Training a Child in the Way They Should Go
Brandon and Analyn Miller, parents of seven, remind us it's our job to find out what is unique about each of our children beginning when they are toddlers. We need to become students of our children, encouraging their strengths and recognizing their weaknesses. Asking questions about what they like and don't like is a great way to discover who God made them to be.
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 remind parents it’s our job to find out what is unique about each of our children. We need to become students of our children to discover who God made them to be.
Training a Child in the Way They Should Go
Bob: Part of our assignment, as parents, is to understand who our children are: “Who are the unique people God made them to be?” Brandon Miller says one of the ways he and his wife do that is by paying attention to what his children do well and the things they enjoy doing.
Brandon: We started to incorporate this simple question every day—we started to look for, “What do we see and hear when we hear their response?”—it’s: “What did you do today that made you feel strong?” The thing is, as parents, I can notice where a child performs well; but I don’t know if it gave them energy. I don’t know, if it’s going to be so much of an enjoyment, they’ll push through opposition to keep doing it.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 1st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. “Are you raising your children to be the people God created them to be?” or “Are you trying to make them into the people you want them to be?”—it’s an important question to answer; right? We’ll talk more about it today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You guys know, when we were working on the video series for the Art of Parenting® that accompanies the book Dennis and Barbara Rainey wrote on that subject, one of the themes we talked about is that parents need to be careful not to try to force a child into a predetermined mold. We need to be figuring out: “Who is this child?” and “How we point them in the direction God wants to point them?”
Ann: I wish we would have known that back when we started our parenting days, because I was trying to squeeze our oldest son into a mold; and it wasn’t working.
Bob: I think every parent is longing for the recipe for perfect kids. They think, “Give me the recipe; I will bake it to perfection because I want perfect kids.” Then, we realize, “Oh! They are unique individuals.” Part of the mystery of parenting is figuring out: “Who is this child?” and “How do I steward who this child is?”
Dave: One of our historic moments in parenting was when my oldest son, CJ—from day one—you could see his strength was analytical thinker.
Ann: —which, by the way, Dave and I were both athletes; so everyone was saying: “You guys are going to have the most athletic kids in the world! It’s going to be amazing!” And we’re thinking, “Yes, we are!” [Laughter]
Dave: So number one comes out—and I mean, he’s athletic—but you could see there’s this gift. He must be three?
Dave: —and he’s just staring at my forehead. I knew enough then: “He’s thinking; he isn’t just staring. There’s something going on in that little brain of his, and it’s probably deep.”
Here’s what he says: “Hey, Dad! How old were you when your head started sucking your hair back in?” [Laughter] I’m like, “Only a thinker would think like that.” I wish I could have replaced that, but it never came back.
Bob: We’re going to try to help moms and dads this week think about the art of parenting, and the need to understand who your kids are, and understand how to parent them. It’s Proverbs 22:6 that says, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” We think that means according to some prescribed—
Ann: —according to the Bible; yes.
Bob: —it means according to their “bent.” We’ve got some friends here to help us work through this. Analyn and Brandon Miller; welcome to FamilyLife Today, guys.
Brandon: Thank you.
Analyn: Thank you so much for having us.
Bob: Analyn and Brandon live in Sacramento, California, and are the parents of—are you ready?—seven kids.
Analyn: Yes, sir!
Ann: You guys are young too.
Brandon: When you start young enough, you can do it. [Laughter]
Bob: Three of your kids are now grown and married?
Analyn: That’s right.
Bob: And do you still have four at home?
Analyn: We do.
Bob: So you’re still in the middle of this. You’ve written a book called Play to Their Strengths. It’s about what we’ve been talking about here—that there’s no formula for raising kids—when did you realize that?
Brandon: I’d say, about 12 years ago, I was already introduced to this idea of thinking differently about human development in general.
Bob: Tell everybody what you do.
Brandon: Professionally, I work with organizations. We help develop great places to work by shifting an approach to what we call Strength-based Development; so thinking about how to develop a person’s natural abilities—play to where their natural momentum is—and then build an overall better workplace that way.
Bob: You use a tool called Strength Finders.
Brandon: We do.
Bob: Many of our listeners have probably heard of that because churches use this as well.
Brandon: Very much. Our main objective is to help people, who are bosses, be the best boss they can be.
