KIPS Blog: Parenting Assessment in Practice & Research

Assessing Parenting to Develop Character: Optimism and Curiosity

Posted by Phil Gordon on Tue, Jun 25, 2013 @ 09:23 AM

In Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, Tough discusses seven character traits that Angela Duckworth and colleagues have focused on as key to children’s success:

  • Grit,
  • Self-Control,
  • Zest,
  • Social Intelligence,
  • Gratitude,
  • Optimism,
  • Curiosity.

In the posts during the past three weeks, we explored the interaction of parenting, parenting assessment and the first 5 character traits on the list.  Specifically, we explored how a parenting assessment could guide parents in promoting these traits in their children. This post will look at the last two character traits: Optimism and Curiosity. 

parenting-assessment-questionnare By identifying the parenting behaviors that support development of a character trait, we can support parents in improving the behaviors with the aim of promoting this trait in children.  We will start by defining the trait, and then explore which parenting behaviors might be most involved in developing the particular trait.  We will use the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS) to illustrate this connection.  In the slide show below we show which parenting behaviors are most likely to promote character trait development.  The slides summarize the previous blog posts, and show the final two traits, optimism and curiosity.



The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true. ― James Branch Cabell 


According to Martin Seligman, optimism is an expectation for a positive future and importantly includes the intention to work toward it (Martin Seligman, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, p 260).  Instilling optimism can inoculate a person against what Seligman has referred to as “learned helplessness”, where negative events seem permanent, personal and pervasive.  For success, the appropriate amount of optimism is important.  For example, in his book, Paul Tough discusses chess at length, and in particular, school age chess masters and the role of optimism in their success.  In studying chess masters, he found that accurate appraisal of situations was critical to success.  Those that worked hard, but didn’t become masters, tended to be overly optimistic. On the other hand, one needs a healthy level of optimism to put in the hard work and compete.

What can parents do to promote appropriate levels of optimism? Since there appears to be an optimum level of optimism, parents need to help their children develop moderate levels of optimism.  Too little and one doesn’t have the conviction to stretch beyond his or her comfort zone.  Too much optimism and one doesn’t appraise situations accurately, plan accordingly, and is therefore subject to unnecessary mistakes.  An important part of optimism is having reasonable expectations.  KIPS item #7 is about setting Reasonable Expectations for the child and providing opportunities to stretch beyond current capabilities.  By consistently expecting the child to slightly stretch him/herself, the parent can support a “can do” attitude toward reaching stretch goals.  Also, those with appropriate levels of optimism are more likely to be flexible in finding strategies to achieve those goals.  If the parent supports the child to think for him/herself and explore alternatives in solving problems, s/he is supporting this agility of mind and the experience of solving problems (assessed under KIPS item #10 Supportive Directions).  Parents who appropriately encourage children and praise genuine accomplishment when the child is young, set the foundation for internal optimism as the child matures (assessed under KIPS item #11 Encouragement). 


 I like Martin Seligman’s definition of curiosity:

Curiosity about the world entails openness to experience and flexibility about matters that do not fit one’s preconceptions. Curious people do not simply tolerate ambiguity; they like it and are intrigued by it. -Martin Seligman, Flourish page 243.

Since I have devoted an entire post to curiosity and how parents can promote it.  I won’t elaborate here on this character trait.  Todd Kashdan, a psychologist at George Mason University, believes that curiosity may be among the most important character traits to develop, because if one is curious, one can build all the other traits. 

The last of the 12 KIPS items is a perfect match for this trait, as it assesses how well the parent or caregiver Promotes Exploration and Curiosity.  In addition, other KIPS parenting assessment items may support the development of curiosity.  For example, a parent who encourages a child to blow bubbles through a wand (KIPS item #11 Encouragement) promotes the child’s curiosity about his environment.

The last slide summarizes this series of blog posts on the character traits for success.  It appears that we have revealed considerable opportunities for parents to support the development of the 7 character traits highlighted by Angela Duckworth and colleagues.  We have also shown how parenting assessment tools can be very useful in supporting parents to promote the development of these character traits in their children.

Please share your thoughts on how parents can promote these 7 character traits leading to children's success in the comment section below.

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Tags: parenting behavior, assessing parenting, character development