Applauding the Good
Authors Brandon and Analyn Miller, parents of seven children, changed their parenting strategy 10 years into the parenting journey and realized their kids did much better when they parented to their strengths rather than always focusing on their weaknesses. This changed the way they looked at their children's grades in school, and helped their kids see themselves differently. Excelling at some things persuaded their kids to try things they weren't so good at.
About the Guest
- Read "The Five E’s of Strength Identification" by Analyn and Brandon Miller. https://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/parenting/essentials/releasing-your-child/the-five-es-of-strength-identification/
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Brandon and Analyn Miller changed their parenting strategy 10 years into the parenting journey. Hear what they realized about their kids when they parented to their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
Applauding the Good
Bob: As a parent, how much time do you spend fertilizing your kids versus trying to fix them? It’s a lesson that Brandon and Analyn Miller learned with their daughter, Madeline.
Brandon: So Madeline handed us this report card at the end of sixth grade, all A’s and a C-minus in math. Being a parent, who was a high-performer in school, my first thought went to: “What happened in math? How did that happen?” Being a student of what I have been speaking about, decided, “Maybe I should ask her about the positive grades first.”
Literally, we switched the conversation; we said to our daughter, “You got an A-plus in reading, Madeline; do you like to read?” Our daughter’s eyes lit up; she went: “Daddy, I love to read. Sometimes, you and Mommy think you’re putting me to bed at night; and I’ll stay up until two in the morning reading books.” I offered her/I said, “Madeline, I’ll tell you what—this summer, I’m going to hire you to read books.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, June 2nd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You’ll can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Do you know the things your kids are really good at and the things they love to do? What are you doing to help fuel those passions and abilities? We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. One of the challenges I think all of face, as parents, is how we deal with the preconceptions that we bring to parenting about what a good child is supposed to be. [Laughter] Why are you laughing?
Dave: I laughed immediately because I can remember having those thoughts. You know, now, I’m a grandparent; but when I realized what my thought was about what my children should be, it was more about how they made me look—
Ann: I was going to say the same thing.
Dave: —than them.
Ann: It was all about me: they would make me look better, and people would think better of me.
Bob: We’ve got some friends, who are joining us this week, to talk about rethinking our parenting. I’ll just say, again, this is really at the heart of what we talk about in the Art of Parenting® video series and the book that Dennis and Barbara Rainey wrote, The Art of Parenting; because as moms and dads, we have to rethink our approach to parenting and not just try to follow some recipe.
Analyn and Brandon Miller join us on FamilyLife Today. Guys, welcome back.
Analyn: Hi; thank you for having us.
Brandon: Thank you.
Bob: Brandon and Analyn are from Sacramento, California. They are parents of seven kids. Brandon works with businesses and with ministries to help in strength development.
Analyn, if you want to sell your house and you live in Sacramento—right?—they can call you.
Analyn: Call me. [Laughter]
Bob: Alright. She’s doing real estate in Sacramento; and in the meantime, they raised three of their seven kids; still have four at home. And I say you’ve raised three of your seven; you’re still parents; right?
Analyn: Yes, we are.
Bob: Yes; but you have to adjust how you do it once they are married; don’t you?
Brandon: Very much. [Laughter]
Bob: Brandon and Analyn have written a book called Play to Their Strengths. You said that this is an approach to parenting that dawned on you, ten years into the journey?—maybe, beyond that. What was your original parenting strategy? Do you remember?
Analyn: I would say our original parenting strategy, somewhat like we just discussed, was really making our kids make us look good. [Laughter]
Brandon: —very performance-oriented.
Analyn: Performance was—
Ann: And did you judge other people’s kids?
Analyn: One hundred percent, yes; absolutely.
Brandon: That was the standard by which you knew if you were a good parent—
Brandon: “Did your kids behave better than the other kids at the family event or the restaurant?” And you give the sideways glance to: “Oh, they don’t know what they are doing, because they must not use as strong a threats as I do to get their child to comport to the behavior you want to see in the restaurant”?
Bob: Meanwhile, you’re coaching business leaders and saying, “Really, what you need to do is try to encourage the strengths in your employees and help them play to their strengths in the workplace; and they’ll be better employees.” You went, “Oh, maybe, this would apply to parenting.”
