That's a kid who's able to be self-discipline because they've practiced it and they've built a brain that is more self-discipline, that's about resilience as well.
Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish, and this is another episode of the Knowledge Project, a podcast exploring the ideas, methods and mental models that will help you learn from the best what other people have already figured out. You can learn more and stay up to date at first blogs podcast.
On the show today is Dr. Laura Makarand, who runs a remarkable parenting blogger frequent called Ahar Parenting. Well, I expected the lessons of this conversation to apply to parenting my eight nine year old boys. I was surprised how much what I took away from this conversation resonated with me outside of parenting, for example, Laura teaches us all about self-regulation and how to not only notice what we're feeling, but label it and react in a constructive way. It's time to listen and learn.
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I'm so glad to be here with you today.
And I think we've all raised our voice and bribed our kids sometimes most of us who are self-aware, but that probably feel that something is not quite right and want to find better, more sustainable ways to connect with their kids.
You claim the three keys to parenting are to regulate your own emotions, reconnect with your kids and coach instead of punishing. Let's start with regulating our own emotions. Can you expand on that?
Well, the research seems pretty clear that what matters most in how kids turn out is who we are as parents. It's it's not a set of strategies, right? It's a relationship in every relationship comes from two people having that relationship. And in our case, we're the the guidance, we're the role model. We're the already mature brain. Not that we're not still learning and growing. We are, but we are the ones who set the example for our child to grow, but also on a biological level, our children are born with very incomplete neural systems.
And so their limbic system, which is the old word for the emotional parts of the brain and and neurology, that limbic system is born pretty unfinished and takes shape in interaction with the parent. Now, all repeated experiences will shape the brain. But when you think about it, what is a baby's repeated experience? It's most of it is interactions with the parent. So even and so, of course, that's true for babies and how their brain takes shape based on our brain and how it functions and our neurology.
But of course, pretty soon kids are consciously interacting with us, aware of what goes on between us modeling themselves after us, learning about the world, learning about how relationships work, and if we're the kind of person who can stay calm or notice we're getting agitated or anxious or angry, frustrated. If we're the kind of person who can notice and we can stop and calm ourselves down, our child sees that and a few things happen. One is they learn it's not an emergency.
It may seem like an emergency to them. Right. But when we insisted it was and did get out of the bathtub or whatever. But in fact, if we react like it's not an emergency, yes, they do have to get out of the bathtub. But it's not an emergency. We can have a productive interaction about it. The child learns from us how to say, first of all, they learn it's not an emergency. They learn how to communicate more constructively and they learn how to calm themselves down when things were getting hot.
But then, in fact, they realized they could handle it in a better way. So our ability to self regulate might be the most might have the most impact on who our child turns out to be than anything else we do.
That's interesting. Is it the parents can't regulate themselves or is there something about parenting situations like is it an adult thing where we have problems actually regulating our own emotions, or is it related to the situation of parenting in the context in which those come up, which we've probably not had a lot of experience with?
You're so right, because we I hear all the time from parents who are just fine in the workplace or even their teachers and there are people's children. So it is just childish behavior that sets us off. Sometimes it's that our children push our buttons in a way nobody else would, because some those buttons were installed in childhood. And so when our child when our two year old yells at us, I want a new daddy, you know, or you're not the boss of me or whatever, that's really more like four year olds thing.
But even when a young child yells at us and is different with us, it brings up all our anxieties of when we were that age and we had those same feelings. And if we had done that, we might have been smacked across the room. So it brings up all of the unconscious stuff that we don't even know about from when we were one and two and three and four and five, because the brain doesn't store memories in a straightforward way at that time.
Before the hippocampus is online, which is the part of the brain that is the memory maker before the hippocampus is online, memories are made and stored in a more holistic, visceral way. So you can you can smell something that will remind you of your grandparents house or in case of one client. I know the basement where her mother put her when she was naughty or or your your mother's perfume and your mother's been dead for years. But that perfume.
Wow, it makes you feel loved and cared about so we can have a smell or we can hear a sound or we can leave feeling. It reminds us of the feeling we had when we were three and our father recorded us and terrified us. And whatever was happening at that moment, we may not consciously have the access to the memory because they're not just filed in a straightforward way, but the feelings will swamp us. It's almost like PTSD in this.
It works in the same way. It's an unsorted memory. So young children have a way of pushing our buttons unlike anyone else.
So how do we how do we learn to regulate our emotions in these scenarios where, like you said, we can be great at the workplace, but in a parenting context, everything changes and, you know, it even changes further, I would imagine, between single parenting and sort of being in a relationship with another parent who can sort of take you out of the moment and see something that you can't see because you're in it.
Yes. Yes. You know, single parenting is so hard because the weight is all on your shoulders, but also because you don't have that other adult for perspective. So if you're just dealing with your three year old, soon you're going to act like a three year old. Whereas if you have another adult around, they provide sort of a check on that. Right. So you're you're a little more likely to stay in adult mode. So how can we handle that?
Well, I think the first thing is to acknowledge that no one's perfect. We're all learning and growing. And if you've stumbled onto some places where you lose your temper repeatedly, notice what's going on, bring your conscious attention to it. I think of this as sort of going into the dark basements of our psyches with our flashlight and the flashlight is our conscious attention. When we shine conscious awareness on anything, it begins to it loses the power of the unconscious fear that's otherwise attached to it.
And in fact, a lot of things just sort of melt away. We realized they were just the shadows of a fear that from the past that were in there. Like if somebody else like that. I want a new daddy, then something terrible is about to happen. Somebody is about to get hit. Well, that fear from the past is not actually operative in the current moment. So simply noticing what's going on, on. Oh, yeah.
When my kid gets that expression on his face and screams at me, I feel like, well, just notice the sensations. We can look at the thoughts in a moment because the thoughts do are all part of what causes those emotions. But an emotion is just a set of sensations. So notice the sensations. I have a sensation of my belly just got really tight and my throat got tight and my hands are clenched fists and my face is going tight.
I'm all of a sudden I'm totally contracted. So I have a choice at that moment noticing it to take a deep breath. No tragedy is going to happen. If I don't correct my child at this moment, he's not going to turn into a thirty three year old bully. He's three. This is appropriate for a three year old who doesn't want to get out of the backside to scream at me in anger because he feels that something unfair happened, like he's being made to get out too soon.
So when he does that, I can stop. I can notice my body, the sensations in my body that tell me I'm having this feeling I can name the feeling. I'm feeling so angry at this moment. I just want to smack this kid across the room. I grab him out of the bathtub and shake him.
So noticing those feelings, huh? Take a deep breath.
There's no danger here. It's not an emergency that interrupts the entire process. And I have a choice about how to proceed.
Why is it important to label your emotions?
There is research that shows that when adults label what they're feeling, it gives them more control over the emotion they have. And by control, I don't mean they repressed. I don't mean they just stuff it down and pretend it's not there. It gives them the ability to notice the feeling, but not to act on it. It gives them more choice in the moment. And so I want to add a few important points about that. That labeling is just another part of shining the flashlight on noticing what you're feeling.
Otherwise, we're often just in the grip of what's going on and the frontal cortex is not really engaged, the part of us that thinks the executive function, we're just in the grip of anger, whereas if instead we can pull the camera back a little bit and see ourselves there being angry and notice the feelings. Right. But we're and we say, oh, I'm feeling really angry, then we have a choice of, OK, I'm feeling angry, but do I necessarily want to act on it?
Notice I'm saying I'm feeling angry. I haven't said I am getting angry. I am angry because that implies that we're at the mercy of an anger. That anger is all we are at this moment.
You're suggesting that we're under control? Exactly. Exactly. You are actually an adult and you can choose how to act on this. I just want to say that sometimes there's a very common trope in parenting main entertainment that is applied to children. When your child is angry, if you tell your child they're angry, they'll be less angry. I find that's not true. Most parents will tell you it's not true.
If you say to your child you're very angry, your child will say, I am not angry with you because doesn't I think it doesn't help the child feel understood. Instead, they feel like you're judging them or they're under a microscope being analyzed. It doesn't it doesn't shorten the emotional distance between it lengthens it. No one wants to feel analyzed and no one wants to be judged. Right. So the studies that were done were done with adults, not with kids.
