Julie Lythcott-Haims on Helping Differently Wired Teens Launch
My guest for this episode is the brilliant Julie Lythcott-Haims. Julie is one of those guests I’ve been wanting to bring onto the show since I first launched this podcast in 2016, so I’m thrilled to finally be sharing this interview with you. If Julie’s name is familiar, it may be because she is the author of the New York Times’ bestselling, and in my opinion, majorly game-changing-in-the-parenting-space book, How to Raise an Adult. She wrote it after noticing that prospective college students at Stanford University, where she was dean of admissions, were being over-parented and as a result, were lacking the resources to develop the resilience, resourcefulness, and inner determination necessary for success.
In this episode, Julie and I talk about about what it takes for a child to be successful—looking at how we define success along the way—and explore what we as parents can do to help our child develop the agency they need to become self-actualized adults. I loved having this conversation with Julie and am still noodling on the many takeaways and aha moments I experienced. I hope you get a lot out of it.
About Julie Lythcott-Haims
Julie Lythcott-Haims first book, the 2015 New York Times bestseller How to Raise an Adult, details how a parent can rob a child from developing agency by over-parenting. It emerged from Julie’s decade as Stanford University’s Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising, where she was known for her fierce advocacy for young adults and fierce critique of the growing trend of parental involvement in the day-to-day lives of college students which was becoming a nationwide trend. How to Raise an Adult has been published in over two dozen countries and gave rise to a TED talk that became one of the top TED Talks of 2016 with over 3.5 million views and counting, as well as a forthcoming sequel on how to be an adult, for young adults. Two years later Julie published Real American: A Memoir, a critically-acclaimed and award-winning memoir which examines racism through her experience as a Black and biracial person.
Julie’s work has appeared throughout the media including in the New York Times, the Times Literary Supplement of London, the Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic, Parents, AsUs, the PBS News Hour, CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, The Today Show, National Public Radio and its affiliates, C-SPAN, the TD Jakes Show, and numerous podcasts and radio shows. She serves on the boards of Foundation for a College Education in East Palo Alto, CA, Global Citizen Year, in Oakland, CA, Common Sense Media, in San Francisco, and on the advisory board of Lean In in Palo Alto, CA. She is a member of the Peninsula chapter of Threshold Choir and volunteers with the hospital program No One Dies Alone. She is a former corporate lawyer and Stanford dean, and holds a BA from Stanford, a JD from Harvard, and an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her partner of over thirty years, her two teenagers, and her mother.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- What is at the root of fear-based parenting
- Why Julie says most parents are raising kids from a place of love, ego, and fear
- Challenges and hardships every child should face in order to be ready to be an adult
- How we do our children a disservice when we “become” their default executive functioning
- How we can (and need to) redefine what success looks like
- The connection between successful adults and a child doing chores (and how to get started if you’re not doing it now)
- Why happiness in our kids stems from love
- The benefits of hands-on work for kids developing a sense of agency
- How to help our kids bolster their self-advocacy skills
Resources mentioned for helping differently wired teens launch
- How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims
- Real American: A Memoir by Julie Lythcott-Haims
- How to Be An Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims (Julie’s forthcoming book)
- The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey
- Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky
- Gist: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids by Michael Anderson and Timothy Johanson
Julie Lythcott-Haims 00:00
I see kids who are just, they’re just handled and managed. And all they have to do is sit there and be driven from place to place. And we do have high expectations, they have to work hard, you know, to get the right grades that we want them to have. And they have to be on that team that we want them to be on. So they get into the right college or whatever. I mean, it’s not like they’re lazy. But there is so much of their lives that is managed, planned, constructed, perfected, fixed, handled for them, and that deprives them of feeling the basic agency humans need to have in order to be healthy and whole humans.
