10 Ways to Raise Extraordinary Human Beings

10 Ways to Raise Extraordinary Human Beings

As a family therapist for over 25 years, I have had the absolute privilege of walking side by side with thousands of families – families suffering from addictions, life-changing mental health diagnosis, families with complex medical needs, children without families, and families who have suffered devastating losses of children.  

In graduate school, we were taught many ways to support each family. But the single greatest approach, in my opinion, is the Strengths Based Theory. This theory holds that every single person and every single family has strengths. The answer to positive change and greater happiness lies in those unique strengths.

You might be wondering why one would need a Masters Degree for that skill, and I would agree. We should all be looking for the strengths in ourselves, in each other, and in every person we meet, regardless of our background.  

Finding those strengths can be hard though, especially when one of our kids is driving us crazy. It often requires taking a deep breath, thinking, looking, feeling, and asking the right questions to find our own strengths, let alone our child’s. But there is magic in this way of viewing the world. Once we begin to look for strengths, we start finding them in the most amazing places and are able to see more and more of them in the people we love most.

Each person can deal with the tough stuff life has to offer. Each person, in fact, already has the tools to do that. Sometimes our kids just need to know the tools are within their reach and get a little practice using them.

Isn’t this what we all want our kids to know? Tough stuff is going to happen, but you can handle it!

Here are ten things we can do to raise extraordinary human beings, who recognize their own strengths and know how to use them:

  1. Wrap everything you do in unconditional love.

    Love your children with crazy, unshakable love. Be sure they know that no matter what they say, what they do, or who they become, that you will love them. Always. Tell them, show them, and live unconditional love. That doesn’t mean love everything they do. Hold them to your expectations. That’s part of unconditional love. They need and want limits. Loving limits.

    The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well. – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 

  2. Believe that each child is unique and special

    Not special as in better than any other child in the world. Special as in there is only one you in the world. See and praise the strengths of each child. Stop comparing children to siblings or to other kids you know. Allow each child to be themselves.

    Leave enough room to know that your child is growing and changing emotionally every day. They will not always be that strong-willed, stubborn child. They may mature into a highly passionate, caring young person. Give them room to become who they are supposed to be.

    It takes courage to grow up to be who you really are. – e.e. Cummings

  3. View challenges as things to conquer

    Challenges are not something to be avoided. Life will bring challenges from the day we begin to the day we end. Raise your children to view challenges as reality and something you can overcome together.

    Speak of challenges in terms of “How can we tackle this? What do we need? What is working? How can we do more of that?” And if the challenge is your child’s alone, ask him the questions, and let him find his own answers.

    Life is not a challenge to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. – Soren Kierkegaard

  4. Use positive language

    Research shows us the power of positive thoughts to actually create and shape positive behavior. Use “can” instead of “could or should.” Use “get to” instead of “have to.” Shift your words to shift their thinking.

    If we believe we can raise an extraordinary child, then we will. If we doubt our parenting every step of the way, perhaps our children will doubt their steps along the way, too.

    Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning. – Mahatma Gandhi

  5. Accept change

    Every day, every developmental milestone, represents a change. Believe that change is exciting, and be ready for whatever comes next. Every day is part of the journey. There is never an end to parenting or being a kid. Rather than miss the old days or long for the next stage, enjoy the stage you are in. Live in the moment and enjoy those moments.

    Your kids will never be this age again. But also, they will never have this same parent again. You are growing and changing, too. Give them the best you have today. Yesterday is done, and tomorrow is not yet here.

    Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life. – Eckhart Tolle

  6. Build on interests

    Let your kids try as many interests as they can imagine. Give them paper and a brush, build tree houses, play a sport in the back yard, listen to music, explore possible passions. Expose your kids to as many different places and people as possible. Travel if you are able, or have a pen pal from some faraway place.

    Show them their role in the world, whatever that may be. What is yours? Tell them about what you do, or what you dream of doing someday. Show them how to find their passion.