And we and it's it's important that children feel understood. And it's great if the child can say, I'm getting angry, I'm feeling angry right now, stop teasing me to their brother or even to you. I feel like you're being unfair, Daddy, but it's important that we don't apply this to children in a not very thoughtful way, because then it actually will drive them further apart from us. That's that's about coaching kids. And we'll talk about that in a minute.
But just in terms of our own self-regulation, it's important to notice what we're feeling. Yes. And so on. And our thoughts create our feelings. So if we have a belief system that says children shouldn't raise their voices to their parents, which most of us have, and not only shouldn't, if they do, it's a dangerous situation. Every time your child raises their voice to you, you're going to feel like danger signs are flashing and you're going to get you're going to become afraid.
No one likes feeling afraid. It's a vulnerable feeling and we feel stronger when we're angry. So the response to fear in most in families is fight, flight or freeze, right. Well, you're not freezing most of the time as a parent, although some parents do. If they especially if they have abusive backgrounds, you're not running away and leaving the room. Most of the time you're going to fight. So when you're afraid that your child is raising their voice and it's making you anxious, what the immediate thing that happens is you fly off the handle yourself, you go into anger.
And if you can notice the feet, the thoughts that are creating those feelings, you can get those feelings in there. But you can say, wow, he's getting defiant again. Every time he gets defiant, I lose it. I'm going to take a deep breath here. I notice I'm getting angry, but I can choose what to do. There's no emergency. He's allowed to be defiant. He's a four year old or even he's a lot.
He's a twelve year old. And I can handle this in a constructive way.
It strikes me I have two kids who are eight, nine right now. And it strikes me that there's like so many things going on embedded contextually in this, regulating your own emotions.
Not only are you put in situations that you've, um, are one offs are never really practiced before, but you're also struggling between this inherent sort of like almost hierarchy instinct of your kid is not the boss of you.
You're the boss of them. On the flip side of that, it's like you want to connect with your kids and you you don't want to be their boss. But, you know, a lot of the books talk about being friends with your kids and not necessarily parents.
You have all these sort of conflicting messages. And meanwhile, if you're in public, you have all of these people judging you and or, you know, whether they're actually verbalizing that or not, you feel it as a self-conscious sort of individual.
You might feel that other people are watching you and sort of embedding themselves in that relationship or in that moment.
Yes, you're so right. There's so much going on there. And I do want to the question you just said, books say that you don't want to be the boss of your child. So I think there's a lot of confusion among parents today about this issue. And I think that's because we don't have necessarily role models of adults who were able to be leaders in their homes, able to be nurturers and still able to say no. And for my clients, it is completely possible to provide loving guidance to your child.
While you say no, while you set boundaries, while you enforce rules, we can do all that. And not only that, we need to do that. Children need protection. They need guidance. No two year old is ready to make all her own decisions. And no 12 year old or and I would argue 15 year old or 16 year old is ready to make all of her own decisions. Of course, the older they get into the teen years, the more practice they've had, the more their prefrontal cortex has grown, the better executive function they have.
But that doesn't mean that they don't need it back and forth with you and still some guidance from you at that point. So I think that we need to learn and I'll give you a parallel here. We want every child to learn that they can get what they need in a given situation. That's an interpersonal situation with with somebody else. They can get what they need without attacking the other person. That's a given. We want every child that every play to learn it every year, because when they're older, they're going to need to learn to get what they want in the workplace without attacking the other person or or just in life or with their relationship if they have a partner.
So it's the same thing for us. When they're little, we can learn to set boundaries with the child without in any way attacking them and attacking them would mean attacking their dad physically, obviously smacking them. But it also would mean punishing clucky to them to to get back at them for having done something wrong in the hopes that next time they wouldn't make that choice. My children and this again gets to coaching and we can talk about coaching more in a minute.
But really, he can provide guidance and make it stick with our children without being less than loving with them. Not that we are human. We're not that we're perfect because we're humans. Right. We're not going to be perfect. But our goal can be to function from a place that is not about who's right and wrong, but is more about the level of the heart where we're the leader and we're leading from our heart. And what matters is compassion for our child, but also protecting and supporting our child to be their best self.
No child is their best self that they spend all day on technology. No child is their best self when they go to bed at eleven o'clock at night. No child is their best self when we're letting them run roughshod over somebody else or and that doesn't. That includes your family like their sister, but it also includes, you know, running around at the restaurant and making the waiter nearly drop things or making the environment loud. So other people who are there paying customers at the restaurant are looking like unhappy about the fact that they can't have a peaceful dinner.
There are many ways in which we fight our children socially and in our interpersonally, in our homes and elsewhere. That will be really important for that child to become who they are. And we can do all of that in a way that sets clear boundaries but is coming from a loving place. And I don't mean I've had people say, oh, well, I lovingly spank my child. So I do think you do have to know your child is going to perceive that as being, you know, but because you're hurting their body, that I do think that there are ways to say, I know you want to be on your playing computer games during the week.
It's not going to happen. You need to focus on your studies on the weekend after your school work is done. I have no problem with your playing computer games, but it's not going to happen during the week.
And your kid is going to say, you know, if you loved me, you would let me know.
You're saying, you know what, I'm doing this because it is with you and I totally get why you're disappointed.
I want to come back to that example a little later on in the show when we talk about perhaps kids that have to households and the differing sort of ways that parents handle things and how that might create confusion for kids. But before we do that, I want to talk about connecting with our kids, which is sort of like the second key to parenting. What does that mean? And specifically, how is that different for dads and moms or is it different?
Well, as I said, it's a relationship parent. It's not a set of strategies. So if it's a relationship, that's what the connection is. And we know from attachment studies that babies as young as 14 months have formed an opinion about every adult who's important to them and whether that adult is trustworthy and by trustworthy, I specifically mean will that adult comfort them when they're upset? Will that accept the full range of feelings the child has, which includes not just needs and need for comfort, but anger?
Is the child allowed to be angry with you? If the child be who we are and include be who they are minute to minute with all of those inconvenient emotions and still be loved and still get their needs met, not every desire, but their needs met by the parent. We know the kids, as I say, as young as 14 months have already made that judgment based on the relationship they're experiencing. So as they get older, they build on that relationship.
Sometimes parents change dramatically and children will change their working model of that relationship. It's good for kids to have more than one parent that they interact with or more than one close person. It could be a grandparent, could be a nanny, could be a teacher who stays in their life for a long time. Most teachers don't say more than a year, but children form working models based on every important relationship and therefore we know that they can. It gives them more depth of different ways to act.
So in one relationship, they may know that the other person has a harder time with them being angry. The other relationship that parents find when they're angry. So they learn that anger really is OK. And it's a it varies based on people. They may learn something about how to express the anger that's more nuanced than other kids who just if either OK, it isn't OK as they get older, they're building on those early experiences and learning how to have a relationship.
And as I said earlier, they're learning. They're not just learning. Their neural pathways are being laid down in their own brain and body based on the interactions they're actually have to be. And then as they get older, they're modeling themselves after us and they're having conversations that are about values for you to have conversations with us about values. We just thought that's what's happening. When they say, I don't want to go to her birthday party, we say that she came to your birthday party.
You have to go. Well, that's a question about values. So that may or may not be the right decision. That's a different question. But then when they're when they're eight and they say, I don't want to go on that play date that we agreed to, I want to change that play date and go with somebody else, because at their house they had better treats and they invited me at the last minute. Well, then again, this is a values decision.
Are they allowed to break that first play date that they did? Some child is going to be disappointed that they had a date because they got a better offer. That's a question. And then when they're 12, do they get your discouragement or your encouragement when they suggest lying to get into the amusement park? Oh, I'll pretend I'm a year younger. So that's a values question, right. So how do we how we relate to them will end and sort of how we make all of the decisions in daily life will shape who they are in very visceral ways that they can't articulate, but also who they are in terms of how they show up in the world for the rest of their lives based on their values.
