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It wasn’t until I became a parent that I recognized my tendency to see the negative before the positive. Though my children all have strengths I can easily name, I find myself harping on the areas where they are weak. I know this approach isn’t helping us build stronger relationships, and I don’t feel good about it.


Psychologists and therapists agree that parenting that focuses on a child’s weaknesses over his strengths is problematic. Dr. Fawn McNeil-Haber says:

Focusing on children’s weaknesses decreases their motivation to do better. This is because, like many of us, when people point out what we aren’t good at we either feel demoralized, defensive, or annoyed. None of these feelings help us motivate to do better and try harder.

Sara Anderson, an Atlanta-based psychotherapist, says how we approach our children affects their view of their potential: “If you focus on what is wrong, your child lives up to your vision of failure. If you focus on your child’s strengths, your child lives what is possible.”

The problem is focusing on the bad is what our brains do. We all have a negativity bias, and that’s not always a bad thing. From an evolutionary perspective, the negativity bias has been hugely beneficial in keeping humans alive because they stayed aware of potential threats in their environments. Even now, it can be helpful.

Unfortunately, it’s also the reason I am much more likely to notice my daughter’s lack of organizational skills over her ability to approach her entire life with passion. Because I am focusing on the negative, she’s learning to do the same, and her mind will fixate on the bad interactions we’ve had over the good ones because that’s what our brains are wired to do.

Lea Waters, PhD, writer of “The Strength Switch: How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish” and a leader in positive psychology, offers a solution. Her strength-based parenting approach teaches us how to pull away from the negative when raising kids to offer the entire family a more positive experience in the home.

Parents focus on the kids’ strengths, the kids know they have strengths, and the entire journey is smoother for everyone.

Sounds easy, but since we’re built to focus on the negative, how do we shift towards pointing out the positive?

What is a strength?

Knowing what our children’s strengths are is the first step. Most of us simply look at what our children are good at and assume it’s a strength. We ask, where do they excel?

While that’s one qualifier, it’s not enough. If a child is great at playing the violin but hates it, Waters says violin playing isn’t a strength. It’s a skill.

Strengths are what we’re good at, what we’re motivated to do on our own, and what give us energy. Thinking about our kids, what do we never have to beg them to do? What gives them life? That’s a strength.

My daughter is a strong leader and communicator, often verbalizing and storytelling even when her listeners are worn out. My son uses art as a way to communicate, and he has never once had to be told to sit down and create. He can’t imagine not creating.

Though these strengths may seem specific to only certain areas of life, we can use them to guide our kids and to teach them to handle conflict in other areas. When my son is upset about something that he can’t articulate, I can ask him to use his strength in art instead of demanding he verbalize. Verbalization under pressure is not his strength.

We can also evaluate for emotional strengths, like kindness, patience, or fairness. When our kids have a conflict, instead of always pointing out their weaknesses and making them feel like bad kids, we can point out strengths they aren’t using.

When my daughter chooses to scream when upset, I can tell her, “You’re not using your strengths in communication and kindness right now, and I think you can solve the conflict better if you do.” I’m reminding her that she is capable of fixing this situation, and she’s already equipped with the strengths to do it.

Too much, or too little, of a good thing

On The Psychology Podcast with Scott Barry Kaufman, Waters points out another reason to know a child’s strengths and lead with them: they may be the cause of behavioral problems.

Overuse or underuse of a strength can lead to behavioral issues. My son, who is obsessed with accuracy in a way that only a seven-year-old can be, often gets in trouble because of his absolute desire for perfection. When his younger sister pronounces a word incorrectly, he will badger her until she is in tears under the guise of trying to help her speak properly. This is overusing a strength. In certain areas, when used in the right amount, this is a great strength, but it’s being overused when it leads to a four-year-old screaming hysterically because she can’t say the word “taquito.”