Brandon: What we drew the connection to is: “You know, there’s not that much difference to being a people manager and a parent.
Brandon: “They’re just older versions of those people you’re trying to parent at home.”
Bob: And this was 12 years ago this finally dawned on you?
Brandon: Yes, [Laughter] it took a little while.
The story about sports—so I’m a big football player and had aspirations to take that far. When kids came along, I thought, “Here it is; [Laughter] I have a boy. We’re going to form him and mold him into the best football player he can be.” He waited until his freshman year to say, “Dad, I want to play on the ball team.” I said, “Alright; what do you think about me coaching?” He said, “Sure.” The high school allowed me to come on.
All summer long, in my mind, I am preparing him for glory and all the things he needed to do and be. On the first day of practice, as we’re making our way to the school, I’m giving him a speech—or some kind of motivational talk—around: “Here’s what you’re going to do to be awesome, Son. Here’s how it’s all going to go down.” [Laughter]
I’m probably halfway through the talk, and my son leans over—this is a 14-year-old boy with his dad—puts his hand on my shoulder, and goes, “Hey, Dad. I just need you to know that I’m not like you, and I’m not going to play football the same way you did.”
Analyn: Ohhhhh; that hit him like a ton of bricks.
Brandon: Yes; it’s that moment of, “I think you just said more than you just said; I think there is more to this.”
Dave: Yes, right.
Brandon: It brought me back to this memory: I was in a child dedication and
Proverbs 22:6 was what was said. The minister, at the time, was saying: “You’re raising this child in the way this child is designed by God to go—not just how you think or even just good biblical principles, because all those are good and right—but this child has a nature.”
For us, I think, it really caused us to reframe how we would look at our kids. We were just entering that phase with our three oldest, where the teenage years were upon us. They were naturally starting to create distance, which will happen. I would say, fairly, we were desperate.
Dave: You know—when you step back, and you sit here and go, “Ohh, you just play to their strengths,”—but as a parent, when you see that they’re different than maybe you thought or what you were hoping for, was it easy?—or was it hard?
Brandon: It was incredibly difficult because, on one hand, all of us have a natural negativity bias; and it protects us. We first threat-assess, and that carries over into development. So when we look at a child’s report card—or we think about their assets or deficiencies—we’re drawn to try to fix what’s wrong to try to build something strong. Over time, that teaches a child, “My pathway to success is through fixing my weaknesses.”
But then come the biases, as a parent—who I want you to be/who I see—that’s very hard to let go of; because as a parent, most of us are well-meaning. We want what’s best for our kid; so we start to say things like, “If I were you—
Brandon: “—I would do it this way.” The problem with that, as my 14-year-old in his brilliance, said: “I’m not like you. I can’t do it your way. I won’t be who you are.”
Dave: Kudos to him to be able to say that at 14!
Analyn: Yes, for sure.
Ann: That says a lot about his relationship with you—that he’d feel the freedom to say that.
Dave: I’ll tell you this—in our parenting, we struggled between each other, raising our kids up. The same one who looked at my head—you know, the thinker—he’s playing basketball at, what?—eight years old? I’m the coach; we’re 0-12; we don’t win a game—because it’s all kids; it’s not the coach, ever—[Laughter]—we’re terrible.
Ann: And this son is super laid back, where I am intensity out the door. I’m like, “Come on!” I’m yelling: “Come on! Come on!”—I’m that mom. I’m yelling; and all the kids go to the end of the basket, and they’re shooting baskets. Our son stops in the middle of the court, and he’s just staring at the scoreboard—staring.
Dave: This is one of the games, going back and forth, at both ends of the court; so the game’s going on full court. He’s standing in the middle while the game goes by him. He’s just staring at the scoreboard.
Ann: And I’m saying: “CJ! CJ! Come on! Pay attention!”
Dave: I’m the coach, looking at this parent in the stands like, “Who is this lady?” It’s my wife! [Laughter] She’s yelling, “CJ!” I call, “Time out,” because I know/I know what’s going on. I call, “Time out.”
