Parents' descriptions of the character strengths of their children
Van der Walt, Christina Magdalena
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A positive psychology approach guided the research study. Research within positive psychology conducted on a characteristic level provided insights into the impact of positive emotions and character traits on the functioning of an individual. Character strengths used optimally lead to gratification, true happiness, and enable an individual to deal with life’s challenges in such a way that the risk of mental illness decreases. Character strengths encompass one of the many ways in which children’s functioning can be improved, well-being maintained, and the effects of trauma buffered. Within the South African context it was found that limited research on character strengths have been conducted. Studies conducted focused more on resilience than character strengths and did not take a cross-cultural approach to the research. The current study aimed to identify character strengths of children aged seven to ten years within the four main racial groups: Black, Coloured, Indian, and White. This study functioned on a similar premise as the study done by Park and Peterson (2006) whereby parents were asked to report on their child’s behaviour within different contexts through written descriptions. Purposive and snowball sampling was used to recruit participants. A total of 20 parents participated in the study and provided written descriptions of their children. The average length of the essays was 1671 words. Content analysis was used as data analysis procedure. Additionally, a weighting between one and three was given to each identified character strength: one indicated a vague description of the character strength; two represented a fair description; and a weighting of three referred to a direct and clear description of the character strength. Through the data analysis process discussed above, parents’ experience of their children were deduced to distinct character strengths, through comparison with the clusters set out in the VIA Classification of Strengths. Social intelligence, zest, and love of learning were found to be the three most prevalent character strengths with the highest weighting within all four groups. The high prevalence and weighting of social intelligence are supported by the argument that children in this age group start to develop a greater awareness of other individuals, and can view the world from another perspective than their own. The high prevalence and weighting of zest in this study are supported by the argument that children in this developmental phase are biologically and developmentally inclined to approach life with energy and enthusiasm. The high prevalence and weighting of love of learning in this study are supported by the argument that children in this developmental phase are not only able to learn new information, but due to increased abilities, also exhibit enthusiasm for broadening their knowledge base. The virtue group of transcendence showed the lowest prevalence of all six virtue groups. This finding is possibly due to the developmental stage and cognitive abilities of the child. The best hope of this study is that it may lead to the development of enabling institutions, such as schools and other relevant programmes, to ensure that children are aware of, and make use of their unique strengths.