Brandon: “Maybe, I should take this home and apply this with my”—at the time—“emerging teens and little, little ones.” It became, for us, a conversation around: “How would we make this switch? What would this look like, practically, in our home to create a culture/a space, where it was okay to play to their strengths without getting caught up in what others would think about us in the process?”
Ann: —which can be very different because, many times, we hear, “We need well-rounded kids.”
Ann: How would we go from having well-rounded kids to playing to their strengths?
Analyn: You know, I think that, as we can even consider the idea of being well-rounded, our idea of that is they’re excelling at school; they are playing a sport; they are doing an art. We want our children to do all of them excellently—
Brandon: —and be perfectly-behaved—[Laughter]—in the process.
Analyn: —and maintain perfect behavior. When I say that out loud—of course, as we’re all sitting here—we’re going, “That’s just so unreasonable!
Analyn: “How could we even, you know, expect that or think that of our children?”
When you look at just beginning to change this culture into looking at what’s right with your children, and looking at the strengths in your children, it does take some time to discover what those things are. I think there [are] going to be opportunities that you are putting in front of them; right? Even as small children/grade school children, maybe, you let them do—they want to play an instrument or whatnot.
I think, for us, one of the things that we—especially when our children want to try new things—our only thing is: “You know what? If we can provide that for you, and if we can make sure you can get there for those practices and whatnot, we just ask that you finish it.” At the end of it—if they say: “I didn’t enjoy it,” or “I didn’t like all the practice afterwards; it just didn’t energize me,”—that’s okay; you know? But even in the process, our only thing is: “You’ve got to finish it,” because we don’t want our kids to just learn to start and not finish.
Bob: If they try out for the soccer team, they are going to do a season of soccer—
Bob: —and not quit halfway through.
Analyn: And we’ve had that happen to us. [Laughter]
Brandon: We have a little guy, who is—he’s a swimmer—and in our summer swim leagues, he breaks 30-year-old records; he is amazing. Each year after the season, we ask him: “Do you want to continue doing this? You’re amazing.” His initial response is: “No, I don’t like the practices; I’m not into this sport.” Then every year, around the spring, he remembers how much he likes to win and beat people, and says, “I’ll give it another go.”
We’re going to play this out; but my prediction is he will age out, at some point, and decide it’s not for him, even though we could transition him to the year-round competitive club. We could start to really invest; the sport takes a lot of investment with the travel; but we’re metering and monitoring, “Is that really the way to go?”
Because the myth of well-roundness—Dr. Donald Clifton, who is considered the father of strength psychology—so he’s the one who started to ask questions: “Why does our field of study focus so much on what’s wrong with humans instead of what’s right?” He’s quoted in one of his books as saying, “For every one strength a person has, you have a thousand weaknesses; so to spend a life trying to solve those things and become who you are not is really a recipe for frustration.”
On behalf of the person—who is either the parent, the child, the manager, the employee—pick your spot of human development, and you’re building a place where we’re going to really struggle.
Dave: What do you say to a parent, that has the child come home from school, with a grade card—because I know we focus on the negative and not the positive—so he’s got four A’s and whatever; and he’s got a D in algebra? Most parents go, “Why do you have a D here?”—rather than—“Oh my goodness! You are so good at these other areas.” What do you say to that parent?—because that’s what’s a lot of us do.
Brandon: So here is the playbook: Madeline handed us this report card at the end of sixth grade. She’s now a sophomore; but at the end of sixth grade, all A’s and a C-minus in math. Being a parent, who was a high-performer in school, my first thought went to: “What happened in math?
Analyn: “What happened?”
Brandon: “How did that happen?”
Analyn: “What in the world?!”
Brandon: Being a student of what I have been speaking about, decided, “Maybe, I should ask her about the positive grades first.” Literally, we switched the conversation; we said to our daughter: “You got an A-plus in reading. Madeline, do you like to read?” Our daughter’s eyes lit up; and she went: “Daddy, I love to read. Sometimes, you and Mommy think you’re putting me to bed at night; and I’ll stay up to two in the morning reading books.” [Laughter]
Analyn: —as a sixth grader.