So they could get themselves as being is the way we connect with them different between dads and moms?
Yes, I forgot that part of your question. Yeah. So I think that the research shows that moms and dads are often different in the way they relate to children when there's a mother and a father in a household at the same time, often the mother is the more tender, nurturing parent. The father is the more playful, exuberant parent. The mother is the one who moves the child through the schedule. So she's often the disciplinarian. But the father might not spend as much time around.
The child might not even have the same history of having worked out problems before, or even move the child through the routine and might have less patience with the child and so might lose their temper more easily. That's sort of that the stereotypes when parents live together. But and and we learned that nurturing is really important, that playing with the child being playful is really important, that really parents both bring something important to the table there. And it is natural, I will add, for children to have a hierarchy of attachment objects, people.
So it is natural for a child who lives with both parents to have one parent who they select as being the one that they will most go to when they're hurt because they know that parent. Is that their comfort object? And it's completely it's designed by it's designed actually by biology that says don't waste time wandering around the tribal circle, finding your aunt or your grandfather. Go straight to mommy. She's the one who nursed you. She's the one who, when you're most she may be stirring the pot half the time while you're cavorting around with other people.
But when you're hurt, she's the one to go to as an example, however, and together often feel a little left out there when there's a mom also in the picture in the same household, dad will often feel left out and they'll feel like their relationship is not as close. I want to say that that changes. As the child gets older, the hierarchy is less established in the child. It becomes a more nuanced set of relationships. So that does change always as the child gets older.
But that's a very common way when kids are little. So often we don't have that situation where there are two moms or two dads and a mom and a dad. Sometimes there are two dads, sometimes there are two moms. Sometimes there's one mom or one dad in the household. Some. Kids go back and forth. So I think when you ask, is it different what kids get, all kids need the same thing from their parents. They all need to know that they are acceptable.
Exactly as they are with all of their inconvenient feelings, number one. Number two, that no matter what, their parent will be there to help them, to take care of them, to protect them, to give them food and shelter and emotional love, physical love. We all children need those things. They need them from both parents. And I would say they need to be delighted. It may be one of the most important things we can give our children is a sense of being valued, delighted and just for who they are.
When children feel that we adore them, when we delight in who they are, they feel of value. It isn't about having to perform in a certain way. It isn't about having to produce certain things like get their their aid or, you know, be, you know, consider considerate, can't we? Of course, we want them to do well in school and we want them to be considerate. But they're our love for them does not depend on our love unconditional.
It comes before anything they actually do. And the paradox there is that when we give children unconditional love, they do much better. They do better in school. They do better with other people because they're not coming from a place of feeling not quite loved and valued. So all children need unconditional love, which which takes the form of delighting in our child. So, you know, men and women, dads and moms need to do that for their kids.
And if your way of being with your child, whether you're a dad or a mom, is to be a little more boisterous and a little more fun and a little more tough for kids around, great kids thrive on that. We know if your way of being is a little quieter, but you read to them a lot and you hug them a lot in your home and you're nurturing. That's great, too. And I don't think it matters what gender you are.
I like you.
You sort of contextualize this unconditional love. I think often it seems anyway, maybe it's just my perception that people equate their child's happiness with love. So things are done to to please the child that may or may not be in their best interests or responsibilities or given to them, because we view it as love to take care of the. Wow, that's such a great point, but it's it's it's a little bit heartbreaking to consider that because this would mean that there are parents who are loving, adoring parents who are unknowingly sabotaging their child's development.
So a few examples. Children want to grow. They want to be competent to the world. Their self-esteem comes from two things. One is from feeling unconditionally loved and adored and valued and delighting. But the second is from being able to get their needs met, to do things well in the world. All children need to do that. So the fact that we love them isn't enough. It's the foundation. But they need to be able to feel like they can learn to do something they want to do if they can't ever learn to do something they want to do.
Why would. And it doesn't matter what it is that they want to be. Maybe they want to learn to read or tie their shoes or ride a bike. Let's say we've got a five or six year old. It doesn't really matter what it is they want to do, but if they don't learn to do those things, they feel worse about themselves. So when you say not getting kids responsibilities, young children want responsibilities. They want to feel that they can do things to contribute.
All humans want to contribute. You want to feel good about our our impact on the world. And children are no exception. That's an elite that they have. So getting kids responsibilities, not enough in an overall way, like, you know, Cinderella, clean the floor. You can't, you know, do go to your friends later, but more. And we all contribute to the family way. And the research shows that kids who do contribute to the family do better.
And there's a way to do that that is completely supportive and loving and helps your child develop into somebody who feels good about themselves and setting limits. Same thing you said, doing things to make kids happy. You know, we all know that our two year old thinks that eating every cookie in the box and never eating a vegetable will make them happy. We all know that's not good for our two year old.
There are many similar situations with 12 year olds. It's the same thing. So making them happy is not the point. I think accepting that they're unhappy about some of our limits. Yeah, that's an important point. That's an important part of what we give them. They're allowed to be unhappy when life doesn't go their way and they don't get what they want. Sometimes they still have to do those things, take a bath, share their toy with their sister, sit down and do their homework first thing, whatever it is that we're asking of them to help clean up the dishes afterwards.
Those things that they don't necessarily want to do that aren't going to make them, quote, happy, unquote, are all part of becoming a person who contributes and who feels good about themselves and who has a positive impact on the world. And sure, they can be unhappy about it. They will grow resilience if we have those negative feelings and they learn the world doesn't end and, you know, they can do these things and come out fine in the end and everything will be OK growing.
If we stop our child from growing resilience, it doesn't help them at all. Then we have unknowingly, unwittingly raised a child who doesn't have the grit to go after what they want in life and get it. That's a recipe for unhappiness. A recipe for happiness is to help our child over and over again, choose to give up what they want at that moment for something they actually want more. And what they actually want more might be to try to think of the examples that I've just used.
You know, if they don't want to help with the dishes every night and we insist that's what we do in our house, we all work together. They become somebody who gives up what they want, which is to run off and be in touch with their friends on their screens after dinner, instead of helping with the dishes, they give that up for something they want more, which is to feel like a good person who contributes to the family. And ultimately, the it's not just that that's good for their self-image.
Yes. And it's good for their life skills. Yes. And their ultimate independence. Yes. Something else happens to me. They develop self discipline and they develop resilience. They learn they can handle disappointment. They learn they can sit themselves down to do an unpleasant task. They learn that they can give up something. They want an immediate moment for something. They want more and they build that's that's actually building neural pathways between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system so they become better able to self regulate.
This is a kid who can go to college. And when the other kids are going off to get high on Tuesday night, the. It's you know, I'm going to party on Friday night, I got to study tonight, and she takes herself off the library. That's a kid who's able to be self discipline because they've practiced it and they've built a brain that is more self discipline. That's about resilience as well.
I want to come back to sort of responsibilities and resilience. But before we move on, I want to talk about what coaching what is coaching your kids mean?
He said, coach, instead of punish and talk to me about that so much of the time, if we haven't given a conscious thought to this, we find ourselves with a baby who's grown into a toddler who wants certain things, and we use this little human who we can't communicate with so well verbally, you know, and who really doesn't have much prefrontal cortex. So we can't reason with them and we don't really know what to do to get them to do what we want.
So we just start using force. We pick them up when they go to a place we don't want them to go to, we we say no and then we start. No, I said no. And maybe they slap their hand. No, don't touch that, because we don't really know how to get our child to do what we want except through force. And some parents don't want to be that parent. So they instead use Broms, they use rewards, you know, and all of that presupposes that our child is an object to be manipulated or at least somebody who doesn't have much brain power.
Right. So we're we're we're using rewards and punishment as opposed to coaching the child to be their best self. So when I see coaching, I'm in a few things. First time, emotion coaching so the child can handle their emotions better. That's a big thing. But I also mean coaching by setting up the environment, which means maybe that thing we don't want our child to touch. We need to move away while the child is a toddler. Put it up high.