All the kids come over. I go, “CJ, what are you doing there in the middle of the court?” He goes: “Dad, how do the lights work? [Laughter] It’s connected to the board over there; and they hit these, and it goes up on the scoreboard.” I go, “I have no idea, but I guarantee you’re going to find out!” And that’s his bent! He is, today, a 33-year-old—just genius technical guy—
Dave: —wonderful—but it was a struggle. We get in the car to drive home. She’s like, “He should be doing this.” I’m like, “I don’t think that’s who he is.” We had to learn what you’re talking about.
How does a parent make that adjustment?
Brandon: We can relate to that because Lance was the kid, that when you gave him a toy, he found more pleasure in tearing it apart than he did playing with it.
Analyn: Yes, I was constantly watching him to make sure I didn’t kill him during the day: “What devices did we give him that he may take apart, put together, and literally—
Brandon: —“and plug it into the light socket?” [Laughter]
Analyn: He would do stuff like that.
Ann: They are very similar—yes—our sons.
Brandon: He was very curious; and so even in high school, thinking about who he would become—this is our son that ended up forgoing college; was two years in, decided, “No, I don’t want to go into all that debt. I’m going into an apprenticeship and become an electrician,”—when he brought it home, we both said, “Well, that just makes a ton of sense; because that is who you are.”
What was ironic—is in my early 20s, as were figuring life out, as a young married couple—I entered into an electrical apprenticeship. I thought, “Well, let me try this out; I need to make ends meet.” About a year into it, we figured out either I was going to die or someone else was going to die in my presence [Laughter]; because I was so incapable of getting two things to meet together. I realized: “This is basically fire in a wire. If I touch the wrong thing, this will be bad.”
For my son to actually choose that profession, and be very successful in it,—
Analyn: —was ironic.
Brandon: —was just underscoring: “We need to be clear that these kids have a God-design, and there’s amazing qualities within each one. Let’s find out who they are to help them become who they’re intended to be.”
Dave: The question is: “How? How does a parent discover who their child is? How do we play to their strengths?”
Analyn: In our book, one of the Scriptures that we talk about is our children literally being knit together in our mother’s wombs, Psalm 139. When you think of that, you realize that there are so many facets to them. There are so many things to discover about them. We have a whole section that talks about being in discovery-mode constantly.
One, it starts with a fascination with them and going back to that place. We discuss how, when you bring home a newborn, you are literally fascinated with God’s workmanship—I mean astounded!—that you’ve created this other human! Real life happens; and by the time they’re toddlers, you’re not quite so fascinated anymore; [Laughter] you just want them to obey. We get out of that phase.
What we desired through this book was to bring parents back there and to be in a constant state of fascination. Our kids are literally unraveling who they are before your eyes. As parents, we’re the ones to help steward that in their lives. It can only be from us watching them, asking great questions—being in a place, where Brandon has a question he asks our kids every day—I’ll let you talk about that: “What makes you feel strong?”—and really being a student of your child. It’s a whole different outlook, which does take time; it takes a lot of energy. We’re not going to lie; it’s not easy.
Dave: —especially when you have seven.
Brandon: So that’s seven opportunities to get it wrong, a lot of times, and seven opportunities to find those nuggets that really hold in your heart: “There’s my kid.”
That question she’s describing—our youngest boys are 12 and 9; they’re our bonus kids—we thought, at 5, we were done: 4 daughters/1 son. To have two boys at the end was really a blessing for dad; I’ll be honest. That was very exciting.
We started to incorporate this simple question every day; and we started to look for, “What do we see and hear when we hear their response?” It’s: “What did you do today, David, that made you feel strong?” The thing is, as parents, I can notice where a child performs well; but I don’t know if it gave them energy.
Analyn: —that built them.
Brandon: I don’t know if it’s something they’ll look forward to doing again. I don’t know, if it’s going to be so much of an enjoyment, they’ll push through opposition to keep doing it. For us, that transition really helped us with the discovery process.
Then, when we play to that strength that we think we’re seeing: “Do we see further evidence of where it’s going?”
Ann: Give us a conversation at the table.
Analyn: Oh, sure.
Brandon: With our two boys, David is our very academic child; and he loves to serve others. About every day, he’s going to tell us about some academic accomplishment; and/or he will tell us about a place where he was able to serve on his leadership team in his elementary school. Now, we encourage him to look for places to do that more.
His little brother, conversely, is very athletic. Out of seven, I think we’d both agree, he’s probably our most athletic child. Daniel is going to tell us almost every day about the kid he juked out of his shoes [Laughter] or the touchdown pass at recess.