Brandon: We said, “Wow!” I offered her/I said, “Madeline, I’ll tell you what—I’m going to hire you to read books.” She looked puzzled and quizzical, “Really?” I said, “Yes; for every book that’s a hundred pages, you get a dollar. Two hundred pages, you get two; three hundred or more, you get five. As long as you write a book report, turn it in on Mondays, I’ll pay you in cash.” My little girl read, and she read, and she read. What we were doing was—we were playing to the fourth E that we talked about, Energy. When a child plays to their strengths, they build energy; in fact, they reserve it.
At the end of summer, we came back and said, “Hey, Maddie, you’ve got to C in math. What do you think about some math tutoring?” Her answer was: “Sure; be happy to put some effort there.” If we had reversed it, I guarantee—I asked this question to rooms of people—“What do you think would have happened if I started with: ‘Maddie, this summer, math tutoring,’?”
Analyn: —all summer long.
Brandon: The answer I get from most is: “I would have had eye rolls”; “I would have had the ‘Wah-wah-wah,’”—it would have gone over that way. What would have started as—but “Here’s the carrot,” “Here’s all the incentive,”—but it probably became very authoritarian: “No; you must…”/”You have to…” This starts to erode that parent/child relationship around: “Am I really advocating for you to be your best?” or “…to be who I think you need to be to get by?”
Bob: The point is that there is energy around our strengths.
Bob: When we do the things that we’re good at, we feel energized; in fact, I think feel a little more empowered even to try to tackle some of the things that we’re not as good at.
Brandon: Very much.
Analyn: Thank you.
Brandon: We call it the Three C’s.
Brandon: So when a child plays to their strengths, number one: “You get more confidence.” You start to feel like, “I’ve got this; I’m in my zone. This is my area of genius.” Two: “Competence: ‘I have more room; I can grow here. I believe that there is more in my tank.’” And third: “Creative”—because now, in a creative space, now, we’re finding other avenues to get to my answer—versus, when you play to a weakness, what starts to happen is: those three [C’s]start to collapse.
Some call it lizard brain or reptilian. You start to have this anxiety toward: “UH! Can I do it? Do I have what it takes? Am I going to perform because Mom or Dad might be disappointed in me?” Disappointment in parenting is very difficult for a child to face; because it goes back to that question you said on the last show, which is: “Do they love me?”
Ann: Is it important for us, as parents, to know how we’re wired/what are our strengths; because our kids could be opposite of that?
Brandon: Throughout of our book, we would say parents knowing who they are is probably the most important takeaway we think we wrote about. For a parent entering into that realm, and when you think about bringing home that new child—and I think we were saying it earlier, you’re wanting to flip them over and find instructions—
Brandon: —“What do I do now that I’m this parent?” So then this natural apprehension starts to come in: “Do I have what it takes? Could I help this child be who they are supposed to be?”
Some people use this term, “Faking it until you make it.” Well, that mentality—if I don’t really come to terms with: “Well, who am I as a parent?” and “What will I excel at?” “What am I strong in?”—then that leads me to try and compensate in areas where maybe don’t come as natural. We describe this condition in our book that is/it’s a real challenge: it’s imposter syndrome. It’s presenting a front of who I am, or who I think I’m supposed to be, that matches to my kid; and there is a danger there.
Then, on the other hand, it’s also the challenge of putting onto my kids who I think I am: “And now, you have to be me.” Both of those lead to a separation; so now, we’re not meeting/we’re not communicating, because we’re/we don’t even speak the same language—
Brandon: —now as we grow.
We feel like: “Knowing who I am,”—is very important/as equal it is to—“Know who you are, as my child, so I know how to parent you.”
Dave: You know, it’s interesting; I’ve always—and you mentioned this in the book—I look at my sons now—33, 30, 28—what they are doing, and what they are good at, what their strengths are today—we saw when they were two or three; you know what I mean?
Brandon: Very much.
Dave: You have the quote in there that: “We, at 26, often are what we were at 3.” As parents, you can see it. Again, it doesn’t mean it has to be that; but—
Dave: —if you step back and analyze, you see it early; right?