Debbie Reber 00:38
Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m Debbie Reber your host and my guest today is the brilliant Julie Lythcott-Haims. Julie is one of those guests I’ve been wanting to bring on the show pretty much since I first launched this podcast, so I am thrilled to finally be bringing this interview to you. And if Julie’s name is familiar, it may be because she’s the author of The New York Times Best Selling and, in my opinion, major league game changing in the parenting space book, How to Raise an Adult. She wrote it after noticing that prospective college students at Stanford where she was the dean of admissions were being over parented and were lacking the resources to develop the resilience, resourcefulness, and the inner determination necessary for success. Today, Julie and I are going to talk about what it takes for a child to be successful. Looking at how we define success itself along the way and what we as parents can do to help our child develop the agency, they need to become self-actualized adults. And a few things from Julie’s bio-Julie’s book How to Raise an Adult has been published in over two dozen countries and gave rise to a TED Talk that became one of the top TED talks of 2016 with over three and a half a million views. Most recently, she authored the book a Real American, a memoir examining racism through Julie’s experience as a black and biracial person. Her work has appeared in many media outlets, including the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic Parents, PBS NewsHour, CBS This Morning Good Morning, America, on and on. So I loved having this conversation with Julie. I am still noodling on the many takeaways and aha moments I experienced. I hope you get a lot out of it. Oh, and I wanted to share that Julie is one of the speakers at Zen Parenting’s annual conference this year. So if you want to hear Julie live and also soak in all the other goodness at this and parenting conference, you guys know, I’m a big fan of Cathy and Todd Adams of Zen Parenting, you can find out more at Zen parenting radio.com. And that conference is going to be in Chicago on March 8, and 9. And before I get to my conversation with Julie, a quick reminder that my book Differently Wired is newly available as an audiobook narrated by yours truly, yes, it’s true, I had to audition to get the job. But I was able to read the book. And that was a lot of fun, and also a lot of work, but I’m really happy with how it turned out. So to listen to differently wired visit amazon.com, you can download it using Audible. You can also listen to a sample if you want to see what it sounds like. And if you’d like to watch the TEDx talk I gave in Amsterdam at the end of 2018 called Why the Future Will be Differently Wired, you can find it on the homepage of Tilt Parenting at tiltparenting.com I wrote the speech with a broader audience in mind as I really wanted to challenge employers and colleagues and community members and other people in our lives who might not be raising differently wired kids to consider the importance of neuro divergence, and to consider the importance of our kids in our society. So I would love your help spreading the word to these audiences. So please check it out, share it on your social media, your blogs, however, we can get the word out there. So thank you so much for considering that. And one last quick announcement. I wanted to let you know that Tilt Parenting is now available on Spotify. So if you are someone who like me likes to put on playlists on Spotify. Right now I’m listening to coffee shop music, sometimes I listen to Broadway soundtracks, sometimes I listen to music from the show Glee, whatever I’m in the mood for but you can also now find podcasts there and tilt parenting was recently added. So just one more place to tap into the conversation. Okay, I think that’s enough announcements for today. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Julie Lythcott-Haims.
Debbie Reber 05:02
Hi, Julie, welcome to the podcast,
Julie Lythcott-Haims 05:04
Debbie. Thanks for having me.
Debbie Reber 05:06
Well, I have to just confess something. And that is that I started this podcast about three years ago. And I had this list of dream guests that I wanted to have on the show. And you were on that list. Well, wait, yes. That’s so awesome. It’s true. So this is a very full circle moment. For me. I’m very excited to just share your work with my listeners.
Julie Lythcott-Haims 05:30
Well, thanks. That means a great deal. I really appreciate it.
Debbie Reber 05:34
Well, my pleasure. And there’s so much to talk about, I have way too many questions. So I want to dive in.
Julie Lythcott-Haims 05:39
That’s great because I’m really long winded.
Debbie Reber 05:43
Well, my hunch is that you’re going to end up answering a lot of my questions in your answer. So I think it’ll even out but just as a way of introducing yourself, gave us kind of the condensed version of who you are as a parent, your work in the world. And, you know, we’re specifically talking about your book, How to raise an adult today. So if you can just talk a little bit about the context for writing that book.