You know, maybe you don't wear earrings while you when your child is fifteen months old because they're going to grab at your ear. And so you just stop right here for a while. You can put them back on when your kid's a little older. It's not a big deal. But coaching your child to not touch your earrings is going to be for a baby. What 18 month old, 15 month old is going to be pretty hard. Maybe that's what coaching means.
Emotion coaching. It means setting up the environment. It also means practicing, helping the child practice so they can learn certain skills because children need to practice over and over again. As I mentioned, you're building the neural pathways for self discipline. Every time the child willingly gives up something they want for something, they want more. So the child who really wants to know you're at the beach with your two year old and they're running down the the beach kicking everybody sand castles and knocking them down, you know, they're going to love to do that.
But there's something they want more than to knock down the sand castles. They want a warm relationship with a parent. And you can easily get between them in the sand castle and say, oh, no, don't hurt the sand castle, picking your child up, looking or getting down on their level, holding them and pointing to the beautiful sand castle and saying, look out. Really? Oh, look, these kids are working so hard on their sand castle.
Beautiful, nice sand castle and then good sand castle. No touch the sand castle, no kick the sand castle and we move the child away. We might have to do that ten times with our kid, but he's going to learn, oh, sand castles or something. We don't care. We can build our own sand castles and knock them down, but we don't kick other people's sand castles. And he's he's going to be motivated to do it again, building those neural pathways by the warm relationship with us.
If we just, you know, don't don't do that, he might stop because he's afraid. But then the minute our backstory is going to be back to normal behavior. Right. Because he had no motivation to go along with us. But if we have helped him learn why and then we practice it with him over and over again, he learns how to manage himself in relation to sandcastles. Now he has to learn how to manage himself. Also in relation to the candy bars in the checkout line at the grocery store, he has to learn how to manage himself in relation to the to the children at the children's museum who all want the same toy he wants.
He has to learn or the kids at the playground who all want to go backward up the slide or he wants to go backward and he doesn't want to share it. So he will have to manage himself over and over again. In many situations, his motivation will come from us. But we also have to help him practice exercising that self-discipline so he gains that the brain power to do it basically. And also so he learns the skills. If he's if we're talking about peers or siblings over and over again, you're going to be teaching your kids to say you can ask your brother, when will you be done with that?
May I have a term you can tell your brother I'm still using this. You can ask your brother, please get that back. So you're coaching your kids to learn the skills, so we said three things, right? And the first one I mentioned was emotion. Coaching and emotions are again in the way of all this, the sandcastles, the the working things out with their their sibling, the times that they just hit their sibling or go ahead and kick the sandcastle.
It's when their emotions are too big for them to manage and get in the way. So how do kids learn to manage emotions, emotion, coaching?
And this is why rewards and punishment aren't that effective, because they don't actually handle big emotions. So there's been some really wonderful research really starting 30, 40 years ago. Much of it was covered. Much of the early research was covered by John Gottman in his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. But there's been much more since that time and it's gotten more nuanced. But it's huge finding ways that parents tend to react to kids emotions in not very constructive ways.
There are parents who react in constructive ways. Those are the parents who say you look frustrated. Let's take a deep breath and then we'll try again. Or a parent who says that dogs bark is scary. I'm right here. You're safe. You're safe. It's OK for the parent who says no wonder you're angry. When she said that it really hurt your feelings. And then in addition to acknowledging the parent might help the child figure out how to best respond to the situation, like, I wonder what you'll say to her when you see her.
When you hear the next door neighbor who said the hurtful thing, I wonder what you'll say when you your and help this child to actually consider different options. That's called emotion coaching. What will been is that most parents don't do that. They'll say things to the child, like that's just a dog. There's no reason to be afraid or about the neighbor child. Oh, don't say such mean things about her. You know, you two are thick as thieves.
You'll be playing again tomorrow. So the second person and the first one with the dog, they both denied the child's feelings. They told the child it wasn't OK to have those feelings. Sometimes shame is used. That's just a dog. Be a big boy. You're a big boy. You're not afraid of a little doll. That's shame. So denial of the child's feelings. Shame. Sometimes there's punishment used when the child gets defiant and raises their voice to you and you threaten them with punishment instead of acknowledging that it's in fact a communication from your child.
Wow, you want a new dad. You're showing me just how mad you are to say that, sweetheart. You could be as mad as you want. I'm going to love you no matter what. And I am always going to be your dad. And what do you know why you're so mad and you're opening the conversation to real communication that's coaching your child. You're re-establishing safety, you're allowing the feelings and your modeling that even when things get tense, we can always work it out.
We always will work it out. We're family and you're opening the door to communication as opposed to that's emotion coaching as opposed to denying you don't wish you had a new daddy or shame. How could you say such a thing to me? You know how much I sacrificed for you or punishing, you know, your time out for you. You know, you can't speak to me that way. That's disrespectful. Time out for you, which is a punishment.
So why don't parents emotion coach, why do they instead respond to their child's emotions with shame or punishment or denial or distraction? It might be as simple as you know. Oh, you don't mean that. You know, let's talk about your upcoming birthday party, you know, or something. Yeah. Oh, that's that was just a little that was just a little scrape. Don't worry. Oh, look at the cute birdie. Whatever. So why do parents do this instead of a motion picture or one they haven't had modeling, they don't have a motion picture.
But there's something more important. And it's that what we said in the beginning about self-regulation. Parents get anxious when their kids have big emotions. They think emotions are dangerous. They don't see how to help their child feel better. Again, they get scared because no one ever helped them with their emotions. If parents can instead train themselves to take a deep breath and remind themselves it's not an emergency, the child is just having a feeling. It's not a permanent condition.
The child is allowed to have feelings. That's part of how children develop unshakeable self esteem and resilience is that we allow them to have their feelings. And it's part of how you build a deep relationship with your child. Will they trust you with everything? Anything, and they were open to your influence. It's why I accepted all of their feelings, if you can remind yourself of those things and at that moment you can just get curious. You don't have to jump in solutions.
You don't have to tell her how to make things better with her friend. You can just take a deep breath and say, wow, you sound so angry at her. I guess it must really hurt your feelings when she said that. And then she'll elaborate and she'll vent and she might say all kinds of things like, I'm never going to be her friend again. You can listen and you can say you sure are angry. Wow. That must have really hurt.
You feel like you don't even want to be your friend when she talks like that, huh? And then at some point when she slammed down, you might even say, I wonder what will happen when you see your mom. And if she says something like, I'm going to tell her I never want to be your friend. Well, and she's not in a state of mind to think constructively about tomorrow. So it was a little premature. It turns out that be you can say, yeah.
So you're still angry enough to tell her you you don't even want to be friends with her. Hmm. I wonder what would happen then. I wonder what would happen then. Notice you're not telling her what to do. You're alone, but it's worth watching. Also, you're not lecturing. I wonder what would happen then allows her to without her reflective capacity. This is another Silberling right after you do the emotions, after you accept the emotions that you acknowledge at some point will help your child develop the skills they need to solve the problem, in this case, reflective capacity to consider, well, what would be the best thing to do tomorrow.
So coaching is emotion coaching, and it's also helping your child to develop the skills to basically the person who can have a good life.
That's coaching on how much of that carries over from adult interactions to adult kid interactions where I mean, as you were saying that it struck me that there's a lot of adults who deal with sort of the adult version of those those sort of examples that you brought up in the same way in terms of being dismissive about other people's opinion or telling them, you know, don't worry, it'll be OK. It's not that big of a deal, but it is a big deal to the person.
So we're almost practising on a daily basis the opposite of what you're talking about. You know, humans and humans are scared of emotion mostly. I have to be not all humans, but most of us were not raised to be to be able to befriend our emotions. And at best, we see them as a necessary inconvenience. The truth is, emotions are useful. Emotions are indicators of something, an indicator of something that matters to us or some place we need to grow or someplace we need to change or something we want to change in the world around us.
That's not working for us. So there's nothing wrong with emotion. What's wrong is when we leap to take action without adding in the prefrontal cortex executive function that says, yeah, we're angry. But right now, smacking that person we're having a meeting with is not the way to go. We need to take a different action, which has to do with X, Y, Z, because we're at work. Right. Find out the go get the the data to present our position and to strengthen our position and schedule another meeting and have another person.