Analyn: It’s a very different conversation.
Brandon: With him, we realize he loves to perform; he loves/he’s so energetic. We look to build on that knowledge and see where that takes them, which inevitably leads to the conversation of what they’re not strong in.
Bob: I was going to ask about that, because part of being a mom and a dad is correction—that’s what 2 Timothy 3 says—that we have to train, and correct, and reprove, and do all this with our kids. Playing to their strengths does not mean ignoring their weaknesses, does it?
Analyn: Absolutely not.
Brandon: No; because we ascribe to authoritative parenting as a style, which is high-warmth and high-control; okay? If I were to talk about my previous parenting style, it would be authoritarian—high-control, low-warmth.
Bob: I know what you’re talking about, so let me—for listeners—let me see if I can help with this. There are two questions every child is asking; the two questions are: “Do you love me?” and “Can I do what I want?” How you answer those questions determines what kind of parent you are. As an authoritarian parent, you are saying, “No, you can’t do what you want; and you’re going to wonder whether I love you at times.”
Brandon: That’s right.
Bob: As an authoritative parent, you’re saying, “Yes, I love you; and no, you can’t do what you want,”—that’s really the sweet spot for parenting.
Brandon: It is; because the third wheel to that goes into the permissive—so high-warmth and “You get to do what you want; because I’m going to be Captain Fun, and I’m going to enjoy that place.”
Brandon: There is a requirement that our kids’ greatest strengths have alter-egos. The places they’re going to be at their best means that’s where they’re probably going to get into mischief; it’s probably where there’s going to be an error.
My energizer little boy, Daniel, is probably going to talk too much in school. He’s probably going to talk back to us in the home—and he’s good for that—multiple times a week. [Laughter] So then, the correction is, “Alright; let me help you become a better version of that.” At the same time, Daniel isn’t as strong academically as his older brother; in fact, that’s his area of challenge.
The trap of parenting, and we talked to lots of parents in this regard, is that they’ll put more effort into remediating the academics than into adjusting who that kid is in their best areas, where they really are strong. Therefore, you start to see a shift in that light in the child’s eyes in the way that kid will relate to their parent.
Dave: Now, how do you help the parents that—and there’s a lot of them—because I’m a high school football coach; I did middle school basketball. Every season, multiple parents would be so mad at us coaches; because we aren’t playing their kid.
We’re with them, and we’re on the practice field—they’re not—and they’re not athletes; that’s not their gift. It doesn’t mean anything less about them. But their parents think this is—or the way they want it to be—they look at us like we’re crazy when we say, “Hey, the reason he’s not on the field—he’s not good enough.” “You have no idea!” I’m like, “Actually, we’re with them for hours every day. We would love him to be on the field, but he isn’t.”
You talk about the frustration in that one chapter, about going from frustration to fascination. They are only frustrated; they cannot be fascinated with another gift.
Dave: How do you negotiate that?
Brandon: I think the reality of parenting is that we can lose objectivity very easily and be highly subjective about who we see our kids to be, even if they aren’t today.
When we talk about spotting strengths in a child, we talk about looking for signs. We call them the Five E’s. One of the Five E’s is “Excellence.” We say that it requires third-party evaluation and “Oh, by the way, parent, you aren’t that third party.” [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, that’s good.
Brandon: The reality is, as parents, we’re invited—especially when we think of the way God uniquely designs every person for His ultimate plan—as parents—we talk about this in the book—our alignment with the Lord is to really gain: “What is it that You see here?” and “What am I doing to further the mission that this child was created for?”
Dave: Talk about the Five E’s. You mentioned one of them, but these are Five E’s of strength identification; what are they?
Brandon: What we like to say with the Five E’s is that even, if you don’t use a personality test—and we do have a couple in the book, and there are many out there—these are ways you can spot strengths in your kids.
The first one is “Enthusiasm.” What do you watch your children drawn to? Where do their eyes light up? Where do you seem to notice they will make time—whether you want them to or not to do these things—because they’re going to make room.
Ann: As soon as you said that, a bunch of parents just said: “Video games. That’s a terrible strength. All he wants to do is play video games.”