Brandon: We like to say: “Your kids are not meant to be a mystery to you. God really does intend for you to know them.” In Jeremiah, it talks about “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” God already knows who this child is; so when they come into our world, we have a chance to know what God already knows.
I believe, when we’re genuinely in that discovery mode/genuinely staying curious and asking questions—not just: “Why did you do that?”—but: “Who are you?” “What makes you unique?” and “What am I seeing that I’m probably going to keep seeing throughout your life? What is this strength?” “What is this character quality?” “How do I help shape it for the best possible place, where you’ll express this in love?”
Dave: Talk about that a little bit; because you mentioned in one of your chapters, “Speak the truth over your children.” I’m sitting here, thinking: “Well, our three sons are living out who God made them to be. Part of that’s the way God made them. I’m wondering, ‘How much of that is what we did as parents?’”
Because, we—when we saw that/especially Ann—just started speaking that out loud to them. I remember saying to CJ, “Someday, God is going to use your brain the way its wired to really impact the world—so much different than my brain.” “Austin, you love literature; someday…”; you know. Now, I look today; it’s like, “Wow; I can see them doing that.”
How much of what we say, as we speak truth over our kids as parents, is that critical?
Brandon: Oh, it’s—when we think of the opportunity we have to be the voice in our children’s life/the thing they will remember—there is this idea that, for every five things that you say that are strong, if one of them is negative; or ten that are strong and one negative—they’ll remember the negative more than the positives. Our opportunity to see something brilliant, something beautiful, something in its raw form—and start to call it out—is our responsibility and opportunity.
Our fourth child, Michaela—she is, by her siblings own vote, the most strong-willed child in our house. [Laughter] Hands-down, she would win the prize every day; it would go that way.
Analyn: We voted too, yes. [Laughter]
Brandon: Yes, we love that tenacity—
Brandon: —and that strength; but it is difficult to parent that child who will challenge you every step of the way. We are teaching her a lesson in her teens that we want her to learn agreeableness versus argumentative behavior. We remind her; but what I tell her: “Don’t lose that edge. Don’t lose that place, where you’ll stand up for others, where you will confront injustice, where you will speak things that need to be spoken; because that’s from God. He’s given you that.” We’re just going to learn how to aim it in a way that it doesn’t always feel like an onslaught for her—
Analyn: She just doesn’t know how to use it yet.
Brandon: —daring to disagree with you.
Bob: And that’s a significant point: “She doesn’t know how to use it yet.”
Bob: One of the things we talk about at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways is that—strengths and weaknesses that we see in our spouse—weaknesses are, oftentimes, strengths that are being overused.
Bob: If we can go to a child—and we see a weakness; and we ask, “What’s the hidden strength behind that weakness?”—I’ll give you an example. Let’s say that you have a child or a spouse who has a critical spirit; okay? They’re always criticizing anyone and everyone. Behind that, if you start to look, that child has high standards; they expect things to be done right. They put that on themselves; they put it on other people. It becomes a weakness when they overuse that strength of—“I have high standards,”—and they don’t give any grace to anybody, and they start to apply it.
When you can help a child, say: “You know, here is what I’m seeing. You have really high standards; but sometimes, the way that comes out is in a critical spirit. You make other people feel bad. How can we help you maintain that good thing of high standards in your life, and wanting to see people do things right, without becoming critical in the process?”
That’s where you’re helping a child see the hidden strength behind the weakness that’s an acting out behind that strength.
Brandon: Absolutely; because, if we think about it, our greatest strengths really come from these patterns in our brain that you might call a talent. These are those super-highway neural pathways that you are going to move down them, whether you want—because there is weakness as in not having enough strength to be strong; and then there is weakness, as you said well Bob, that it’s a misused or abused strength/too much of it.
Those are the ones that you, as a parent—depending on what it is, you’re wrangling those—you are working on those. That’s where that authoritative—you can’t let go of the control—
Brandon: —you can’t let go of the expectations that your child needs.