They can back us up and whatever might be the way to go. So we need to I think all of us notice our relationship with our own emotions. Again, back to self-regulation and notice that we we can teach our children more constructive ways of being their best selves, that much of which has to do with managing emotions. And you're totally right that that we have we as adults, we just think about an adult friendship where someone makes you acts as if what you're thinking or what you're feeling is not, you know, a big deal.
You know, what we all want is just to be listened to. I hear from a lot of times I hear from mothers that they will then to their partner and their male partner will will some will just immediately start to problem solve. And they didn't ever want him to problem solve. And it makes them feel like they're incompetent. They just wanted a chance to vent. And that's true for children as well. Notice with the altercation with the neighbor child, we aren't lecturing or solving her problem, giving her a chance to vent, and then we're giving her a chance to solve it herself.
Right. To develop those skills. That's what all humans, while we don't want someone telling us what to do, it makes us feel incompetent. But notice why the male partner did that, because he was anxious and he got to to he could see clearly what she needed to do, he thought, and he might even have been right. And he wanted to alleviate her upset. He thought she would feel better if he just told her how to handle it.
But of course, that came out of his own desire to take charge and be a good guy and take care of her. And and it actually wasn't what she needed at all. She just needed to be allowed to have her feelings. And maybe some of it came from his own discomfort with those big emotions. Maybe she was venting. It made him feel like, wow, here's my usually sweet, calm partner. And she's like venting and yelling.
And she's so upset about this. And, like, this makes me really uncomfortable. Right. Might even be pushing old buttons for him. So we all when we get uncomfortable with someone else's feelings, that's when we handle them in a not necessarily constructive way. And the rule of thumb, whether you're dealing with an adult or a child, is always to accept the person's feelings as they are to allow them to remind yourself it may not be permanent, the feelings it probably isn't.
And they're allowed to have whatever feelings they have. And it will be so much better for them if you can just love them, complete with all of their inconvenient feelings.
As you were talking about the the partner who is prone to problem solving it sort of brought up relationship problems and what what effect the relationship problems have on kids. And I don't mean sort of like physical abuse, but parents who can't connect or can't model an affectionate or well functioning relationship for their kids.
Well, we are still learning the answers to that question, but here are a few things. For one thing we know is that when there are raised voices, children's blood pressure and adrenaline shoot up. And that's true of babies. Also, even if they're non-verbal shoots up and includes babies who are asleep, they hear loud voices and they get worried. So if there's ongoing conflict in your home or just ongoing raised voices, children will become more anxious and more challenging because they're more anxious.
So conflict is not good for kids. When kids do see conflict, that's fine. They don't think you don't have to have a home where they never see any conflict. But then you want to work out the conflict in front of them. So if possible, you want to work it out at that moment where you're trying to go somewhere and one parent yells at the other one and now we're going to be late. Why do you always take so long to do X, Y, Z?
And the other one says, well, if you would just help get us ready to get out the door. I'm the one who had to go around and lock the house and make sure the dog was fed and and get the apple pie that we're bringing to the dinner and the kids are hearing this altercation. It's really important that once you're in the car you're driving, you take some deep breaths. One of you says to the other one in front of the kids are in the backseat.
I'm really sorry for my contribution to getting out of the house like now. It could be either partner. It could be the part who says you're right, that I don't think of things like wrapping the pie in Saran Wrap or I knew it was made. I didn't even think about it or, you know, getting the dog fed or whatever. And you always do. I really appreciate that you handle those last minute tests. I'm sorry I lost my temper.
I just got worried about being late. And if you're the other partner and you're still the first one to speak because you're the one who has the ability to take care of this, because you're the one who's thinking about this issue, because we're talking about it, we'll use it next time it happens at your house. You to be the other part. And you could say because even though you got attacked women, which partners, which you could be you could be the partner who's who first thought that the person had done the wrong thing.
And you could say, you know, you're the partner who, in fact, was doing all these things. You could say, I'm really sorry that I wasn't ready to leave the house. When you said I knew we were trying to get out of the house at five thirty. And you're right that I was still doing things five or ten minutes later and we got out of the house late. Those things were important to do. I'm sorry, I didn't think to communicate with you about them half an hour before so we could work together on them.
And I'm sorry I tapped you for not working with me on them. I should have clearly expressed the list of what I saw that had to be done so we could work together. So it doesn't matter which person you are, whether you attack the other person or you were felt attacked, it doesn't matter. The thing to do is to extend an olive branch and say, I'm sorry for my contribution to this. And part of it is the exact thing I was, to be exact things you're saying.
But Richard. But the content. But part of it is also I'm sorry that I got frustrated with you. I'm sorry I acted like it was all your fault. I'm sorry I didn't take more responsibility earlier on to avoid the problem. And I want to work together with you in the future on this. Let's figure out a way that we don't at least we seem to have this argument a lot. Let's figure out a way that we can head this for the past next time.
I don't like it when we raise our voices to each other. I love you so much and I don't want that kind of relationship with you. I always want to I know we can always work things out and we can figure this out. The two of us are smart enough to figure out a better way to handle this. Notice your kids are watching for the next morning. Your kids learning. Wow. Some people get frustrated. Sometimes people get frustrated.
They raise their voices each other, but they can make up. They can be reasonable. They can extend the hand of peace. They can apologize for their part of it, even if the other person is still stewing and if the other person is still angry and doesn't know how to respond at that point and doesn't you can say I can see you're still angry about this. I know. We'll work it out later. We'll make a plan to work it out when we get home.
Right now, let's just have a good time, OK? We're going to get there a little bit late. It's going to be OK. We're going to all be OK. Our our host won't mind or whatever. You make it less of an emergency. Right. And then maybe, hey, who's up our music? What kind of music do we want to switch the subject? But your kids got theirs. Proactive things they can do and that their parents are not.
Because if you just don't mention it again, your kids don't know how that gets resolved. They don't have any role model. What about parents who suppress the two on one?
That sounds like a very constructive view, right? See, on one hand, you have people who argue and don't resolve it and the kids see that. Then you have parents who who sort of get into a moment or in the heat of the heat of the moment, something happens that they would otherwise not want to. And then they demonstrate sort of a correct. Or a very adult way to deal with this situation. What about the people who suppress that and don't don't actually say anything but then feel something and can't communicate that to their their partner?
How does that affect the parenting relationship?
So they feel, you know, they feel something, but they're not modeling the child how to work that out. So the parent child relationship is eroded a little bit because the child sees that parent is not completely emotionally to this parent is capable of attacking the other parent or this parent, let themselves be attacked and doesn't stand up for themselves and doesn't try to work things out. This person is somewhat powerless at the mercy of relationships or this person did the attack and didn't take responsibility for.
Either way, the parent is not taking emotional responsibility and the child sees them is not completely trustworthy. So the child can still have a good relationship with that person. But maybe the child feels they need to protect this parent in the future from the other parent. And that's a responsibility your child should not have. Or maybe the child sees. This parent did the attacking and they don't totally trust this parent not to attack them simply. Right. So it's going to affect your relationship with your child.
That's one thing. Of course, you're also modeling a less than constructive way of relating to a partner for your child. Right. And of course, you are undermining your marriage or other partnership.
Right. Because you're not you know, I totally understand not knowing how to make it better. I understand being in that car and not knowing what to say or feeling furious. Like how come he always attacks me for this when I'm always the one who pulls the waiter out here or the other person saying to themselves, it's not because of those things, it's because she put on her makeup for 20 minutes or whatever it is, and they're still holding a grudge against each other.
I understand being in that position, but if that's where you find yourself, then you need to do some work on that because holding the grudge will erode your relationship. Now, you said, what about suppressing it? A lot of people don't know how to work out conflict in a constructive way. So they just swallow it. They just remind themselves, this is my partner, my love. You know, we're going to have blow ups. That is it's fine.
