How Tapping into Your Child’s Emotions Can Help You Tap into Their Strengths


This is Part 1 in a 3-part series on Emotions. Part 2 will be published in the coming weeks.

Emotions provide your child with vital clues for identifying their strengths. Remember strengths are the things your child is good atfeels good doing and chooses to do. While your child can learn about their strengths through high performance this can also be the sign of a learned behavior. It is only through their emotions that they’ll gain full insight into the later two aspects of a strength - energy and intrinsic motivation.

Teaching your child how to understand their emotions is, therefore, a critical aspect of Strength-Based Parenting. States of happiness, wonder, curiosity, joy, excitement or, for some children, serenity give you and your child a hint that they’re using their strengths. Conversely, feelings of distress, anger or frustration are emotions that come when using weaknesses or when a strength is being thwarted.

Being a Strength-Based Parent Means Being An Emotional Coach

Emotions are not only useful in identify strengths, they are also useful in developing strengths. While building up their strengths your child will undoubtedly experience setbacks along the way. They’ll need to learn how to effectively manage their negative emotions and, equally importantly, how to cultivate and sustain positive emotions. Being a Strength-Based Parent, therefore, means being an emotional coach so you can help your child use their emotions in ways that support the identification and cultivation of strengths.

The function of emotion is to energize behavior.

Psychologists classify emotions into one of two broad categories - negative and positive - both of which are helpful to us in different ways as was cleverly demonstrated in the Disney Pixar film ‘Inside Out.’

Broadly speaking, negative emotions help us in times of danger by motivating our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response allowing us to attack or avoid the threat. Positive emotions, on the other hand, help us in times of safety by motivating our ‘broaden and build’ response allowing us to capitalize on the good times and helping us stockpile resources (psychological, physical and emotional) to use when we are next under threat.


Negative Emotions

Taking a closer look at negative emotions we learn that specific emotions serve specific purposes. Sadness tells us that something is missing, that we have experienced a loss, and motivates us to grieve. Disgust triggers our urge to repel such as spitting out poisonous food. Anger helps us assert our rights, set boundaries and protect the people we love. Guilt tells us that we’ve done something wrong and encourages us to repair, like when your child apologizes of their own accord for being rude to you. Frustration is the emotional messenger that lets us know we’re not achieving our goals and gives us energy to try harder.

Positive Emotions

Passion lets us know where our interest and desires lay. It builds the energy and intrinsic motivation behind our strengths. Hope propels us to invest in our future, build our strengths and achieve our goals. Love motivates us to take care of others. Joy creates the urge to play and through play we develop social skills, physical skills and problem solving skills. Contentment creates the urge to sit back and see the bigger picture. Gratitude propels us to reciprocate kindness. Awe inspires us to want to achieve our best.


Positive emotions have been shown to help us think more clearly, connect to others more effectively and be physically healthier. Laughter really is good medicine and positive emotions are correlated with better sleep, less pain, lower levels of cortisol, reduced inflammatory responses to stress, fewer injuries, lower blood pressure, and stronger immunity. Researchers have even found that positive emotions help you to fight off the common cold.

Positive emotions don’t just restore your child’s physical resources they also build your child’s cognitive and social resources. Quite simply, the way your son or daughter feels influences the way they think and relate to others. When they’re feeling positive they think more clearly, are better at problem solving, better at brainstorming, are more creative, and are better at seeing the larger picture. In a positive mood people think more in terms of ‘we’ than in terms of ‘me’, they help others more and they are less likely to engage in racial stereotyping. Moreover, our positive emotions make other people want to connect with us, serving to further strengthen our social bonds.

Emotions Help Develop Strengths

You can see then how positive emotions are an important resource for developing strengths. Firstly, they keep your child in good physical health which is an important prerequisite for achieving their potential. Secondly, positive emotions heighten your child’s cognitive capacities and support the rapid learning curve. Thirdly, they help your child connect with others. No strength is ever developed alone. Even if the strength is a solo endeavor your child still needs the wisdom and support of people around him. Finally, positive emotions build up resilience and neutralize the effects of stress, thus helping your child stick to the long journey of strengths development even when challenges and setbacks occur.

Negative emotions can serve as a useful barometer signaling the strength impeding environments in your child's life.

But let’s not forget negative emotions as they too play an important role in developing strengths. Chances are that situations or relationships which prevent her from using her strengths will lead to negative emotions. In this way her negative emotions serve as a useful barometer signaling to you the strength-impeding environments in their lives. You can’t be with your kids 100% of the time but you can check in on how they feel after the fact. If your child is in a strength enabling environment but is not living up to their potential you can bet that negative emotions like frustration or guilt may be an honest self-indicator telling them they’re not giving their full effort and motivating them to rise to the challenge.


The Key

The key in all of these situations is that your child’s emotions – positive and negative – provide important information that help them navigate their strengths journey. This means that developing your child’s ability to tune into and harness their emotions in effective ways is a central part of Strength-Based Parenting.

In Part 2, I'll help you determine whether you’re currently acting as an emotional coach. In Part 3, I'll share a few tactics that I find helpful in getting my kids and clients to connect with their emotions.

Stay tuned.


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As a University researcher, Lea Waters, PhD, turns her science into strength-based strategies to help organizations, educators and parents around the world build resilience in their employees and children, helping them to thrive. Lea’s keynotes and talks offer her audience a unique blend of science and practice. To find out more about working with Lea or to book Lea for your next event, please visit: or contact Nicole at

Photo credits (in order of appearance): Jose Ibarra, Wooozxh, Frank McKenna and Luca Campioni on Unsplash.

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