Happy looking kids and text that reads emotional strengths
Coping Skills,  Self-Esteem

Personal & Emotional Strengths in Children: Activities and Examples to Identify Them

Personal & Emotional Strengths of a Child: In this post, we will discuss the importance of focusing on your student or child’s strengths to support their learning and development. We will share some popular strength classifications and examples of how those strengths may show in a child. We will also explore ideas and activities to help you identify strengths in children.

Positive psychology is a relatively recent development in psychology that seeks to move the focus away from a disease model and the need to fix problems onto the study of what makes us happy individuals.

[In Positive psychology] …we are as focused on strength as on weakness, as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst, and as concerned with fulfilling the lives of normal people as with healing the wounds of the distressed” (Authentic Happiness, Seligman).

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What are Personal Strengths?

Personal strengths are those positive individual traits that manifest in our thoughts, feelings, or actions and:

  • help us cope with adversity
  • contribute to a fulfilling life

Strengths can also be defined as “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied” (Hodges & Clifton, 2004)

What Are the Different Types of Strengths?

This is a difficult question because psychology and other fields have contributed many strengths classifications.

Peterson C. and Seligman M. devoted three years of work and research to creating a classification of character strengths and virtues and devising ways to measure them. They reviewed all the literature available and proposed:

  • six main categories of virtue
  • twenty-four character strengths that defined those virtues

Peterson and Seligman Classification of Character Strengths:

  1. Wisdom and knowledge comprise cognitive strengths that relate to acquiring knowledge 
    1. Creativity 
    2. Curiosity / Interest / Openness to Experience
    3. Open-mindedness
    4. Love of learning
    5. Perspective (wisdom)
  2. Courage comprises emotional strengths that help deal with setbacks and challenges
    1. Bravery
    2. Persistence
    3. Integrity / Honesty
    4. Vitality / Enthusiasm
  3. Humanity captures interpersonal strengths 
    1. Love
    2. Kindness
    3. Social intelligence / Emotional Intelligence
  4. Justice captures civic strengths that nurture a healthy community life
    1. Social Responsibility / Loyalty / Teamwork
    2. Fairness
    3. Leadership
  5. Temperance is described as a set of strengths that protect against excess
    1. Forgiveness / Mercy
    2. Humility 
    3. Prudence / Making careful choices 
    4. Self-regulation
  6. Transcendence is the virtue that would encompass strengths that connect us to something larger and meaningful
    1. Appreciation of beauty and excellence
    2. Gratitude
    3. Hope / Optimism
    4. Humor / Playfulness / Bringing smiles to other people’s lives
    5. Spiritual strengths ( Religiousness / Faith / Purpose)

If you sit down with a piece of paper and try to write down as many strengths as you can, you will probably see yourself with further and different strengths that I have not mentioned above. 

It doesn’t mean those character strengths are not captured above. It reflects the fact that they may not tick all the criteria boxes these authors established to be eligible to make it to the list.

One of those criteria is that a character strength cannot be drilled down into other strengths. If that is the case, the authors consider those positive character traits.

For example: 

  • tolerance is a mix of open-mindedness (cognitive strength) and fairness (justice)
  • patience is considered a mix of self-regulation (temperance), persistence (emotional strength), and open-mindedness (cognitive strength)

But is this classification broad enough when we consider practical applications to children’s education?

Noble and McGrath propose that a strengths-based approach to positive education should include ability strengths as well as character strengths, based on Gardner’s multiple intelligences model (this approach could relate better to academic strengths.)

Examples of these types of strengths would be:

  • Visual-spatial strengths (good with jigsaw puzzles, visual arts, recognizing patterns)
  • Linguistic-Verbal (strengths in areas related to words, writing, or language)
  • Logical Strengths / Mathematical Strengths (logic strengths would relate to problem-solving abilities)
  • Kinesthetic (Physical strengths / Strengths in areas related to body movement – sports, dance, acting, sculpting)
  • Musical strengths
  • Interpersonal strengths (empathy, communication skills)
  • Introspection and self-reflection strengths

Why are Personal Strengths Important for Children?

As we have already mentioned, personal strengths will help your kids cope with life challenges and live a fulfilling life.

Focusing on strengths is a fundamental mindset shift. It allows us to build from our strengths instead of placing all the focus on a child’s weaknesses.

Several studies indicate that strengths development has a positive impact on students:

  • self-confidence
  • productivity
  • life choices
  • goal-directed thinking
  • interpersonal relations
  • academic success.

New educational approaches propose incorporating strength-based teaching techniques to improve students’ well-being and academic performance. These approaches highlight that building on children’s strengths may be an essential factor for their school success.