And as they're getting maybe not in the car, but as they're getting out of the car, they might squeeze their partners hand and whisper, I'm sorry, or they might not whisper sorry. They may just be your partner's hand and say, let's have a good time, OK? And that's that. Right. And then it's swept under the rug. It's forgotten about. But what happens there is that you're you you're putting a little brick in a wall between you and your partner, a wall of UN arid, unexplored and UN worked out grievances where you basically think your partner was acting like a jerk and you were right.
And that's the brick. The brick is a judgment that it's all their fault. And next time you have an altercation, it will be worse because you didn't actually work this one out. When you say stuff, what if you just suppress it? Suppressing conflict does not work, but also expressing conflict as an attack on the other person doesn't work. What works is taking responsibility for everything you can take responsibility for in your end of it and having compassion for your partner, which opens the door to them being able to have compassion back.
And you take responsibility for them.
And it's a good Segway into sort of like how do we encourage kids to take more responsibility? You know, a recent example I had with my kids went to school and it was raining and they didn't have rain boots.
And I had sort of prompted them in their eight nine. And I just kind of let them go with their shoes as sort of a natural consequence to that. But I'm always looking for ways to I am looking like, is that age appropriate?
I don't know. But I mean, I'm always looking for ways to give my kids more responsibility, and I'm not quite sure what that means. Can you help me understand the. Yeah, that's that's a great question, and I was using responsibility in the emotional sense of stepping up and taking responsibility for your end of the operation, but you're right, it's about stepping up and take responsibility for every action you take. And ultimately, if you want a good life, it's about taking responsibility even for the thoughts you have, because the thoughts create the emotions.
So if your thought is just to finish that last point, if your thought is my partner is being a jerk or my partner often is a jerk, you're going to have a very different relationship than if your thought is, wow, we always have a hard time when we're leaving the house because of X, Y and Z, but we could solve those things very different if we work at it together as a team. Very different. So responsibility for themselves as in wearing boots.
So age appropriate. Yes. So so first of all, a five year old doesn't care if their feet get wet. So they're going to resist putting on their boots unless they love their boots and it gives them permission to stomp in the puddles and then they'll be thrilled about the boots. Right. But the five year old is not what we think about. The boots themselves usually is an eight or nine year old could consider that. Yes, boots, it's raining.
Boots are a smart idea. But is that I haven't yet. I mean, some people don't use umbrellas. They just don't have a habit of using umbrellas. And it would never occur to them to take an umbrella. Other people are in the habit. Every time it rains, they grab an umbrella. Right. So what part of it is is there a habit of, oh, it's raining. What's the checklist for things we do when it's raining?
The checklist is we where are our rain boots? And we were we grab an umbrella maybe or we we put on a raincoat. So do your kids have that checklist? Most eight or nine year olds would need help with that checklist, depending on how much it rains where you live. So so it's age appropriate that you had to remind them first. B, they resisted. What else is age appropriate with kids in the maybe not at six seven as much, but certainly by nine or ten.
What's age appropriate? They're concerned about what their peers are doing. If they're wearing rain boots, will their peers be wearing rainbows when they get to school? If not, will they be feeling uncomfortable? They'd rather have wet feet then have that happen. So that's also age appropriate for that age. So they might resist the rain boots for that reason. So the first thing I would find out if I suggest rain boots and they don't want to wear them, is it just sounds like you don't want to wear them.
Did the other kids wearing boots, you're trying to find out why they don't want to wear it. You might just ask explicitly and they might go, I don't like them. And then you might have to ask, why don't you like them? Are they hot? Do they they want to wear their shoes and change back when they get to school. Do they not think there will be very wet? Would they rather have wet feet than have gates that look dorky, like what's going on with that?
So they might. Well, just tell you the truth at that point, if you have a good relationship with them and they know you won't laugh at them, which is they're just dorky dad. Everybody makes when kids were Reynolds, the cool kids don't wear Reynold's. That's maybe what it comes down to. We don't know. And then you might have to establish that the cool kids get dropped there by their parents in cars, whereas your kids about to stand at the school bus stop and get on the school bus and they might have very wet feet by the time they get to school.
And would they really rather have wet beat instead of looking cool when they arrive and they could bring their shoes with them to change, do whatever. So there's all of that stuff that goes on. But I guess, you know, responsibility is a complicated thing like responsibility. I don't think this was about responsibility wearing their boots. I think it was about making a considered choice because it was it was just much more nuanced than that responsibility might be. Did they bring home their history back when they have to study for history test?
And that was their responsibility. That would be a question of did they take responsibility for that and for that, when do they begin to take responsibility? I think as soon as it becomes clear that no one's going to rescue them, you might rescue them the first right. The first time when they come home and they go, the nine year old says, you say, hey, what's your Hummer situation book report and history test the history test tomorrow, huh?
Yeah. So it is it for the chapter you've been doing on colonialism or whatever it is. And the kid goes, yeah. And then then when they go to sit down and work on it, they realize, oh my goodness, I forgot my history book. And you say, oops, wow, that's a big mistake. I'm not throwing it into the school now. How are you going to solve this problem? And your kid's going to start trying to solve the problem.
They might think you should drive them back to the school and they should try to get into the school. And the first time it happens, I would even do it, but probably never again and I would be pretty clear about it. Wow. Thank goodness we were so able to get into the school. Thank goodness I had the ability to drive you back today, the time. But you know what? I want to let you know your studies are your responsibility.
So it is your job to make sure that you don't forget your books. So it's only the beginning of fourth grade. I was willing to do it this time, but from now on. Going to happen. So how are we going to avoid this problem next time and then the next time they're probably still going to forget their science book. And at that point, you're going to say, oh, buddy, I'm so sorry. No, I can't drive you back right now.
I know. I know I could. I'm not going to. It's your responsibility. And you didn't remember it. Remember we came up with the system. Sounds me to to make sure you have all your books at the end of the day. Sounds to me like you didn't use that system. But I'm betting after this you're going to use the system. So what can you do? And maybe they're going to figure out that they can call other people and whatever, that they have some notes that they can refer to, whatever.
And maybe they're going to just totally scrap the test and maybe they're going to be angry at you about it. And if they are, you can say I can see why you'd rather blame me than yourself. I totally understand it. And it's your responsibility. I'm here to help you in any way I can to come up with a good system. And I'm willing to quiz you every day about whether you were able to maintain your system. You remember to bring your books, but I'm not going to be fail safe and fail safe.
Wouldn't be the word I'm not going to substitute. You're going to ensure your success ultimately, because I will be there when you're in high school and college to be able to go with your textbook, with you. So now's the time to learn.
I like what you said about sort of dealing with children. I think you talked about it just cursory in your response there about how a child is prone to avoid responsibility or shape the world so that somebody else is at fault and not them.
How can we deal better with those situations where children are prone to put like if my son forgot his lunch or something, you might say that, you know, it was my job to remind him, how do we deal with that sort of things?
Well, let's take the lunches as a great example, because every parent has gone through that. The minute you notice that you are the reminder, you might bring the lunch for them when they're five without even thinking twice. But at some point, and I would say five is a great time if you haven't started already, you want to work with them to pack the backpack. What goes in your backpack? This goes your show and tell thing for tomorrow, your lunch.
And then as they get older school book. So they are always working with you to pack their backpack. Right. And if it's the night before that they're packing their backpacks, then something goes on the front of the backpack that reminds them about anything that's not in the backpack. That has to be added at the last minute, like the lunch. So that morning before they go out the door, if that if you notice the thing is still in the backpack, the lunch reminder, you would stop before you got the door and go, does everybody have everything we need?
Your kids are like, yeah, yeah. And you would say, so we have our backpacks we packed last night. That's all good. And what about any reminders for anything we had to add this morning? And your kid goes, Oh, that's my lunch. And they race and they get their lunch. And over time, your kid is going to teach themselves to remember that their lunch goes in there. You should not be by the time they're eight or nine years old, reminding them to get their lunch, they should be something.
Certainly an eight or nine year old can remember their lunch and it's their job. And if your kid says you I forgot my lunch and you didn't remind me, the first thing to do is take responsibility.
