recent evidence suggests that recognizing and using one's unique character strengths can help promote happiness and mental well-being – and decrease depression and anxiety.1 As adults working with children and youth, make a point to help them notice, value and use their strengths in their everyday lives.

Certain character strengths such as hope, kindness, self-control, sociability and perspective have found to be protective factors in the negative effects of trauma and stress.2 Gratitude, optimism, enthusiasm, curiosity and love have been found to be important characteristics associated with positive mental health.2 Make a point to foster these in your everyday interactions with young people.

Simple suggestions:

  • Begin and end every conversation about a student by commenting on the child’s character strength. E.g. Julie is always willing to help; John is curious and full of energy; Curtis is creative.
  • Know your strengths, be proud of them and use them daily. E.g. “I’m kind, sociable, persistent and love learning.” Being aware of our own strengths helps us be aware of strengths in the children around us.3
  • Help children begin to identify their own character strengths and engage in activities that allow them to use them on a regular basis. E.g. For students who are nurturing, have them water the plants in the classroom; have creative students help design a bulletin board
  • Have students journal or write about their unique character strengths and how they use them in everyday life. Promote sharing within small groups or the classroom so that students become aware of and celebrate each other’s strengths.

1 Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.
2 Park, N. & Peterson, C. (2008). Positive psychology and character strengths: Application to strength-based school counseling. Professional School Counseling, 12(2), 85-92.
3 Hands on Scotland. (2013) Character strengths.