A Model for Strengths-Based Mentoring

This is the final article on our series on Character Strengths, and the many opportunities they provide to work positively with young people.

We have covered helping them understand their strengths, build on these, target new ones and helping them recognise when they may perhaps be using one inappropriately.

The next  and final step is to explore using character strengths to mentor young people – perhaps those who need a bit of extra assistance and guidance to meet their potential.

This is inspired by Dr Lea Waters’ (2017) wonderful parenting book, The Strength Switch, which encourages us to look beyond a deficit model of what young people can’t do, and instead, focus on nurturing those things that they can do well.  She maintains that “constantly working on weakness can be tiring, even demoralising”, whereas working with strengths helps us focus on “optimism and resilience”. Taking a young person who is used to constantly getting themselves into trouble (whether at school, at home, in part-time work , sport etc), or feeling like a failure in all they attempt and switching the conversation to positive qualities is a “game changer”.  They begin to view themselves in new ways. They acknowledge their best qualities as well as those they are often in trouble for.  They may even see, like in our previous article, that positive qualities mis-used could be causing some of their issues – and that they can be remedied if understood.

These conversations bolster the self-esteem of some of young people who are presenting challenging behaviours or experiencing negative emotions about their place in their school or in the local community.

It starts with knowing their strengths and help them to use and acknowledge them through one-on-one mentoring sessions.  These sessions could follow this kind of outline:

  • Ask them to do the survey, or if they have already done it, ask to see the results.
  • Reaffirm these strengths and find examples of where you have seen them evident. Ask the young person to think of their own examples of times they have utilised their strengths – this helps them own and appreciate these.
  • Work towards recognising when they may be mis-using one of these – refer to our previous article here.
  • When more familiar with the process look at the strengths towards the bottom of the list. Are there any here they could work towards targeting and developing that might assist them to manage some of the situations they are less successful in?  (refer to previous article)
  • Meet regularly to discuss how this process is going, continually monitoring your own reflection of yourself and your qualities – and how they display themselves appropriately and sometimes inappropriately. Our own honesty, fallibility and vulnerability is a crucial part of this process.

Sometimes all it takes is for one person to see the good in you, and you begin to see the good in yourself.

The model above provides a framework for these kinds of conversations, ones that could be transformative for the young men and women who need this most.  It is useful for parents, and also for teachers, coaches and others who work with young people on a regular basis.