If indeed you're usually during lunch or if they haven't developed this practice because you didn't help them do it, as I've just described, then you are responsible because you were the reminder. You were the reminder. It's sort of like if your partner puts the gas in the car and you run out of gas, you really do have a leg to stand on when you say in the car, and I guess I would gas in the car in two years. You're the one.
Always does. Why don't you do it? Well, is it really their fault? No, you ran out of gas, but there's a way in which they're always the one who keeps gas in the car. Maybe they use it more often. Maybe there's some other reason. So. So you really are right in a way. You've trained yourself not to do that, not to notice. Right. So your kid is right. You're the reminder.
So if a kid said that to me and I really I looked at that honestly and thought, well, it should be responsible. But honestly, I remind you every single day, no. What do you think? It's my job, I would say. Well, you're right. I did forget to remind you. Oh, my gosh. I can't believe I forgot to remind you. All right. Well, I am really sorry about that. I'm so sorry you don't have a lunch.
You may or may not, by the way, be able to bring the lunch to maybe you're at work and you can't bring them to lunch, in which case you say, I am so sorry, you're going to go without lunch today. We're going to come up with a system tomorrow, starting tonight. They make sure this never happens again and then you're done. You're probably not bringing the lunch then if it really is that you've been reminding them and you can bring them the lunch.
I don't have any problem with bringing in the lunch. But again, I would that night say so. You know, thank goodness I graduated in your lunch, but we're never going to go through this again. The truth is, I can mostly can't bring you your lunch. And it's not my job to and it's not my job to remind you. It's your job to bring your lunch. So let's come up with a system that works and then you start training your child, just as I described before.
No shame, no blame, no. You should have learned this five years ago. Just right now, we're going to start you're going to learn how to do this and we're going to work together and. You play the same sort of like, you know, something obvious, like potty training, we're very involved in the beginning and over time we're not involved at all. Right. And it's the same thing with, remember, lunch for any other skill.
So we're very involved in the beginning, but it's their job to master it and then we're not involved at all.
And what if it's clearly their job or, you know, we're using the lunch example, but it could be anything where it's clearly their responsibility and they're not accepting blame. Is it just a matter of acknowledging their feelings and then reminding them that they're actually responsible for that task example?
Well, we can go back to the lunch example. So if every day you're in the habit of putting the lunch on the counter and it's the child's job and they acknowledge it's their job to take it from the counter and put it in their book bag, and then they they get to school and they find their lunches in there.
And they came home and they said, well, you didn't remind me, even though that's something you do, it's a way that we sort of verbalize avoiding responsibility for our actions and our role, which is age appropriate and contextually important. But kids, kids often sort of find ways to create a situation or not see reality as it is so that they're not responsible for what you're talking to them about. Have an especially creative nine year old at this.
So I would say it is never about blame. And if you want children to take responsibility, it's a good idea to create a household that is noble. And you could call it a solutions, not blame. We're a family that looks for blame. So I would start that as a premise. If it's about blame, why would any of this? Listen, I would work as hard as I could to get out of blame if I felt like I was just getting blamed.
But if it were a matter of I was empowered to find a solution, I'll take responsibility for anything because then I'm in control of making it better for myself for the future. So the lunch on the counter, your nine year old or eight year old comes home and they say, I forgot my I didn't have my lunch. And you say, oh, I'm so sorry, hon, you must have been hungry. What's your fault? You didn't remind me.
Wow. Wow. You think it's my fault? Notice you're just restating him. You think it's my fault because I didn't remind you I made your lunch and I put it on the counter. And usually you take your lunch and you put it in your bed. But I didn't say anything about it. I never say anything about it. And usually you remember, but today you didn't remember. And it's my fault, huh? Your kid will probably look a little sheepish, but you just made clear sane and say, yeah, it's your fault.
You knew I was stressed out. You know, I was really stressed out getting everything ready to go today because of X, Y, Z. And you didn't remind me. Yeah, I didn't know you were stressed out, honey. I knew it was a stressful day for you. And when it's stressful, it's really nice to have extra support. And and I try to support you in any way I can. And I didn't give you the support of reminding you about your lunch.
That's just a given that it's your job to get your lunch even when you're under stress. I'm really sorry that you forgot it. I'm so sorry you went hungry at night. You're not trying to make them say, uncle, you're not trying to myth that you're Rush. You're just you're you're saying I am sorry that you I do try to support you when you're under stress. I'm sorry you were under stress. I'm sorry it made you forget your lunch.
It's hard when we're under stress to remember even things that are routine for us. It can be hard to remember things that you do, to remember things that even even that we would think we would remember. I'm so sorry that you didn't remember. I don't think it was my fault. And I hear how you wish you could blame someone else because it's hard to have been in that situation. You know what, sweetie? Where are solutions? Not blame family.
Right? So I'm not blaming you, but it is your responsibility to take your life. So let's look for a solution that will help you next time. Your kid will probably say, I think the solution is for you to remind me. And you laugh at that point and say, I hear you. Wouldn't it be great? But you know what? You're capable of developing the skill of remembering your own much. I've seen you do it. I know you're capable of it, and I support you to develop it.
I'm not going to be your memory for you because for the rest of your life, I'm not going to be there for you to be your memory for a small task like this. So what solution could we come up with that would make it easier for you to remember your lunch in the morning and then you go back to know if they have a backpack that's packed and they don't have a reminder on it. It says lunch. They won't necessarily remember.
I mean, I don't know about you, but I had gone out of the house and forgotten something that I had to add at the last minute. I was going to bring water from the fridge because I didn't have anything on my backpack saying that I was going to bring it, you know, and even though my briefcase was all packed, I didn't have that thing in it. Right. That have for some reason, it had to be added at the last minute.
My phone charger, whatever we. All done that, so just to say, you know, we've all done this. No blame, no shame, none. We've all done this. What's the solution that you could use to have a built-In reminder for yourself that isn't your dad?
I think that's great. There's a whole bunch of questions I want to get through so maybe we can switch to more rapid fire answers here, because we had a lot of people sort of submit questions that I want to make sure I get a ton to get to.
So talk to me about what the role of nature in family is. You'd mentioned this on another interview. You did the importance of sort of nature in terms of calming people down, in terms of being outside and kids playing.
It was growing a growing body of research about the power of nature. When we are in green spaces, it calms us down and our immune systems work better. In fact, the immune system is about 50 percent more effective when when you spend two hours out in nature, your immune system is about 50 percent more active. The number of T cells, killer cells you have, it is like 50 percent more for for several weeks afterwards. That's how nature is, how effective it is.
That amazing. So so we know that children need to be nature and adults need to be nature and we all need to be nature more often than we are. It helps to see nature even if you can't be in it. But it's a screensaver of trees is a very minor positive blip in your system, whereas being out in trees is a very big, positive blip in your system. Driving past them will be a small positive blip, you know what I'm saying?
So. So, yeah, nature is really important. And the more families can build that into their lives, you know, it's easy for us to think our children have a need to be educated. I need to take them to do something that's educational. But actually, even more than that, we have a need to interact with the natural world and children love it. You see a difference in their behavior.
How do we prepare kids for step siblings?
Oh, OK. Well, Step Siblings implies a host of other issues, so it may mean that there is a step parent about to happen. Right. And and there may be a new home about to happen at least half of the time. And then in addition, there might be step siblings or maybe there are new baby step siblings that are now arriving to a situation that's already got to step parent in a second, a different home, a new home.
So if it's a new baby, can you prep kids much the way you would for any new baby? And there's an enormous amount of content on the parenting website. My website is a dot com and there's a lot of content about prepping kids for the new baby, including prepping kids for new steps. If you're merging two households and you're going to have step siblings who are the age of your children or any age really, but they're not babies, then you need to be aware of your child's likely response to that, which is that your child will be worried about getting their own needs, that worried about fairness, whether children will be treated fairly, worried about whether their parent will still love them just as much, or will they lose their special place in their parents eyes.
So setting up structures that will help address those fears will help your child to go into it easily. So everything is fair game for discussion. We'll have regular meetings I could never love more than I love you. Here are the rules about discipline, for instance. You know, it's you know, you're my kid. Therefore, I'm in charge of your guidance. You know, you're your step mom. Those are her kids. She's in charge of their guidance.
