Parents' Weekend speaker shares 7 traits of thrivers

Educational psychologist Dr. Michele Borba provided insights on how to help kids thrive during her keynote speech for Santa Catalina School’s Parents’ Weekend on October 29.

Borba modeled her talk on her recent book, Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. She shared seven science-backed character strengths of thrivers—self-confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, grit, and optimism—all of which help children develop resilience. “Resilience is a mindset that says, ‘I got this,’ and a tool set that says, ‘Here’s what I can use,’” she said, later adding: “The big thing that I think some people have done is to see resilience as one trait. It’s not. It’s a combination.”

Here is a little more about each trait:

Self-confidence. This is about who you are, not what you are. Borba urged students in the audience to understand and devote time to their talents and strengths. If they develop a hobby that plays to those strengths, they can go to it when feeling stressed.

Empathy. The ability to relate to others is a top employability factor today, but empathy is on the wane. “Because you’ve been looking at screens so much—and rightly so, that’s how you got through COVID—your ability to read each other is going down,” Borba said. She offered several small ways for students to take a phone break and encouraged them to regularly connect with their “glue people,” those people they can turn to as a source of strength.

Self-control. This is about reducing stress. The first step to stress management is figuring out your signs and triggers so you can take action before the stress increases. “We wait until we’re at the moment, and by then it’s too late,” Borba said. “You can’t teach resilience when the challenge and the adversity are standing in front of you.”

Integrity. Thrivers have a moral code and stick to it. She told a story about a high schooler whose parents gathered the family together to brainstorm what they want to be known for. “Honesty” became the family motto, and they repeated it so much it became ingrained. Borba encouraged students to find their mantra.

Curiosity. When faced with a problem, resilient people are the ones who say, “I got this. I’ll figure out another way.” Take a minute to brainstorm solutions, because there are always options. “Parents, never do for your daughter what your daughter can do for herself,” Borba said.

Perseverance. How do we keep going without overwhelming ourselves? Take one step at a time and focus on effort, not endgame. “Make success a four-letter word that spells ‘gain,’” she said.

Optimism. There is a lot to be down about in the world. Find ways to talk back to the worry or negativity. Parents can find a positive affirmation, like “I’ll make it work,” and say it so much their children will notice. Other paths to optimism: share good news; watch what you view; give back or volunteer.

Children don’t need all of these traits to thrive, Borba said. Even combining just two can make a big difference. Parents can help their kids identify which traits they already have and which ones they can develop. “Intentionality is how you make change and how you make a stronger generation of kids,” she said.

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