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Play to Their Strengths: A New Approach to Parenting Your Kids as God Made Them
by Analyn Miller
Learn More | Meet Analyn Miller | Meet Brandon Miller
Inspire Your Kids to Shine
Affirming words from moms and dads are like light switches. Speak a word of affirmation at the right moment in a child’s life and it’s like lighting up a whole roomful of possibilities.
- GARY SMALLEY
You are a parent who is invested in your kids. Chances are, you opened this book with the singular hope of being a better parent… the best parent you can be. We have this goal in common with you. In fact, for years we strove to be better and do better. Maybe you have done the same—maybe you are doing the same.
Then during one season of our family’s journey, we found an uncommon way to truly be better parents. It changed everything. We can’t wait to share with you this simple, intentional shift that will usher in life to your family and purpose to your child’s path.
First, let’s get a clear look at our “before” family picture.
From the moment we nervously brought home our first tiny bundle of huge responsibility, our focus was on our parenting and whether we were succeeding or failing in what is possibly the most important role in a person’s life. Even if we didn’t articulate it then, our governing question was, What should we do and what shouldn’t we do as parents? It didn’t occur to us to instead ask, Who is this child, and how do we parent her to become the person God made her to be?
As our family expanded, we noticed obvious differences among our kids, especially who slept through the night and who made bedtime feel like a circus without a ringleader. But when it came to daily living, priorities, and choices, we often unknowingly worked against their individual strengths as we nudged them to struggle forward in our strengths.
After years of missteps and frustrations and shaking our heads when a seemingly smart parenting practice didn’t work yet again, we took stock. Let’s face it, we were desperate.
We had a problem—and it wasn’t our kids.
Little did we know that the answer was right in front of us—and it was our kids.
The singular focus of successful parenting isn’t about being a perfect parent; it’s about becoming a parent who notices and nurtures the best in a child.
We’re here to share how this parenting perspective can inspire and transform your family. We know firsthand! This eye-opening approach will help you see your children for who they are and who they are meant to become so they can thrive in their destinies rather than unravel in mediocrity and confusion.
Will You Invest in the Myth or the Mission?
We married young and had three children by the age of 22. As young parents, we followed a traditional, hierarchal leadership approach to parenting. Though we loved our trio deeply and doted on them with nice stuff and great opportunities, we in fact missed the mark. We trusted the myth that our children existed to make us look good or feel good about how we parented. Our short-term goal was for the kids to always conduct themselves in the way we felt was appropriate, which would lead to our long-term goal of shaping our kids to become people we could be proud of because they represented us well and represented our version of success. We were more focused on creating replicas of what we thought a Miller child should be than on raising uniquely wired and talented children who would forge their own paths.
Sadly, we were muting our children’s unique brilliance and our own personal strengths by parenting in a top-down, dictatorial style of leadership.
It wasn’t until our first three children entered their teenage years that our parenting model floundered and was revealed as a myth instead of a mission. There was a disconnect between our ideals and the kids’ individual interests and natural strengths. Pressures were mounting to be a certain way and to meet familial, societal, religious, and academic expectations that didn’t necessarily fit with each of our children’s hardwiring. Our aha moment came during an encounter between Brandon and our oldest son, Lance.
It was a hot August day in Sacramento, California, and I (Brandon) was driving Lance to his first day of football practice. Lance was joining the freshman football team at our local high school, and I had volunteered to serve as an assistant coach. As we drove, I was compelled to inspire him for greatness. I had rather successfully played the sport and spent some years coaching. I felt as though I could be a guide to my son—in essence, an expert to help him become his very best. I passionately told Lance how he would play with excellence and help his team as he exhibited eagerness and demonstrated his vital role on the squad.
Midspeech, Lance leaned over and put his hand on my shoulder, saying, “Dad, I just need you to know, I’m not like you, and I’m not going to play football the same way you did.”
In a moment of shock, I found myself at a loss for words—a rarity, as anyone who knows me can attest. I looked over at him and grunted something along the lines of “Go get ’em, son” while pulling into the parking lot. That very ordinary moment started a shift in my thinking.
True to his word, Lance did not play football the way I did—he played his own way. He enjoyed being on the team his freshman year, but after the season ended, Lance hung up his jersey and pads and moved on to other things.
I realized I had to let go of who I thought Lance could be and how my identity and experience were supposed to help him get there. I needed to recalibrate and focus on my child’s unique talents and wiring to coach him toward his version of success. I needed to let go of the myth and embrace the mission of nurturing this child’s best by playing to his strengths.