Julie Lythcott-Haims 06:06
Sure. I’m 51. I’m a mom in Silicon Valley, California, I’ve got a 19-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter. For many years, I was the Dean of Freshmen right up the street from my house at Stanford University. And in that role, over the course of 10 years, I grew really concerned about the number of undergraduates who seemed very reliant on their parents to handle the day-to-day tasks of life that college students had always been able to handle in the past, but now somehow, no longer could. Not all my students but a growing number every year, not just a Stanford problem I was seeing at Stanford, what administrators and faculty were seeing all over the country. But what I saw on my campus concern me enough to want to investigate what was going on. And to try to tell parents, hey, back off, it’s okay, your son or daughter is 1819 20. They can do this. They can talk to faculty on their own, they can resolve their own roommate disputes. They don’t need you to be checking their homework. And then, one day, after years of kind of preaching this back off message, I came home to dinner with my own family, and leaned over my 10-year-old son’s plate and began cutting his meat. And there was a big aha moment for me in that I realized that the problem I was seeing on my college campus was a problem I was complicit in at the parent on the parenting side, I was doing too much for my 10-year-old, which meant I wasn’t going to be able to let go of him at 18 when he went off to a campus somewhere. So that dual vantage point of being a parent tries to do the best for my kids. And a college dean worked with other people’s grown-up kids allowed me to put together the thesis for how to raise an adult my book on the harm of helicopter parenting.
Debbie Reber 07:54
Yeah, I mean, I remember when it came out, and it so resonated with me. I also think it was around the time that Jessica Leahy’s book came out. Yeah, so they seem like such great companion pieces. And I definitely, you know, and I had Jessica on the show, we talked about this, I had so many “yes moments”, you know, reading your book. And one of the things and I don’t want to get into more in depth Lee here is that when I read books like that, and when I when I know, you know, what I hear from my audience is that we always have this Yes, but moment because you know, when you’re raising a differently wired kid who might be on a delay timeline, or their trajectory, it just looks different. We kind of find ourselves stuck in this place of, okay, but how do we do this? Like, when are we overstepping When do we step back? What does this actually look like? Because we can’t really compare, you know, with their same-age peers necessarily. So I want to talk with you. Let’s take a step back, I want to talk with you about fear. That’s something that you talk a lot about, that’s something that is pervasive in my community of parents, fear about, you know, everything, what this path is going to look like, will our child be able to launch all of these things? Can you talk about what you discovered about fear-based parenting? And where does that come from?
Julie Lythcott-Haims 09:22
Well, you know, you’ve hit the nail on the head, when attributing cause to our method of parenting these days. So I say that, that we are parenting these days from a place of love, ego, and fear. And, you know, the fear is this sense that in this globalized world, this 21st Century economy with robots and artificial intelligence, a 24/7 365 news cycle that’s constantly buzzing us in our pocket in our hand. We’re just hyper …we’re aware of everything that’s happening everywhere in the world, there are a lot of things that frighten us. And we let that fear animate our behaviors as parents, there’s a wonderful evolutionary biologist named Robert Sapolsky. He’s written the book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, presumably in contrast to humans who do get ulcers. And he says that this new cycle, for example, we can hear about everything going on in the world and abduction, you know, 3000 miles away makes us feel our child is at risk. Unlike our ancestors who lived in caves, when their fight or flight response was activated, when the saber-toothed Tiger came by, you know, they either fled the tiger, fought the tiger in one or died with us, when the modern equivalent of the saber-toothed tiger arises. We can’t flee from it, because it’s not really in our present moment, we are reading about it, it’s coming in on our phones, we can’t flee it, it’s kind of always there. We can’t fight it. It’s just always there. This thing we can’t fight its information rather than an actual thing to confront. And it sorts of looms out there, it looms in our minds, and it’s so our fight or flight response is activated, but we never get the relief of the thing being over. So there’s a heck of a lot of fear. And we’ve decided it’s best if we control our kid’s environment, control our kids’ efforts, control our kids outcomes, argue with teachers argue with coaches handle the deadlines, bring the Forgotten stuff like we’re our fear is, if I don’t do those things, my kid won’t make it. And in the short term, we help our kids by handling the stuff of life for them. But in the long term, if we’ve always been the handler, then they literally have not learned how to handle things for themselves. And while their bodies grow from being child bodies to adult bodies, we have deprived them of building the skills that that adult is going to need to have in order to fend for themselves out in the world. So it’s sort of this paradox that is excruciating, but necessary for us to understand and implement, we actually have to back farther and farther away from our kids as they age, so that they can do more and more for themselves. And yes, sometimes falter, sometimes fall, sometimes experience a hurt, or embarrassment or shame, something that will teach them “Oh, I shouldn’t do it that way, I need to do it differently next time”. This is essentially it. This is what it boils down to how to raise a kid to be that healthy adult, we have to give them a longer and longer leash every year, instead of pretending that they’re safe and okay, and fine, when we’re holding them on our tight leash forever.
