Author: Karen Copeland
It was an honour to host young adults, parents, caregivers, educators, community professionals and interested community members from across the Lower Mainland at Start with Strengths: Creating Emotionally Healthy Communities. Even more of an honour was to again have the opportunity to collaborate with Chris Wejr to create an event that provided our guests with the chance to go away with some real tools and ideas they could put into action the very next day.
The session was broken into four different sections, starting with this foundational message:
We need to see our own strengths in order to better see the strengths in those around us
We invited our guests to dig deeper into thinking about and discovering their own strengths. This is so important because as we get older, we often try to be humble and minimize our strengths, and sometimes we even forget about them!
(Hint: A great way to explore your own strengths is to take the character strengths survey from the VIA Institute here: http://www.viacharacter.org)
STRENGTHS BASED PARENTING
It is very easy to get caught up in thinking about everything that is ‘hard’ about our kids because we are presented with it daily. Perhaps we are struggling in our homes with our parenting, or we receive phone calls from the school to let us know where our child has not done well. The negative messaging can be overwhelming and, as parents and caregivers, we need to be very mindful of this.
When we get caught up in the negative, our language starts to change. We start to use words like manipulative, lazy, stubborn…you know the ones I am talking about. We have a choice when we decide what language we use to describe our kids and it is an important one, because the words we use make us FEEL things. When we use words like the ones I just mentioned, we might feel our own anger, we might feel defeated or frustrated, or even hopeless.
I choose to use the word ‘unexpected’ (or at least I try very hard to!). Unexpected is a word I discovered through the work of Michelle Garcia Winner. Unexpected takes the emotion out of what I am feeling about my child and prompts me to be curious. It challenges me to not make the behavior about ME and MY ANXIETY and instead focus on what my child is trying to tell me.
re-thinking the iceberg
I wrote about the importance of Re-Thinking the Iceberg back in January as a lead up to the Start with Strengths event.
A solid understanding of why a behavior is occurring (and challenging others to be curious about that behavior) will always be a crucial element to our parenting, educating, etc. But it can’t be the only thing we focus on. We need to be intentional about figuring out ways to draw these strengths to the surface so they can shine and I don’t mean using them as a reward strategy for good behavior. We need to be devoting at least equal or even slightly more time to the unique strengths of our kids and helping them shine, because when they do, confidence increases, connection increases, self-esteem and resiliency increases.
Often what we see on the surface with our kids is the challenging behavior … there is no denying that this is what stands out and draws our attention! Chris and I created a tool that can be used to re-think the iceberg of a child, youth or individual in their life. We need to remind ourselves to look for the strengths and draw these to the surface.
STRENGTHS BASED EDUCATION: start with one
Instead of becoming overwhelmed with the thought of trying to discover the strengths of each and every student in our schools, Chris encouraged everyone to think about ONE student they would like to impact.
From his post Find the Fireflies: Create the Conditions for Them to Shine:
One of my favourite analogies about starting with one is from Rachel Macy Stafford. She writes about how, in schools, we often see the butterflies. They are easy to spot and see their strengths; they fly beautifully in school. She challenges us to find the fireflies – those students who only shine under the right conditions – and to work to create the conditions for these students to shine more often.
When we start with the strengths of one student, that one firefly, we can make a huge difference to this student. If everyone starts with one, we slowly shift the culture of a school to a strengths-based culture; a culture in which fewer students’ strengths go unnoticed and an environment in which our fireflies have a chance to truly shine.
strengths based communities
The responsibility to create and promote strengths based communities lies within all of us. One way we can do this is to create the opportunities to share our stories and perspectives and learn from one another. We need to recognize that even though our experiences and perspectives may be different, our goal is the same – and you never know who is going to come along and have the idea that is a game-changer!
Chris and I invited our guests to share their favorite mental health and wellness resources at their table and these were then compiled into a larger google doc, which you can access here: Community Resources #StartwithStrengths
While certainly not exhaustive, the doc provides a starting point for online and local resources that may be helpful for youth, parents, caregivers, educators, community professionals and community members.
We appreciated the feedback from all who attended our session. I’ve included a sampling below.
Our gratitude to the Abbotsford Local Action Team of the Child and Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative for their generous support of our event. We consider the evening to have been highly successful in encouraging our community members to change their lens and change the story of a child, youth or family they are connected to.