A New Model for Parenting
During the summer after his freshman year, we more intentionally examined Lance’s strengths. Unlike me, Lance is hardwired to enjoy working with his hands and creating or inventing new ways to get things done. As a kid, he tore apart his toys to make something new. We often found Lance with some kind of new invention. Remotecontrol cars would be taken apart and reconfigured with other toy parts to become motorized boats. To him, taking toys apart was as much fun as putting them together.
As Lance got older, this natural inclination led him to try a variety of sports, woodshop, academic endeavors, theater, and even auto mechanics. Lance had a lot of interests and was pretty good at most of what he tried. As his parents, we wondered how to develop a kid like that!
A strengths-based approach became imperative in our parenting journey, freeing us to focus on our son’s intrinsic talent amid his everchanging interests and activities. It took us a decade or so, but we realized how such awareness is pivotal to the development and outcome of our children’s lives.
Watch for Shining Eyes
We watched Bailee, our oldest, struggle to find her place. She was shy, and we often watched her face situations with downcast eyes. But then one day, she stepped onto a stage during a drama class and her eyes lit up. We immediately noticed and helped cultivate this interest. Together, we discovered what made her shine with purpose and passion. The trajectory of Bailee’s life shifted that year.
Our way to gauge strength and success in our children also shifted. We no longer count the number of As on report cards or medals won in sports to measure how we’re doing or how our kids are doing. We watch our children to see when and how their eyes light up with joy and purpose. When Bailee stepped onto the stage, we saw a change— a spark that transformed her whole presence. That moment when her eyes were shining told us how our dear Bailee was going to do more than just survive adolescence.
As we supported her participation in a performing arts academy, we watched her insecurity fade and her confidence grow. New possibilities opened up, and her impact reached further than we ever imagined. We have seen that creating space for children to experience, discover, and apply their unique talents allows them to find their versions of success and fulfillment.
This idea of looking for shining eyes as an indicator of success comes from Benjamin Zander, world-renowned conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. In his popular TED Talk of 2008, he said, “I have a definition of success. For me, it’s very simple. It’s not about wealth and fame and power. It’s about how many shining eyes I have around me.” Zander realized the high cost of a top-down, hierarchal leadership style is the loss of engagement and self-expression among those being led. His epiphany was that as a conductor—with all his expertise—he doesn’t produce a sound. The success of the orchestra comes from the interplay of sounds made by each member playing their own instruments brilliantly. Zander suddenly saw his role in a new light, understanding that his objective as the primary influencer was to bring out the unique talent in each player.
This revelation compelled Zander to rethink his role: “My job is to awaken possibility in other people. If their eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it. If they’re not shining, you get to ask the question, Who am I being that my players’ eyes are not shining?” This refreshing form of leadership takes us out of a paradigm defined by competition, fear, and pressure. Zander invites leaders to engage followers differently with the objective of drawing out and developing the unique talents of each follower. He learned he could determine his level of success by looking into the eyes of his followers. Shining eyes reflect individual brilliance, high engagement, and strong well-being.
Isn’t this our hope for our children?
As parents, we serve as the most influential leaders throughout our children’s development. We can apply Zander’s question to our parenting journey: Who am I being that my children’s eyes are not shining? Every step of this journey will encourage you to embrace parenting that develops the unique strengths of your children and creates shining eyes, alive to the passion and purposes they are meant to live out.
God Crafted Our Kids
Parents have the unique opportunity to give their children eyes that shine by helping them connect their talents with opportunities at home, school, church, and beyond. Parents’ mission is to propel their children into God’s calling for their lives by nurturing their unique strengths. When we realized this, we became students of our children, focused on discovering their talents and watching for moments when their eyes lit up and their engagement level soared.
This shift has brought a new level of freedom into our home. Our kids feel less pressure, and they don’t feel like we’re comparing them to anyone. We experience the joy of walking with each of our kids down the path toward who God plans for them to become.
Scripture reveals that God “created mankind in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). Every human being is an image bearer of our Father in heaven, so aspects of each person’s intrinsic nature reflect the nature of God himself. In our home, all our ideas about parenting rest on the core belief that God imbues each person with gifts that reflect his divine nature, such as compassion, creativity, or leadership. God made each child with a destiny, just as he did the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (1:5). God has a great plan for children to shine brilliantly in their own unique way, demonstrating his goodness to the world around us. We initially failed to recognize the seeds of strength in our own first three little ones—Bailee, Lance, and Ciera—but God knew about them from the very beginning. He crafted their passions, personalities, and talents for their callings.