Debbie Reber 12:56
So what would you say to parents who are listening to this and are thinking yes, I know, I need to do this. And I’m afraid that if I step back, even in little ways, my child’s world might come crumbling down. Like, I don’t know how to frame this question, but maybe talk a little bit about what’s an okay kind of hurt to go through and what isn’t like, are there criteria that you have in terms of things that we can that where we need to step in and areas where it’s okay to kind of let them falter?
Julie Lythcott-Haims 13:31
Yeah, absolutely. Big picture, I would say that these days, we’ve decided everything is a potential disaster. Everything is potentially harming them for life. And so we’ve decided everything requires our vigilant scrutiny and control in our handling. So what we’ve got to do is kind of re-norm things, we’ve got to stop thinking of everything as a saber-toothed tiger that’s going to kill our children and see most things as important life experiences they need to have because they teach our kid lessons that make them stronger and smarter out there in the world. I’m flipping through my book as I say this because I actually have some examples. So I actually found a great list of things we’re supposed to let our kid’s experience. I found it in someone else’s book, and I wrote them and ask them for permission to reprint it in mind. So here we go. For anyone who has How to Raise an Adult that’s on page 239, in the chapter, normalized struggle. It’s about how to let the bad things happen. And it’s a list called mistakes and curveballs, you must let your kid experience and I got this from Michael Anderson and Tim Johanson. Anderson is a psychologist Johansson is a pediatrician in Minneapolis, both of them wrote a book in 2013 called Gist: The Essence of Raising Life Ready Kids and they had this great list of mistakes and curveballs. You must let your kid experience and I’m just going to read them. Not being invited to a birthday party experiencing, the death of a pet, breaking a valuable vase, working hard on a paper and still getting a poor grade, having a car break down away from home, seeing the tree he planted die, being told that a class or camp is full, getting detention, missing a show because she was helping grandma, having a fender bender, being blamed for something he didn’t do, having an event canceled because someone else misbehaved, being fired from a job, not making the varsity team, coming in last at something, being hit by another kid, rejecting something he had been taught, deeply regretting saying something she can’t take back, not being invited when friends are going out, being picked last for neighborhood kickball. Now, Debbie, I don’t know about you. But I think my blood pressure just went up a little bit. And just reading this list. Okay, right. None of us wants our kids to experience any of those things. And in some ways, I’m thinking, wow, this feels so out of date. This was written five years ago. And it already feels like some of those things are absolutely intolerable for us as parents, like getting hit by another kid. But let’s break that down. Getting hit when you’re three in a sandbox at preschool is different than getting punched when you’re you know, in middle school or high school, a three-year-old isn’t intentionally setting out to harm you, that three-year-old isn’t developmentally capable of really formulating that, you know, I’m going to harm you kind of mindset, they shouldn’t hit. But is it bullying? No, a 3-year-old isn’t capable of bullying. A 13-year-old is capable of bullying, we tend to call everything that results in the slightest harm bullying. And we’ve got to get better at saying you know what’s not very pleasant, but still normal within childhood versus actual pathological bullying. You know, we have to be willing to tolerate that for our children to grow and learn to socialize with other kids and learn to advocate for themselves in the classroom and with adults, to be able to talk to a coach to be able to get a job one day to be able to manage their own deadlines and keep track of their own belongings. They have to do the work of trying out those things, and failing a little bit, and talking with us about what might you do differently next time try again, and so on, they have to have so many attempts at trying something, anything before they’re going to be good at it. So we actually have to want this for them. What Michael Anderson and Tim Johansson say is, the things on this list might make you wince, which turns out to be kind of the point. Not only must you let your kids experience these things, but you’re also supposed to nod your head and say silently to yourself perfect. That’s perfect. It’s just what he or she needed to happen at least once in his childhood.
