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Don’t rush to diagnose: consider character strengths in kids

ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExperts

The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the Amer Psychiatry Association has attracted a barrage of criticism from many sources. An overarching issue appears to be over-diagnosis, and particularly worrying is the over-diagnosis of ADHD in kids.

Does your child have difficulty sustaining attention, organising tasks or waiting for his or her turn? According to the Manual, if your child has these ‘symptoms’ or any 6 of the many listed, he or she may be diagnosed with ADHD. Be prepared to be shocked upon reading this list, because I’m sure most parents would consider many of the ‘symptoms’ on this list to be a normal part of being a child.

Instead of rushing to diagnose active, – even overactive – children with a disorder and medicating them, why not consider alternative approaches such as playing to their character strengths? Instead of highlighting weakness and areas that need fixing, consider recognizing what is good, right and strong in children.

Character Strengths

The study of character strengths came out of the development of the field of positive psychology. Researchers and academics needed new language and strategies to use in the study of human potential. The VIA (Values in Action) Institute was formed, and with the co-operation of 55 scientists, the VIA classification of 24 character strengths and 6 Virtues evolved. These are used as a common language to describe positive dispositions and best qualities.

Strength Spotting 

Leading research by Park and Peterson in 2006, found the character strengths of hope, zest, love and in later years, gratitude, to be the strongest in children.

But how do parents and teachers identify these strengths?

For those aged between 10 and 17 years the VIA Centre has a Youth Survey that can be taken online.

For younger children, here are some useful techniques to identify and play to your child’s character strengths. Once identified, helping your child cultivate his or her strengths is essential to enable the growth and development of character into adolescence and adulthood. There are many techniques, try them out and help your kids use their strengths in different ways. Also noteworthy is that character strengths influence each other, they don’t occur in isolation.

As part of strength-spotting, whether with your children, in your relationships or at work, it is helpful to share what you value in the other person’s character strength. You may express your appreciation or tell them what you’ve observed and why you observed this.  Positive reinforcement is helpful to encourage the use of character strengths.

“Using strengths creates positive emotions in you and your child, further replenishing the inner wellspring of resources for challenging situations”  – Elizabeth Elizardi

Here is a video on how teachers have used character strengths in a primary setting.



AngieAngie Bucu holds a Master of Wellness, is an Independent Wellness Researcher and a tutor of Mindbody Wellness.  Having swapped a career in Professional Services for a life and career in Wellness, Angie shares research and knowledge on the various dimensions of Wellness including mindbody, physical, emotional, nutritional, environmental, social and workplace wellness. She regularly shares research, news and views on her blog Ingredients of Wellness, and is a Hong Kong distributor of Miessence, the world’s leading certified organic skincare and personal care range, certified to food grade standards, through her business Organic Care HK


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