In a study by a University of Zurich psychologist Willibald Ruch nearly 40 years ago, the behaviors, attitudes toward, and personality traits of nearly 100 eighth graders who fit the class clown designation were analyzed. The findings were: high on attention-seeking and unruliness (no surprise), but also high on leadership and cheerfulness ( surprise). However even with these high character traits, class clowns also tended to accomplish less than their non-clown classmates (again no surprise) which could be because of low character scores on prudence, self-regulation, modesty, honesty, fairness, perseverance, and love of learning.

Character strengths are sometimes labeled soft skills, non-cognitive skills, character skills, social-emotional skills, 21st-century skills, and many other terms. Regardless, they all point to a constellation of personal skills, attitudes, values, and mindsets that we’re calling, collectively, character strengths.

Many character strengths need to be “caught” more than they’re “taught” through observation in action from teachers, parents, peers etc. There is something to that saying “Children will mirror what you do vs. what you say!”

But before you can identify and build character strengths in your children, it is helpful to know and understand your own strengths. This online survey at VIA Institute of on Character Survey can help.

The VIA Classification of Character Strengths is comprised of 24 character strengths that fall under six broad virtue categories: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Once you understand your own strengths, you can begin to identify and nurture your child’s by watching them play and observing their interactions with others. Listen and notice.

Here are some hints of what you are looking for in your child:

  • Is able to work or play independently
  • Is interested in doing well
  • Understands and sets goals
  • Wants to/is eager to learn new things
  • Asks for help when needed
  • Works well/gets along well in groups
  • Has passions and hobbies
  • Can plan ahead
  • Makes good choices
  • Is curious and creative
  • Problem-solves well
  • Share takes turns and negotiates
  • Accepts redirection well
  • Is truthful and honest
  • Has positive relationships with adults
  • Shows empathy and sensitivity to others
  • Likes to help others
  • Reacts appropriately when frustrated (such as not hitting)

Now back to your class clown days……it is not all bad news.

In adulthood, the same study mentioned above reported that class clowns become known as “wits” or “organizational fools.” They are more likely to be male, group leaders, active, independent, and high in self-esteem. Groups containing wits, rather than becoming less productive (due to the disruptive behavior of the wits), were higher in morale, more task-oriented, and better at problem-solving. However, to be used to positive effect, the clown’s humor must be balanced with prudence and some restraint.

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