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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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