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

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 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

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