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Raising Great Kids: Developing the 24 Character Strengths

We all want to raise great kids.  Developing strength of character is vitally important; it’s the very fabric of the kind of people our kids are becoming.  Like with anything, practice is key to mastery. So where are our kids learning and practicing character development? Most of us, with the busy lives we lead, could do a better job at helping our kids master the pillars of character strength.

Luckily, the work of which character traits to develop has been well researched.  A team at the University of Pennsylvania, led by Dr. Martin Seligman, studied the religious and cultural traditions of the world over thousands of years.  In their book, Character Strengths and Virtues they concluded there are 24 strengths within six categories that are universally accepted to create good character and citizenship.

List of Character Traits:

Wisdom and Knowledge: Ways of thinking that help you learn and use knowledge

  • Creativity: Thinking of new and interesting ways to think about and do things, including but not limited to artistic achievements
  • Curiosity: Taking an interest, exploring, discovering, and finding topics fascinating for their own sake
  • Open-Mindedness: Thinking things through from various angles, forming conclusions after weighing the evidence
  • Love of Learning: Related to curiosity, but more of a thirst to learn new knowledge and master new skills, whether independently or formally
  • Perspective (Wisdom): Being able to wisely counsel others, having a way of seeing things that makes sense to oneself and others

Courage: Emotional strengths that help you accomplish goals in the face of adversity

  • Bravery: Not backing down from challenge, threat or pain, doing the right thing even when it’s unpopular to do so
  • Persistence (Perseverance, Grit): Continuing on a course of action despite setbacks and obstacles
  • Integrity (Authenticity, /Honesty): Acting in a way that is genuine and sincere and take responsibility for your actions
  • Vitality (Zest, Enthusiasm, Energy): Living life as an adventure (Go Odyssey Outdoors!), approaching life with energy and excitement

Humanity:  Ways that help you be a good friend and citizen

  • Love: Sharing, caring and being close with others
  • Kindness (Generosity, Care, Compassion): Helping and caring for others
  • Social Intelligence (emotional intelligence, personal intelligence): Knowing what makes other people and yourself tick, understanding how they feel and how to behave in different social situations

Justice: Character strengths that make for a healthy community

  • Citizenship (Social Responsibility, Loyalty, Teamwork): Working and playing well with others, pulling your weight and being loyal to the group
  • Fairness: Treating people equally and giving them a fair chance
  • Leadership: Helping a group organize activities and get things done while maintaining good relationships

Temperance: Character strengths that help to avoid excess, all things in moderation

  • Forgiveness and Mercy: Giving people a second chance when they have done wrong, accepting their shortcomings
  • Humility (Modesty): Letting your accomplishments speak for themselves, not bragging
  • Prudence: Choose carefully so you don’t say or do something you might regret
  • Self-Regulation (Self Control): Being in control of your emotions, self discipline

Transcendence: Character strengths that connect you to the larger universe and give life meaning

  • Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence (Awe, Wonder): Noticing and appreciating all the wonderful things in life, from nature to art to everyday experiences
  • Gratitude: Being thankful for the good things in life and saying thanks
  • Hope (Optimism): Believing in and working toward a good future and expecting things to work out for the best
  • Humor (Playfulness): Enjoying smiles and laughter
  • Spirituality (Faith, Purpose): Having beliefs about the purpose and meaning of life and how we fit in the universe

While most of these character traits are present in everyone, we all have a few ‘signature strengths’ that come naturally to us and are the basis of how we interact with the world.  You may already have a sense of what these are, and you and your kids 10 and older can find out what your ‘signature strengths’ are through a free survey at the VIA institute.  Developing these and the other strengths are key to helping our kids flourish.

The goal of focusing on character traits in Odyssey Outdoors is to create a  community of active,  flourishing families, all speaking the same language of building strength of character while having fun outdoors.

These kids used creativity and teamwork in seeing how high they could build towers of objects found in the campground.

We have created a way, through Family Adventure Groups, for families to share in fun adventures and character building on a monthly basis.  Use the tools in our group section to start your own group and work together to raise great kids outdoors.  Keep in mind that all kids come wired with the strengths already in them.  It’s our job as parents to help spot the strengths in action and help our kids channel their powers for good.  Sort of like the beginning spark of a campfire, we blow on the spark to make it burn bright.

Here are a couple of ways to get started.

Assignment 1: Defining the 24 Strengths as a Family

Make flash cards of each character trait.  If the kids are old enough to read their own handwriting, then each child can make a set.  On the back, write the definitions that you as a family feel best describes the strength.  Feel free to use the dictionary or Google in your research.  Bring these cards on all your group adventures and take some time as a group to figure out what strengths are being used in each activity.  These can come out organically or you can experiment with different activities to bring out a particular strength.  In the above photos, this group set up a slack line in the campsite and had a tower building activity using materials found near the tents.  Have a closing circle at the end of each outing and take time to acknowledge what character strengths you saw in action.

Assignment 2: Recognizing Our Own Signature Character Strengths

What are your top strengths? What do you enjoy using the most? A day using our top strengths is a fulfilling day!  Help kids identify their top strengths.  You and kids ten and older can also take the VIA survey.  Did the results match what you feel are your best /favorite strengths?  With younger kids, using the strength terms above and dialoguing about what you see in daily life can help them recognizing their own top strengths.

Sources:

Character Strengths and Virtues, A Handbook and Classification (2004) by Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson

Smart Strengths, Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth (2011), by John Yeager, Sherri Fisher, and David Shearon

Thanks also to Dr. Ryan Niemiec of VIA Institute at Viacharacter.org for his valuable input and feedback.