Fortunately, I can use my son’s other strengths to help him work through this problem. He also has strength when it comes to empathy, so I can encourage him to use that strength to imagine how his sister feels when he scolds her for doing her best. We’re still focusing on his strengths, but we’re deciding which strength to use to solve the problem overuse of a different one caused.

Kids who underuse a strength are also at risk for behavioral issues. All of us want to do something that makes us feel alive regularly. If children aren’t able to do that, they are going to act out.

My daughter is strong in teamwork, and she also loves to communicate. She wants and needs to be around peers frequently to feel like she’s thriving. I’ve never had to encourage her to play with someone at the park. She seeks out any and every person in her vicinity.

This explains why after a few days stuck in the house due to illness or friends having to cancel plans, she has problems. Finding a way for her to use this strength as soon as possible will alleviate the issue, and in the meantime I can ask her to exercise her strength in patience.

Where does this lead?

Many parents shy away from constantly pointing out their kids’ strong points because it seems a little like a praise-for-no-reason thing to do. A friend who actually has an easy time focusing on her children’s strengths worries that she may be raising future narcissists. Fortunately, Waters has words of encouragement. It’s all about approach.

Strengths don’t make kids special, and parents should point out that everyone has strengths. Since we all bring our unique strengths to the table, kids should be encouraged to look for strengths in others, something that will likely come easier for kids raised by parents who point out strengths in them.

Kids will also be able to use their strengths for the sake of others. When deciding on a life path, children who are parented using the strength-based model will know what their strong points are, and this will help them impact the world using the strengths they’ve been aware of for most of their lives.

Waters even believes that strength-based parenting encourages self-compassion in children, a much-coveted skill that is proving more important than self-esteem. Self-compassion allows children to mindfully be kind to themselves when they make a mistake instead of living in shame or guilt. If children know they have strengths, they can give themselves grace when areas they aren’t strong in cause them problems. It keeps kids from believing that when they fail it’s because they are irredeemably flawed humans who have nothing positive to bring to the table.

Using the strength-based parenting approach doesn’t mean ignoring weaknesses. By virtue of identifying strengths, kids are going to realize they also have weaknesses, and that’s okay. Shuntai Walker, MA, LPC says “…it is ok to be aware of weakness but the focus should be on cultivating their strengths.”

We’re not raising kids who think they are perfect. Strength-based parenting means raising kids who know what their strong points are and how to use them to help themselves and others. It’s a form of positive parenting that helps us encourage our children while also creating positive interactions that strengthen our relationships with them.

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Many parents begin looking into Montessori when their children reach preschool age, but there is so much you can do at home even with the youngest babies. Montessori is much more than a method of education or academic system. It is a philosophy and a certain way of approaching children, whether at school or in the home.

Here are five simple (and free!) ways you can begin using Montessori with your child from birth. And if your child is older, don't worry—all of these principles apply to older children as well.

1. Provide freedom of movement

From birth, we can give children the opportunity to move freely in their environment.

For a newborn, this simply means providing plenty of time when they are not being held or constrained in a carrier, stroller or other device.

You might spend time siting next to your child while they lay on a soft blanket, either inside or outdoors. They're clearly not able to move around the environment on their own at this point, but can practice moving their arms and legs and supporting their head, without their movements being limited.

For an older baby, freedom of movement might include letting them pull up on objects and edge their way around the room at their own pace, rather than putting them in a jumper or holding their hands while they walk.

Freedom of movement is excellent for gross motor development, but it is also a great confidence builder. It sends a clear message to your child that you believe they are capable of developing their muscles and abilities in their own timeframe.

Another aspect of freedom of movement is comfortable clothing that supports a baby's growing ability to move. Dressing your baby in a onesie or loose fitting pants and shirt maximizes their ability to move. Providing young babies plenty of time unswaddled and without mittens or shoes also helps them learn to use their muscles.