You may think things are somewhat unfair sometimes because I'm more strict about things. On the other hand, I don't punish and give time outs the way she does. We're going to have our own approach to discipline. We're going to always try to talk about it and be as fair as we can. But I am the final authority when it comes to you and she's the final authority with that, whatever. So I guess I'm saying that your child will have a lot of concerns as much as possible.
Think about what those concerns might be, address them, but also build in, assume there's going to be a rocky period of adjustment and build in ways to handle things as they come to the surface. So you don't show your kid doesn't just have to shut down and go along with stuff and not express it.
What's the most common thing you see go wrong when families sort of blend together?
Well, I have seen that. And my goodness, it's so hard to to make a blanket generalization here. I have seen that often parents allow the other parent to do the disciplining for their child. Think it now. They're a family unit that naturally the new stepdad or the new step mom since she's home more, let's say that. That parent is the disciplinarian for all the kids or is is equally allowed to be disciplinary for your kids in there. I just think it's a mistake.
I think that no one is going to be as as appropriate in their guidance of your child as you are. Even your even the child's other natural parent, you may feel is a less good parent than you are often. We feel that way where we are. Right. But certainly the step dad or mom on the scene. There are two reasons. One is they're not going to be seeing the child the way you are. They don't know the child as well as you do.
And they they are not going to give the child the benefit of the doubt the way you will. They don't necessarily have your child's best interests at heart, honest people. It's that simple. In fact, I'm going to say something really big here, which is that when a new man comes on the scene in a child's life, a new man is now with their mother. Their risk of being abused or in fact, being killed in childhood goes up.
Now, that's a huge thing to say. And it's not true in most instances, obviously, but it is an indicator that that new man is not necessarily going to be nurturing that child the way their dad would write or their mom would. And it's it's not his kid and he's not invested in that kid the way you are. So I'm not saying obviously no woman listening to this is going to be inviting a man into her life that she thinks would be bad for the child.
I know that. I'm just saying that maybe there is a kernel of truth there about that's not his kid. And so I have seen that go wrong many times. You said, what's the most common thing I saw? And I've seen that go wrong in small ways that still turn out to be pretty significant for that child, which is that the the stepdad has different expectations. He doesn't understand what's age appropriate for that child and he gets angry at the kids.
And then there's this big bone of contention between the parents and the stepdad in them. And the mother are fighting all the time about the kids, which is bad for their relationship and it's also bad for the children. So I've seen that happen many times and I've seen the reverse also, where the step mom ends up being the disciplinarian and wants her home kept to a certain standard. And when the dad's children visit every other week, she gets really frustrated with it.
I'm sorry to say it happens. And so the that parent should not be the disciplinarian. The other thing is that very well-meaning stepparents end up in situations where they're disciplining and it erodes the relationship with the child. It's very hard to be a step parent. The child does not come into this, assuming you're a nice person who has their best interests at heart necessarily. They may resent you. They may be jealous of you getting the parent's attention. They may wish that their parents would get back together.
They need whatever they they won't necessarily be giving you the benefit of the doubt. If you can step out of the role of disciplinarian and connect with the child in a warmer manner, you will build a relationship that will allow you to influence the child and to have a better the child will be more willing to follow your guidance and behave better after that. But start with the relationship. Don't start with this discipline.
I like that it sounds like parents should obviously have deep, meaningful conversations around sort of how they want to handle this stuff and what sort of expectations they have and how they'll they'll find a way to surface their concerns as they merge household. I want to switch gears to the next question, which is how important is an evening routine and how do we go about building an evening routine for kids? An evening routine, just like a morning routine is very important because children like to know what to expect, it builds their security and then they act out less and they also learn best practices for living.
So they get used to doing things like brushing their teeth that otherwise they wouldn't have a natural inclination to do necessarily or remembering their lunch in the morning because the morning routine. So it's important. I would say it also helps to build into the routine connection time because we otherwise are always reinventing the wheel and trying to remember to connect with our child if it doesn't come naturally, we're always busy. So building that into the routine strengthens the relationship. So it's very important for that reason, too, it gives us an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our child.
How do you come up with a routine? Well, you start with your dad. When do you want your child to sleep? Well, what does that mean in terms of when you need to turn out the light? Well, what does that mean in terms of when you need to get your child into the bed and what happens between getting into the bed and turning up the light? Maybe there's a story. Maybe you turn out the light and then there's a little bit of time where you snuggle with your kid or talk about, you say prayers or you sing a little song or you talk about what they're grateful for.
That happened today and what they're looking forward to tomorrow. So thinking about that and sort of actually not sort of actually mapping it out on paper allows you to back into when each thing has to happen. Well, given all that, when do they have to be out of the bathtub and into their pajamas and all that? Why do they have to get into the bathtub? What do they are you going to roughhouse with them a little bit? First, if you get them laughing, it reduces their tension.
They fall asleep more easily, changes the body chemistry. But you wouldn't want to do it after the bath because then they get riled up. So you have to do it before the bath. What, you have to finish dinner? Well, if you're going to go through your family practice of you're all going to clear and wash dishes together and that takes 15 minutes working together and making it fun with a special song on while we do it and we flop around dancing while we do it.
When does that mean we have to have dinner on the table? When do they have to start homework? You're basically you're starting any routine the minute the afternoon starts in a sense. Right. So coming up, that idea and that timetable and then you might have that in front of you, but you would sit down with your kids and say, so you need to be in there with the lights off the next time. So what? What are the things you have to do?
But from the time you come home, from school to the time you get to bed, let them throw things into the list and then see what you can figure out about timing. But let them be part of that process so that they work with you on the schedule and they even come up with the chart that you post.
Last question, the promise of sort of last question, one more question after this, but how much sleep should kids be getting? It depends how old they are. There are, for lack of a better word, charts on line that give average sleep needs for different ages.
But I would say the most important indicator is do they wake up on their own without an alarm clock and that you waking them up? If they don't, they're not getting enough sleep. Now, there are kids who wake up as soon as the light shines in their room and they're in a cranky mood. I would say those kids are light sensitive. They need blackout curtains. But when kids don't have noise picking them up and they don't have light waking them up and they are waking up happy at seven a.m. or whenever they need to get up for school, then that's what they're getting asleep.
Most kids don't take it for granted. We have these alarm clocks, by the way, if you have an alarm clock, you're not getting mostly bad news. I know, but it's really true. So not good for you and not good for your kid.
I totally agree. I haven't had an alarm clock since I had kids. Where can people find out more about either? This has been a great conversation.
So I have a website, a ahj like those aha moments. Parenting Dotcom's or parenting dotcom. That's about a thousand pages or more, and it's for parents of all age kids so they can peruse that website to their heart's content. I also offer a newsletter to get it once a week. It's just a compilation of articles for that week. If you get it three times a week, you'll also get my blog post for that week. So two of those three will be the blog post that's free.
You can just sign up on page of the website. I also have books. You can look on Amazon or on my website for those books. I have three books out once. One is the kinds of things we've talked about today. One is on siblings and sibling relationship. And the third one is exercises that you can do to have better self-regulation, to build a better relationship and more connection with your child, and to learn how to coach your child, to do emotion coaching and to set better limits boundaries in a loving way.
So that's the work with us.
And we'll might have to do a part two on this for siblings and way. We kind of ran out of time here today, but we'll link to the books in the show notes and really I would highly recommend Laura's newsletter. It's one of the ones that I signed up for and read to help me sort of become a better parent. I really appreciate you taking the time.
My pleasure. It was great to talk to you to this wonderful questions.
Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at Farnam Street blog, dotcom slash podcast. That's fair. And I am s t r e t blog, dot com slash podcast. You can also find information there on how to get a transcript.
And if you'd like to receive a weekly email from me filled with all sorts of brain food, go to Farnam Street blog, dotcom slash newsletter. This is all the good stuff I've found on the Web that week that I've read and shared with close friends, books I'm reading and so much more.
Thank you for listening.