Brandon: Then, you start to ask: “Why? What is it about the game? What are they drawn to? What is it about the problem-solving, or the graphics, or the community they might be in that’s drawing them to that activity?” It’s a great example today that kids can be drawn into that. I think there needs to be measure in how that goes.
The second one is really interesting to watch and see, and it’s “Easy: What do they seem to pick up naturally? What do they seem just to step into?”
Brandon: Yes; our now 15-year-old daughter, when she was 12—this is Madeline—she would go into the kitchen, and she would start putting ingredients together to bake things. The ultimate test of a good baker: “Do you like what they bake?”—right? For her, it was clear; wouldn’t you say?
Analyn: It was. We bring up that example because Madeline took it upon herself one night to make crème puffs from scratch. [Laughter] I come home, and she literally delivers a plate of crème puffs that look like they were bought from the store.
Analyn: She looked it all up. You had to boil the water before you mixed it with the flour to get the right consistency.
Ann: Crème puffs are not easy to master, especially the first time.
Dave: I’ve never been able to master it, you know? [Laughter] It’s amazing.
Bob: —every time you try.
Brandon: I haven’t even tried. [Laughter]
Ann: Neither has he.
Dave: Neither have I.
Brandon: That second one becomes a clear signal.
That leads to the third, “Excellence,”—third-party validated. We like to call that “above standard”; this is sustained excellence. This isn’t just, “You did it once”; this is multiple times/stand-out ability, which then goes to the kicker; it’s “Energy: What is it, that once they’ve completed it, they seem more energized than when they started?”
If a strength gives energy, a weakness simply depletes it. When a child is doing something that they’re working against themselves, you have two options to explore. One: “Is this a potential strength they could grow with gentle instruction and encouragement?” Or two: “Is this potentially an area that you might call learned behavior? I need them to learn this subject so they have options for school, but they might not want to continue this subject after school.”
Learned behaviors are valuable because, in every job, there will be a part of the job that you must learn to complete the job that won’t match your strengths. But knowing the difference between what energizes you and not—that’s self-reported—you can’t tell someone that’s what it is.
The fifth is the fun one—it’s “Enjoyment.” This is where they enjoy something so much that, even when it’s hard, you will find them continuing to press through. This is the test of resilience. We believe every parent has an opportunity, and I would say a responsibility, to teach our children not to give up when it gets hard. It just stands to reason that they have much more of an ability to do it when they’re in an area of strength.
Bob: These five factors are really what is at the heart of your book, Play to Their Strengths. It helps parents have a framework to work through so that you can be thinking: “Okay; am I trying to mold my child into some preset mold that isn’t who they are?” or “Am I understanding who my child is and helping to fertilize that so that they can be the best them/the person God created them to be?”
I always come back here to Ephesians 2:10, which says your child is “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand” for your child to walk in them. As parents, your job is to figure out: “What are the good works that God prepared beforehand for my child to walk in?” and “How do I help them get ready for that path?” That’s the strength of the book that you’ve written, Play to Their Strengths.
I want to encourage our listeners—get a copy of this book; read it together as parents. Talk about how you can start implementing some of these ideas/these strategies in your home—how you can bring out the best in your child. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of the book, Play to Their Strengths, by our guests today, Analyn and Brandon Miller. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order the book, Play to Their Strengths; the number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
We need to say a quick, “Thank you,” to those of you who, over the last several weeks, have responded to the matching-gift challenge that was in front of us, here at FamilyLife®, during the month of May. We had some donors who came to us and agreed that they would match every donation we received in May, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $345,000. We’re still checking all of the final numbers to see if we actually were able to take full advantage of that matching gift.
We want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who donated—and to those of you who joined us as new Legacy Partners/monthly Legacy Partners—thank you for standing with us, not just in what are challenging times for all of us, but standing with us, month in and month out, so that the practical biblical help and hope we provide here, on FamilyLife Today, is available for couples all around the world throughout the year. We’re grateful for the partnership. On behalf of those who will benefit from your investment—and there are many of them—thank you for standing alongside us, here at FamilyLife. We appreciate you.
Tomorrow, we want to talk about how, as parents, we can fertilize the parts of our children that are growing/that are strong—the areas that are thriving—and how to not focus so much on trying to fix their weaknesses. Brandon and Analyn Miller will be back with us again tomorrow. I hope you can be back here 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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