The Strength Switch – Changing The Way We Parent

Have you ever walked past a clean window in your home and taken a moment to appreciate how good it looks? Probably not. But how many times have you walked past a dirty window, stopped in your tracks and thought to yourself, ‘I really need to fix that’?! A much more likely scenario for most of us.

At Kilvington we are committed to providing our parents (and students) with tools and resources to help navigate your way through this ever-changing world. It is for this reason, we recently started the new ‘Parent Education Program’ (PEP), family information evenings featuring experts to speak on a range of critical issues impacting on our children today.

What has this got to with clean or dirty windows?  Our first speaker, Professor Lea Waters, provided an incredibly thought-provoking talk on strength-based parenting, including the analogy that many parents may fall into the ‘dirty window’ trap, where we get caught up on focusing on what’s wrong, instead of what we (and our children) are doing well.

Professor Waters is a psychologist, researcher, consultant, author and public speaker specialising in positive psychology and positive education. The talk was designed to equip parents with the understanding of how to build resilience in our children so they can thrive.

Professor Waters explained teenagers are struggling in a way they have not before. Being a teenager has never been easy, but our teenagers today are in completely new territory. This involves navigating their way through a world with unprecedented complexity as a result of technology, terrorism and loneliness.

It’s a frightening reality that 25 per cent of teenagers in Australia experience or have experienced mental illness. And 50 per cent of all illness in teenagers is related to mental illness. This also means it is a tougher job for parents. And easily one where you can find yourself lost or unsure of the best way to raise your children. Three out of four parents feel stressed, and under-prepared to raise children in this modern world.

Professor Waters talked about equipping us with two ‘parent’ goals, including helping our children to develop resilience and the ability to bounce back; and to plan and feel positive through optimism with the ability to bounce forward.

The answer is through adopting a strength-based parenting approach. It is our natural instinct as parents to want to ‘fix’ or ‘improve’ any ‘weaknesses’ that we see in our children. We focus on the subjects they aren’t doing as well, and what’s gone wrong in a day.

Strength-based parenting is about flipping this on its head, and maximising what we do well. The focus is to first identify and build on our strengths before we focus on ‘fixing’ the problems or the weaknesses that we have become so accustomed to doing.

Professor Waters reminded us that strengths don’t make us special because we all have them, and this is not about ignoring weaknesses so that we end up with teenagers who have a self-inflated ego. Quite the opposite. When we start with weakness, it quickly turns to negative. This is deeply rooted in our sub-conscious. Professor Waters encouraged us all (and our children) to find strengths and work out how we are going to use them, with the aim to help build resilience in children.

The evidence to support this theory is compelling. Studies have been conducted by the University of Melbourne indicating that strength-based parenting is good for children and parents.Overall the findings of the studies show that:

  • Strengths are protective and softens the likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression as well as resulting in the ability to better cope with stress and negativity.
  • Strengths are enhancing and will result in higher levels of life satisfaction, positively and self-confidence.

Professor Waters admitted that even though she is psychologist herself, this doesn’t make her a perfect parent. She too, has to make a concerted effort to embrace ‘The Strength Switch’, a parenting philosophy that she encouraged us all to take home.

Instead of entering the house at the end of the work-day and seeing all of the problems (the dirty window), she commits to switching on the light to positive parenting in her head. For ten minutes, she focuses on all the good things in the house; the many clean windows, but more importantly, the things in the day that her children have done well, before she starts with any criticism on what they could have done better.

In practical terms, one example is through the approach to homework. Start with a subject that your child enjoys and is performing well in before getting to the most challenging work (with a little break) and finish with another strength-based subject.

For more information on Professor Waters, or details on her book visit

Thanks to all of our parents who attended our first PEP Talk.

Please join us for PEP Talk 2 on Tuesday 20 August, where we’ll hear from two more experts on positively impacting learning outcomes and wellbeing through nutrition, sleep and exercise.