When we are supporting families, it can be easy to fall into the trap of focussing on deficits. This can feel difficult to avoid when we are supporting a family around a particular issue. However, creating the space for parents to notice and celebrate all the things they are doing well can be a really empowering and motivating for the family, and for the practitioner or teacher!
Taking the time to reframe our thinking by focussing on a family’s strengths is not just a ‘feel good’ exercise, it can actually enable positive change.
So how can we support the parents we know and work alongside to notice all the great things they do and celebrate the incredibly important role they play in their children’s lives?
Here are a few suggestions for celebrating the parents you are working with:
- Before you meet with a family, think about what you already know about them. What do they do really well? How do they show their love for their children? What are their strengths, as individuals, parents and as a family? By focussing on the strengths of the family before you meet with them, these strengths will be in the forefront of your mind and you are much more likely to frame your meeting around strengths rather than deficits, which can completely change the tone and quality of the meeting
(This works just as well in your own family. If you are having a family meeting or a chat to one of your kids, give this a try!)
- Ask them how they celebrate milestones or important events as a family.
- Actively listen for strengths and capacities when talking to any parents, especially those managing challenges. Reflect those strengths back to them
- Deliberately ask questions that invite parents to notice what they are doing really well
- By the time a family is seeking support, they have probably tried lots and lots of other things. When talking to parents about a challenge they are managing, acknowledge the difficulty of the situation then invite them to celebrate what they have tried, done well or has enabled them to get this far. You might say, ‘Wow, that sounds tough. You must be incredibly strong/resilient/caring to have survived that. How did you get through that day/challenge?’ or you could ask a simple question like, ‘What have you tried in the past that has helped, even a bit?’
- Use a prompt or tool, like the Positive Parenting cards can be a great way to encourage parents to reflect on the things that are important to them, what they do well and why they parent the way they do. Tools give parents something to focus on which can reduce the pressure of having a direct conversation about their parenting. As they are tactile and visual, they can engage parents in new and interesting ways. Encouraging parents to self-select a card also invites reflection on what they value and on things you may not have thought to ask.
If you are working with a family, this can be an ideal place to start every conversation – by encouraging them to give themselves a pat on the back! This helps build rapport and trust as the family will appreciate that you are looking for the things they are doing well. And it can also build a sense of hope and motivation if parents feel like they are doing lots of things right, as it creates a sense of context ie. not everything is bad, many things are good!
This is particularly powerful to do with parents who are struggling or who are managing additional challenges (as if parenting isn’t challenging enough!). Often these parents focus on the things they aren’t doing well or their perceived deficits, which can be demoralising and undermine their capacity and confidence to make changes. When parents feel like they aren’t doing anything right, it can feel even harder to look after their kids.
You may have lots of strategies you use in your work with families to help them notice their strengths, capacities and skills. If you do, we’d love to hear from you!
Of course, if you are a parent yourself, don’t forget to notice all the great things you do too! What’s one thing you can do to celebrate yourself as a parent today?
Positive Parenting cards