2. Use respectful communication

Respectful communication is a hallmark of Montessori for children at all ages, and this can certainly begin at birth. It may feel silly at first, but try telling your infant each time you're going to pick them up. Let them know when it's time to eat or time for a diaper. It will begin to feel more natural each time you do it.

You might try asking permission, such as, "May I pick you up for a diaper change now?"

While they, of course, won't be able to answer you in words yet, they will understand your tone and if you ask regularly, they might start to respond in other ways, such as reaching for you or smiling.

We can also show respect through our communication by always using real, precise language. For example, rather than telling a baby a picture is a "doggie," try telling them it's a "dog," or maybe even the type or name of the dog if you know.

This type of communication lays a wonderful foundation for a relationship of mutual respect, and also exposes your child to a rich vocabulary from the beginning.

3. See caregiving as bonding

Caregiving tasks, such as feeding and changing diapers, can seem endless and can be truly exhausting, especially in the first few months. In Montessori, we try to view these activities as a time for bonding and connecting, a time to give a child our undivided attention.

In a classroom with multiple babies, or a home with older siblings around, this can be an especially important time to take a few moments and be present with the baby you are caring for. It can be so tempting to scroll through social media while breastfeeding or rush through diaper changes to get to the more fun stuff, but these are truly opportunities to slow down, make eye contact with your child, and simply be with them.

Montessori also views these activities as collaborative. We always try to do things "with" children, rather than "to" them.

For the youngest infants, collaboration might just be talking them through what you're doing, or following their lead for when they need to eat and sleep.

For older babies, you can include them more through asking them to crawl to the diaper changing area or bring you a diaper, or offering them two shirts or two foods to choose from.

Reframing these caregiving activities not only makes them more enjoyable for us parents, it ensures that we have regular check-ins where we're fully present with our babies. It makes them feel cared for, and never like a burden.

4. Allow time for independence

How can a baby be independent? They rely on us for so much—warmth, nourishment, safety, love—but we can actually help infants develop independence from the very beginning.

We can look for times when our baby is calm and alert and let them "play," or lay on a blanket, without being held. We can give them time to look around the room and visually explore their new world without interacting with or distracting them.

We can respond to mild fussing first by talking to them, by gently touching them or holding their hand, rather than immediately swooping them up into our arms. Sometimes all they need is a little reassurance that we're there.

Every baby is different and every baby's tolerance for these moments is unique. Some babies might be content to lay on their own for quite a while, while others seem to want to be held constantly. Follow your own child's lead, but look for little opportunities to help them stretch their independence from the start.

5. Practice observation

Observation is one of the most important principles of Montessori for all ages.

Each child is on their own developmental path and the only way we can really know what they need, what challenges they're ready for, is through careful observation.

Naturally, you spend tons of time watching your new baby. Observation is just a slightly different mindset, watching with intention, to see what new skills your baby might be working on, what parts of the room they stare at with captivated interest.

This type of observation will help you know what toys to offer your baby better than any developmental timeline. It will also help you get to know them in a deeper way.

Montessori can seem a bit mysterious or even intimidating, but so much of it is really so simple. It is much more about how we view and interact with children than about academic achievement or beautiful materials.

No matter what type of school you plan to send your children to, incorporating these principles at home from the beginning can add so much to your parenting journey.

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There are so many firsts we get to experience with our baby in those precious 24 hours after birth, but experts suggest that a first bath should not be one of them as waiting could help mama and baby with breastfeeding.

This week a study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing links delaying newborn baths with increased in-hospital exclusive breastfeeding rates.

The study's lead author, Heather Condo DiCioccio, is a nursing professional development specialist for the Mother/Baby Unit at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. She told TODAY her research was promoted by patients, who have increasingly been asking staff to hold off that first bath in recent years.

Part of this is likely due to the World Health Organization's stance on newborn bathing. The WHO recommends babies should not get a bath for 24 hours, but the recommendations don't really explain why the organization suggests this.