What we’ve learned—is the more explicit the expectations are; and the clarity around what you need to meet them; and “Am I really setting you up for success?”—become the hallmark of how household discipline can function; because now, I can correct you in the parameters that fit for who you are—not just a one-size fits all for all of these kids—because you have different ways you’re going to have challenges.
Bob: Let me ask you guys, Dave and Ann: “If we could go back—you knew this at the beginning, and you were doing this at the beginning—you could have a do-over; what would you do differently, raising your three boys, that would have led to more playing to their strengths; do you think?”
Ann: I think we did do it with our youngest and part way with our middle son; but part of it was knowing myself and knowing my strengths and my weaknesses.
Bob: —back to what you guys said: “This is at the heart of the book—to know your own strengths first, as a parent”; yes.
Ann: Actually, I’ll never forget listening to Chuck Swindoll talk about, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he won’t depart from it.” The whole idea of that Hebrew word meaning, “…according to their bent,” that switched me. That really transformed my thinking, because I started looking for their bent; and then I started speaking out what I saw in them.
Honestly, I also had to go back to our oldest and apologize. I had to apologize: “I’m sorry that I’ve been trying to make you like me. I’m sorry that I’ve been putting expectations on you that have kind of taken the light out of your eye.” That really did a lot to build us back up, because our kids are so quick to forgive.
What would you say, Dave?
Dave: I would say, as I watched Ann—she’s given herself a hard time; she did this; she really did—she taught me to see their strengths. We didn’t call it “playing to their strengths”—but that’s better language than we had—but it was like: “God has uniquely designed them, Ephesians 2:10; they are like a work of art.” It’s sort of neat to think, “Everybody sees it.” I mean, their brothers saw their strengths; you see it in other people.
It’s hard for parents to be that objective; but if you step back and go, “What are they?” I’ll never forget—our oldest/we already said CJ was more technical and analytical—our middle son really loved literature; Ann just built that. Now, he is a literary agent; he’s our agent—it’s really cool. Then our youngest was very athletic, and he lit up on a ballfield; it’s all he ever wanted to talk about.
I’ll never forget—our oldest son, CJ, was on the high school football team that I coached—and he wasn’t the starter, but he contributed and played well. It wasn’t like he was a terrible athlete, but he wasn’t going to be the star. They win the state championship—first time ever in the school’s history—football state championship; right? He gets a ring; it’s awesome; right?
Three or four years later, the youngest, Cody, is the star—sets every school record, gets a full scholarship to college, ends up playing in the NFL for a real brief period of time—so he’s the star. They are undefeated; number one in the state the whole season, don’t lose a game; get to the semi-finals, get beat. So the best athlete in the family isn’t going to get a ring. I’ll never forget as—and I’m on the field—and we’re just in tears, because we should have won the state championship that year; but not going to happen. I get on the bus, and we go home.
I find out—as Cody gets in his car at the high school, after getting off the bus—CJ, the oldest son, drives over; takes off his ring, and says, “You deserve this ring more than I do.” [Emotion in voice] It was just such a tender moment because CJ was acknowledging, “You have the gift; I got the ring.” Cody went, “It’s your ring.” [Laughter] He’ll never wear it; you know? But it was so beautiful in that moment, as a dad, to say: “You know, we all see each other’s gifts—
Brandon: That’s right.
Dave: —“and they’re beautiful. You just celebrate them.”
Dave: You know, that’s what you’re saying, “Play to that, and beauty comes out of ashes.”
Bob: Well, I don’t know what moms and dads listening needed to hear today; but I think there are moms and dads, who are looking at each other, and going, “Okay; we’ve got some work to do”; and maybe, need to dig a little deeper, and read the book, and understand better how they can understand their own strengths and then play to their kids’ strengths.
Guys, thank you for being here/for helping coach us on this. Thanks for writing the book.
Analyn: Thank you.
Brandon: Thank you.
Bob: I hope a lot of our listeners are going to get a copy of your book. It’s available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. Go there to order the book, Play to Their Strengths, by Brandon and Analyn Miller. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, order the book, Play to Their Strengths, online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how, as parents, we can make sure our children are adequately prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within them to defend their faith; because increasingly, in this culture, all of us have to be ready to defend our faith. Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace will join us tomorrow. I hope you can be with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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