Note: Please forgive the awkward pauses and repetition on the audio—We had some sound issues on the line for this interview. I’ve edited them out of the transcript.
Jonathan: Welcome to Kidorable Parenting’s interview with Dr. Laura Markham, celebrated parenting expert, speaker, author of the “Aha! Parenting” blog and several books, including, “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids.” I’m Jonathan Domsky, blogger, parenting coach and co-founder of Kidorable. Dr. Laura’s parenting philosophy and practical loving tips have helped make our home more peaceful and more joyous. Dr. Laura, tell me a little bit about who you are, what you do, and what you’re passionate about.
Dr. Laura: Well, I am a clinical psychologist and I’m passionate about children and giving children the best possible start so that they can grow into compassionate, self-actualizing people who realize their passions and make the world a better place. So, I’m passionate about parenting and that’s what I spend my time writing and talking about.
Jonathan: What’s something that you wish you had more courage or imagination to do when you were younger?
Dr. Laura: Well, you know, I wish that when I got out of college I had traveled to other countries. I didn’t really have an example. There was some people I knew who did that and went backpacked around Asia, but I didn’t have the language and I didn’t have any money. I had worked my way through college. I still could have done it. I wish I had done it. I think it would have been great for me to get out of my comfort zone, to learn other languages and to see the way people lived across the world. I would have loved to have done that.
Jonathan: What do you do to give children that you love the courage and imagination to seize possibilities within themselves in the world?
Dr. Laura: I think children already have courage and imagination, I think we just have to get out of their way. We need to…I mean, I think we need to validate that courage and imagination rather than getting in their way, squashing their initiatives. Sometimes there’s so many different things that we do that seem natural to us, that sort of conventional approaches to children but that actually undermine kids. So, an example would be, “Be careful. Be careful.” We could just, say, spotting them as they climb high and say things like, “Check in with your body. How’s your body feeling way up there? Do you feel safe?” And you know, validate the child’s courage. I think we also could let them take the lead more when we go someplace for them and we’re exploring. I was just someplace with five-year-old twins and we were on the seashore and they wanted to go climb up around this bend and over these rocks, and I was like, “Okay, great. Let’s do it.” And later their dad said to me that he had really loved watching that and he realized how often he said to them, “Oh, no, that isn’t safe,” or he leads the way. But that actually we can let the kids lead the way. I could give you more examples of things that we do sort of automatically but that get in the child’s way.
One is to cheer…we cheer them on. We expect them to be perfect. We brag about our kids. And, “Oh, she’s a great dancer,” we say. This was about another child that I was around recently. Her dad was saying, “Oh, she’s a great dancer. Everybody at the block party was so impressed with her.” But I saw this dad do that a lot, and I think he thought he was building up his daughter’s sense of competence and confidence, but actually, what I saw her do was to feel like maybe she couldn’t measure up because he was constantly building her up. So, again, if we want our kids to have initiative, we need to encourage them without constantly speaking to their achievements as if we demand perfection.
Jonathan: So, when I’m hearing you tell these stories, I’m imagining well-meaning parents whose fear is getting in the way of them helping their children develop. How do parents overcome that fear?
Dr. Laura: How do parents overcome their fears about their kids?
Jonathan: Yeah, about their kids climbing on the rocks or…
Dr. Laura: I think it’s really all about the work we do on ourselves. I think our fear will always get in the way of raising our children. We can’t give our children something we don’t have inside. So, I think all the work we do as parents, what matters is who we are. And so, doing the work on ourselves is what matters.
Jonathan: Dr. Laura, describe something in your family life that you’ve consciously made more fun, easy, meaningful or joyous.
Dr. Laura: I would say work. You know, I find so many people who say that their children won’t help around the house, won’t do chores, or that their children… Some parents who say their children are lazy. I’ve never met a lazy child. I don’t believe there is such a thing. I think, for me, I blurred the lines between work and play when my kids were little. So, I dignified their play by treating it as something important. I tried not to interrupt it, their play. I would say things like, “What are you working on?” and they would show me, whether they were building a dam or they were building a tower or whatever. They were doing some art. And I also tried to treat work as play. So, “Let’s have fun with the grocery shopping. We need to clean up after dinner. Let’s turn on the music and dance while we clean up.” So, finding ways to do the work with them, not make them do chores but do work with them and finding ways to make it about play and fun.
Jonathan: Nice. What’s something about your current family life that you wish was more fun, easy, meaningful or joyous?
Dr. Laura: Well, you know, my kids are now 23 and 27, so if there’s anything I’m wishing for regarding my children, it would have to be spending more time with them. Of course, I wish for them to have the thrilling experience as young adults of creating the lives they want for themselves and finding their way in the world and doing their own accomplishments without relying on mom and dad, right? So, I can’t really…I do love the time I spend with them, but I also…I just admire my kids. This is something that any parent can do. You can raise children who are more emotionally and intellectually intelligent than you are because you can give your kids a better upbringing than you got. And so, I guess I just love being around my kids and I always learn from them.
Jonathan: You said that you could give your kids more than you got growing up. What’s something that you treasure from your own childhood that you’ve tried to recreate with your own children and what’s something that you’ve consciously changed in raising your own children?
Dr. Laura: I read with them. My father was a big reader and he took all six of us to the library every two weeks and we would walk out each of us with a stack of books. And he always read to us when we were little. And even after we could read, he would read stories to the whole family. So, I did a lot of reading with my kids and that meant I didn’t do screens. We really tried to stay away from screens when they were little until they could read, because until reading is well-established, screens are so much easier that children won’t do the hard work of reading which has so many, so much reward to it. The rewards are greater from reading than they are from screens because it develops the imagination and it also develops the intellect. Reading is highly correlated with school achievement. So, I think reading is a great value and I treasure that from my own childhood.
Jonathan: Dr. Laura, what’s the best part about being a parent?
Dr. Laura: The best part about being a parent, to me, is having your own built-in therapist, Zen master, the person who shows you what you need to work on. You know, so many parents we think we’re very high functioning, we do great at our jobs, and then we have children and we realize, “Oh, actually, I can lose my temper pretty easily.” And it’s such great opportunity to learn self-regulation, to learn to be the person we wanna be, to demonstrate and model for our child how to be an imperfect person who makes mistakes, but who steps up and try to make it better and apologies. And I just think over and over again we have the opportunity to grow and to model for our children what it means to not be perfect but to be a gracious human being.
Jonathan: Nice. Tell me about your current project or something else that you think I should know about work.
Dr. Laura: Well, I teach an online course and I do it a couple times a year. The one that starts in September, registration port is closing this Thursday, so just in a couple of days. And the idea of the course is that we as parents can change what’s going on in our families by changing ourselves. You really can’t change your child, but you can change you and then your child will change. So, the idea of the course is to become the parent that you wanna be and to model for your child the person you want them to be.
Jonathan: All right. Well, Dr. Laura, this has been a treat. I’m grateful for your time, your wisdom, and the example that you share with me and other listeners. Thank you.
For more from Dr. Laura, do yourself a favor and check out https://www.ahaparenting.
In two weeks I’ll give a free Kidorable Umbrella to whoever leaves my favorite comment and shares this interview on the social media platform of their choice.