    The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. – Mark Twain

  7. Develop competence

    Let your children fail. Let them struggle. Allow them to master tasks on their own after trying really hard.

    Children who believe they can handle it, can handle it. Children who believe something like cooking is dangerous or hard, will lose years or even a lifetime of not mastering that skill.

    It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings. – Ann Landers

  8. Communicate effectively

    Just like we need to teach our children how to brush their teeth or how to fold a dress shirt, they need to be taught communication. Keep them talking.

    Likewise, show them how to listen. Ask each other questions and, most importantly, speak kindly. Check out Apologies Made Easy or What is Your Communication Style?

    When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know, but if you listen, you may learn something new. – Dalai Lama

  9. Look for opportunities to give back

    Doing for others teaches kindness, empathy, and tolerance. Give your kids opportunities to give back. Maybe that’s within her own family, at school, in her town or within the world in general.

    Help her organize a drive at school or participate in the ones offered. If there is a fun run, have her participate. As a family, gather things you don’t use anymore or food and donate to the local shelter. Have her donate items that have value – not just the junk she doesn’t want anymore. Connecting kids to others and their community allows them to learn compassion and gratitude.

    Life’s most urgent question is: what are you doing for others? – Martin Luther King Jr.

  10. Build a community

    Find your people, and build a life within those people. Build family friendships and hold tight to every bit of the ups and downs of those friendships. See the strengths and positives in your relatives, in your neighbors, and in your children’s friends. See the strengths so they, too, can build on those strengths. Then your whole community is strong and powerful.

    Give more than you get. Say yes to babysit your friend’s kids. Say yes to family holidays together. Say yes to making a meal or giving a ride. When your children’s strengths are seen by others, they believe them more deeply. When your children see strengths in others, they are developing strength finding skills without even knowing it.

    Use your tribe to help and be helped.

    It takes a village to raise a child. – African Proverb

    Extraordinary children are grown by extraordinary communities. Find your community and find your place in it. Challenge yourself to find the strengths in every person in your lives, and the transformation will be remarkable. You will feel happier and more positive and your children will have built resiliency. They will have developed the knowledge that they can handle anything life throws their way.

This article was initially published on Parent & Co and is republished here with full permission.


About the Author: Joy Hartman

As a family therapist for over  25 years, Joy Hartman is passionate about empowering teens to become strong, confident adults! She works with teens of all ages and now has the unique experience of raising three moody, eye-rolling teenagers of her own. For more fun and support on this crazy roller coaster ride of parenting teenagers, join Joy and hundreds of other parents at: Joyhartman.com or Facebook

8 Comments

Katherine

Thanks so much for sharing all these information. I will definitely share all these things to my friends who are already moms and dads so that they will also learn a lot.

Reply
Ralitsa

Great article :)! I believe in the power of community, but currently we are struggling to find our ‘tribe’ – one reason is that we don’t have very good relationship with our relatives(my mother drinks, my partner’s parents are older and not able to take care of children) and we don’t have many other relatives around(most of them are abroad and we don’t see each other for years), our friends don’t have kids so our activities are different and we see them rarely. I keep telling myself that it’s not the quantity but the quality of people around our children, so if we strive for our best our small family would also be a good ‘tribe’ until and if we succeed in finding more friends.

Reply
Gean

What part do strong positive and grace filled spiritual values play in the security and success of a child or adult?

Reply
Veronica C.

I love number 5. We’re always growing and changing and that’s something to embrace, not be afraid of. Thank you for the great article.

Reply
Catie Wood

Thankyou Joy
Your article reminds us of some wonderful fundamentals of life.

Reply
Debbie brinley

I found your article extremely useful and uplifting. Great advice in a short take away style.

Reply
Catherine Minarik

I’ve always thought that a good example is really important also. But if you do all of these things it can’t help but turn the parent into a better person.

Reply

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For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting

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