positive psychology movement

February 25, 2010

Character Development

If you read child development articles and ages & stages content on the web or anywhere, most of it is organized around Language, Cognitive, Physical, Social and Emotional development. This is traditionally how educators and researchers have thought about our babies’ growth; however, there are major new developments that suggest we need to think beyond just these skills and competences. Take Character development, as mentioned in the earlier 3Cs post (12/22/09), there has been a renewed emphasis on its critical importance; but we as parents may ask ourselves what the heck does the development of good character traits look like at the ripe young age of 0, 1 and 2.  Lucky for us there is a whole new field in cognitive science research called Positive Psychology, dedicated to catapulting character development and character strengths to the forefront of our educational and parenting agenda. This group of prominent researchers argues, persuasively, that character strengths are the key to living a rich and fulfilling life and need our utmost attention.

The Positive Psychology movement has defined 6 core virtues (eg Humanity, Courage, Justice, Temperance, etc) with a number of strengths for each of these core character traits (eg for Courage—persistence, integrity, vitality, bravery). They explain that although each of us is born with a natural profile of these traits and strengths, each can be developed and nurtured just like any competence. So for us parents we not only need to nurture things like language development but also the development of persistence and intergrity. Let’s take a closer look at the core virtue of Humanity; how might it be nurtured from birth to 3 years.

The core character trait of humanity is defined as the interpersonal strengths that involve tending to and befriending others. It draws on strengths such as kindness, love, and empathy. The seeds of which are all sprouting in the years 0 to three. Who has not seen a toddler bring a blanket or favorite toy to a sibling or friend in distress. Although under recognized and under appreciated, our little ones, like our daughter Whitney, demonstrated her budding strengths in humanity on a regular basis (see video at www.RaisingWhit.com, 21 Mths).

Displaying affection by offering a blanky

Displaying affection by offering a blanky

A toddler’s pleasure in doing the right thing can be nourished.  Empathy co-evolves with our little ones emotional development and their personal experience of emotions & feelings. Our little ones have a rich palette of feelings and can identify those emotions in others.

There are two basic tendencies we want to help our little ones exercise. The first is identifying and managing their own personal feelings and emotions and the second builds off the first in helping to recognize and empathize when those same feelings and emotions are playing in others. This can be done in specific ways for each age and stage of development.