Developing children for a successful future is more about discovering their identities than adhering perfectly to a one-size-fits-all parenting strategy. If children are uniquely crafted by God, then reason demands that parents must guide each child uniquely according to that child’s qualities.
From Our Family to Yours
We have been married for more than 25 years and are parents to four daughters and three sons. Their ages span 17 years. There are no his and hers in our family. Sometimes when people find out we have so many children, they ask if we are Mormon or Catholic or perhaps a blended family. We smile and respond, “Nope…we just played to our strengths and are blessed with a large, very dynamic family.”
Our inspiration and motivation come from this rare experience of parenting a family of kids who span nearly a full generation. We have walked through each stage of raising a child multiple times! Each step of the way, we’ve learned more about the power of a strengths-based focus to lead each child in the way he or she should go. Throughout the book, we’ve sprinkled quotes from our Miller tribe.
Our three older kids are Bailee (25), Lance (24), and Ciera (22), and they all flew the coop. Bailee married Jordan (27); Lance married Christine (24), who gave birth to our first grandson, Harold (1); and Ciera married Adam (23). We have four kids still at home: Michaela (15), Madeline (14), David (12), and Daniel (9).
Analyn works full-time as a successful real estate agent in the greater Sacramento area. She skillfully coordinates our children’s engagements with business and community demands to create an intentional culture in our home valuing fun, relationships, and excellence. Our family has always valued the local church, and together we have served children, youth, and young adults in various ministry capacities for more than 20 years. Brandon is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and the CEO of 34 Strong, a coaching and consulting firm whose purpose is to build great places to work by shifting to a strengths-based developmental strategy.
We often find ourselves telling stories about our kids from the stage at workshops and seminars, among friends, and with coworkers in office lunchrooms. Parents of kids of every age want to know how we made the change to strengths-based parenting. They long to move beyond parenting myths and toward a higher mission.
When parents focus their energy on identifying their children’s unique talents and help them move with their natural momentum toward their best possible outcomes, these mothers and fathers watch their children’s downcast eyes become eyes that shine and look ahead with promise and engagement.
We team up along this journey to share our combined stories and insights on parenting to our kids’ strengths. We don’t claim to be parenting experts, but we offer our anecdotes as object lessons with the hope of illustrating the beauty and impact of an intentional parenting strategy that focuses on what’s right with our kids rather than what’s wrong.
Together, we’ve worked to incorporate the insights and object lessons that our unique family structure can humbly offer for the benefit of a wide range of families.
Your Journey, Your Playbook
If you’re just beginning your parenting journey, we hope this book provides valuable insights that will empower you to start well. Maybe you are a little further down the path and will identify with the anecdotes and wisdom related to children, adolescents, and teens. If you are parenting young adults, we trust some of the lessons we share will provide helpful takeaways for you as well. The last two chapters of this book are dedicated to age-relevant information. We encourage you to read both chapters regardless of your child’s age. You’ll receive insight into your relationship with your child and what his or her needs are and will be along the way.
If you are parents through adoption, we hope this book will provide valuable insights as you raise your child in their forever family. And if you are caring for kids through foster care, we trust this book will give you direction as you share your love and home with those entrusted to your care.
Whatever season of parenting (or grandparenting) you are in, this journey of discovery is a personal one for you, and it’s worth recording and discussing. So along the way, we’ll encourage you to journal and to have meaningful conversations with your family. That’s why we created the interactive Parenting Playbook at the end of the book. This is a chapter-by-chapter gathering of…
- practical steps and encouragements
- lists and charts to clarify and retain what you discover
- activities to do with your child and family to identify strengths
- discovery questions that will help you record your observations
Our hope is that this guide brings the message of every chapter to life—your life—to help you play to your child’s strengths and embark on this transformative way to parent the child God has called you to grow. It can be used as either a personal parenting tool or a resource for small groups and classrooms. Also, at the end of each chapter, we’ve placed “Review the Play” questions to help you process the material and reveal simple takeaways to build on.
We believe great benefit and blessing can be found at any stage when you parent to a child’s strengths. If pressure, comparison, and self-doubt are creeping into your parenting approach, be encouraged— we have been there! Now is the perfect time to trade in that frustration for a fresh fascination with your children.
REVIEW THE PLAY
- What have you learned about yourself as a parent from this chapter’s exploration?
- What is one way this chapter helped you make a shift toward playing to your child’s God-given strengths?
- What did you discover about your child this week that surprises you or changes the way you interact with them?
- Which insight or activity from this chapter’s Playbook offering is the most helpful to your family right now? Why?
Check out the activities for chapter 1 in the Parenting Playbook on page 169.
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