Research suggests that strengths-based teaching approaches could result in:

  • student high wellbeing
  • increased enjoyment at school
  • identification of what motivates and inspires children
  • increased student engagement
  • improved academic achievement

Examples of Emotional Strengths and Positive Traits in Children

I’m going to cast a wider net when creating this list because I don’t want to constrain myself into a structure that may leave important children’s strengths that fit into other areas (for example, cognitive strengths are closely associated with emotional strengths in kids, or social strengths because of their connection with our kids’ emotional well-being.)

Examples of emotional strengths in children:

Examples of Cognitive Strengths

  • Is organized
  • Has the ability to think/plan ahead
  • Can easily divide their attention between 2-3 tasks
  • Has strong self-esteem
  • Is brave
  • Can display self-control
  • Knows how to use their curiosity to further learning
  • Likes a new challenge
  • Has flexible thinking

Examples of Social Strengths / Strong Social Skills

  • Has at least one good friend
  • Feels comfortable in social interactions
  • Is polite and shows good manners
  • Volunteers their time to a worthy cause
  • Can follow class rules
  • Knows to share when appropriate
  • Models respectful behavior for adults and peers
  • Shows loyalty
  • Understands personal space
  • Doesn’t cave in to peer pressure
  • Understands non-verbal cues

Examples of Emotional Strengths

  • Has strong gut feelings and knows when to follow them
  • Tends to have an optimistic outlook on life
  • Can use emotional vocabulary to describe how they are feeling
  • Knows when others are upset and acts to comfort others
  • Is hopeful when problems arise
  • Is understanding when things don’t go as planned
  • Shows empathy for other people’s feelings
  • Shows patience and can deal with delayed gratification
  • Can stand up for what they believe in
  • Can cope with setbacks
  • Can self-regulate in stressful situations
  • Has a good sense of humor
  • Perseveres when facing a difficult task

Examples of Communication Strengths

  • Is a good storyteller
  • Asks good questions
  • Has the ability to listen and respond appropriately 
  • Can be assertive without being aggressive
  • Tends to have a strong sense of humor
  • Is a good listener
  • Makes eye contact when addressing others

How to Identify Children’s Strengths

These are some ideas to help you work on a child’s strength recognition. I will also include links to some resources available online.

These ideas are not specific to emotional strengths, but a more broad approach to strengths :

  1. Create a strengths list or inventory, and ask the child to highlight any strengths they have and display. Sometimes your own list will be able to capture in kid-friendly language great ideas and positive qualities that you wish a child to reflect on and were not captured in these lists above (behavioral strengths, cultural strengths.)
  2. Ask your kids or students to write a list of their strengths. For each strength, ask them to reflect on how it helps them succeed in fields that may be important to them (academic, friendship, et cetera.)
  3. “3e-Me Join the Dots”
    I learned about this strengths identification tool when I was reading research on strengths-based teaching in New Zealand.
    This activity serves several purposes:

    • it helps the child become aware of their own strengths and recognize them as something more than just “things I’m good at” (I’ll talk about this more in the next point)
    • it provides teachers (parents) with a tool to identify a child’s strengths

The 3 e’s stand for excel, excite and enjoy. The kid can list things that they feel they excel at, other things they feel excited to do, and also things that they enjoy doing. When they go through the three lists, they can connect those things that repeat in those three lists. Those could be their strengths.

  1. The Strengths Profile Book by Linley and Bateman
    Linley and Bateman state that research shows only one in three people can say what their strengths are, and even those get them wrong.
    People consider strengths the things they are good at. But in this book, the authors suggest that strengths should meet two additional criteria:

    • Energy– you should evaluate if you feel energized when doing something. You should not only be good at it but also enjoy it.
    • Use– if you are good at something and enjoy it but you don’t do it, they call these unrealized strengths.

This is not a kids’ book, but it is a very interesting one if you want to explore strengths further.

The book features what they identified as the 60 more prevalent strengths based on thousands of interviews (you can take their strengths profile here).

For each strength, they describe what it feels like to experience that strength, what type of behavior it translates into, what famous people would best represent that strength, or how to develop it further.

  1. A to Z my Amazing Strengths – Ask your child or student to write down on a piece of paper what strengths they have, starting with each letter of the alphabet.
  2. Organize kids in pairs, and ask them to write down as many strengths as they see in each other. Ask them to share.
  3. ADHD Strengths – this article looks at some challenges kids with ADHD face from a strengths perspective.
  4. The VIA Character Institute has a great free printable that captures and describes Peterson and Seligman’s 24 character strengths a describes them

Other Social-Emotional Learning Resources

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