DiCioccio's study involved almost 1000 mama-baby pairs. Around half of the babies were bathed within 2 hours of birth, as per the hospital's previous policy. The rest saw the first bath delayed for at least 12 hours. The researchers found a link between delaying a bath and exclusive breastfeeding, but they could not precisely answer why. DiCioccio thinks it might have something to do with baby's sense of smell.

"They've been swimming in the amniotic fluid for 38, 39, 40 weeks of their life and the mother's breast puts out a similar smell as that amniotic fluid," she told TODAY. "So the thought is maybe the two smells help that baby actually latch. It makes it easier for the baby to find something comfortable and normal and that they like."

For DiCioccio, anything that can help mamas with breastfeeding is a welcome intervention, but the nursing link is not the only benefit to delayed bathing. She notes that keeping the vernix (that white stuff) on the baby for longer allows the baby to benefit from its antimicrobial properties and can help with lung development.

However, sometimes babies do need a bath soon after birth. When mothers are dealing with health issues that can see babies exposed to blood-borne pathogens (like HIV, active herpes lesions or hepatitis B or C), a bath sooner after birth is still best, DiCioccio explained to TODAY.

Even when blood-borne pathogens are not a concern, cultural preferences might be. Not every parent wants to delay baby's first bath, and that's okay—during DiCioccio's study the wishes of parents who wanted their baby bathed shortly after birth were respected—but it's good to have all the knowledge we can get when it comes to postnatal best practices.

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Ayesha Curry has three kids, a husband with a super busy career and a super busy career herself. It would be so easy for her priority list to be: 1) kids, 2) career, then 3) Steph—but the TV host, chef, Honest Company ambassador and entrepreneurial #bossbabe says her partner still has the number one spot, even after all these years.

Speaking to HelloGiggles, Curry explains that she and her Golden State Warrior husband have seen how partners prioritizing each other can benefit a family as a whole. That's why she and Stef don't prioritize the kids above each other.

"Both of our parents are still married and have been married for 30-plus years, and the one thing that they both shared with us—some through learning it the hard way, some through just making sure that they do it—is just making sure that we put each other first, even before the kids, as tough as that sounds," she tells HelloGiggles.

For the Currys, that means making time in those very busy schedules for date nights where they don't have to be mom and dad, they can just connect as partners. Curry admits that it's not always easy to break her brain out of mama-mode and prioritize something other than time with her kids, but she recognizes that when she and Stef put each other first, the kids benefit.

"That's been very important, as hard as it is. Because when you become a parent, you want to put your kids first, and we do, but we do it second to our relationship. Because ultimately, when our relationship is good, the kids are happy and they're thriving and our family life is good. We have to put that into perspective and realize that it's not us being selfish, it's making sure we set a strong foundation."



Experts back Curry up

Family therapist Raffi Bilek, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Fatherly that while putting each other first may seem counterintuitive to parents, it's important. "I think that the question of when to prioritize your partner over your kid is best answered with 'always,'" Bilek says.

David Code is a therapist and the author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. He wants parents to lean on each other more because when we don't our kids can end up shouldering some of our emotional needs, and that's not fair. It's also not fair for parents to put their relationship and themselves last every time. He believes the "greatest gift you can give your children is to have a fulfilling marriage yourself."

According to Code, "families centered on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children. We parents today are too quick to sacrifice our lives and our marriages for our kids. Most of us have created child-centered families, where our children hold priority over our time, energy and attention."

Therapists like Code and Bilek are calling on parents to put their partners first, and stop buying into the myth that we don't have time for our spouses.

If the Currys can find time for each other in their crazy schedules, so too can the rest of us.

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This morning I left my 4-year-old sobbing in the arms of her Pre-K teacher. As I turned to leave, the sight of her little face crumbling, trying to be brave but not quite managing, tore right to my core. I walked away feeling like I was wading through treacle, my chest aching and my arms heavy and useless where my child should have been. It felt so very unnatural to leave when she was crying out my name.

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