Debbie Reber 17:53
So, so amazing. I mean, yeah, yeah,
Julie Lythcott-Haims 17:57
But so let me speak now directly to those of us who have kids with some kind of learning differences. My own son, my eldest, has ADHD inattentive type. And I have his permission to talk about this, I wrote about it in the book. So it can make it really hard for him to focus and get things done. And as a parent with a kid who struggles with that, you know, I can do everything for him, I can make sure he gets everything done by being there to basically be the stimulus that reminds him constantly, or that puts his hand on that pencil and gets him to start writing something. But we can cross a line by effectively becoming our child’s executive function. If our kids’ executive function is delayed in developing, we can cross a line by becoming their executive function. And that is a step too far, because then they’ll be forever reliant upon us. And we’ve prevented their own little executive function capacities from developing, developing, developing and finally being where they need to be, we’re in such a hurry for our child to have it all figured out. And to be able to kind of keep up and keep tracking all of that we end up doing it for them, depriving them of the opportunity to ever be able to do it for themselves. So it’s all fine lines, but it’s, you know, we have to accept our kids got ADD, we have to take an interest in or whatever it is. Take an interest in. Okay, well, what are the experts tell me my kids should be able to do at this age and stage given the disability? And how can I support my kid in being as capable as she or he can be given the disability? And frankly, what I hear from parents of kids who are contending with a disability is that they learn earlier than other parents. Hey, whatever plans I had had when I got pregnant, you know, my partner got pregnant, whatever plans I had, this kid’s going to be a champion swimmer. This kid’s going to be a brain surgeon. This kid’s going to, you know, be an investment banker. This kid’s going to be president of whatever, you know, when you discover your kid has a significant disability, you get humble and you realize, oh, hey, all those plans I had? Well, they’re not so relevant right now, what’s relevant is I’ve got a kid who’s got some things they’re contending with some real struggles, perhaps, and I got to take an interest in this kid, and what she or he can do, as opposed to what I wish they might have been in a perfect world. Parents of kids with disabilities learn that lesson, which is one of humility and acceptance, far sooner than parents of kids developing typically, who might hold out that dream for 18,20,25,30 years, oh, I want my kids to be this. And if only I push them hard enough, or if only I withhold my love long enough, my kid will turn into that, because they’ll want to please me, right? Those of us whose kids contend with these challenges, learn or we should learn earlier, hey, wait a minute, we’ve been thrown a curveball, you know? And how can I support my kid in being the best they are capable of being instead of dragging them down some path? You know, with my own effort, largely a part of it toward the future I had hoped the kid would have.
Debbie Reber 21:05
Yeah, it makes so much sense. It’s something that I believe so deeply is one of the many gifts of these kids is they do disrupt our plans so much that we can, as you said, at a much younger, earlier age, in their journey, redefine what success looks like. And that is so much more freeing, it can still be scary. I don’t you know; I still get caught up on the timelines. And where should you know, my son’s 14? Where should he be in relation to his peers and that kind of thing. But it does force you to kind of open up your mind a little bit about what this might look like and letting go of what you thought it was going to look like. Yeah. Do you want to first of all, the executive function thing to Yes. That is such a great reminder that we can cross that line? I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put that way. And I think that’s something probably a lot of listeners are nodding their heads and saying, Yeah, I’m walking that tightrope right now. I wanted to talk about success a little bit, because I just rewatched your TED Talk, which is amazing. It’s great listeners, I’ll leave a link on the show notes, you should check it out. But I really love the way you talk about; you know how important it is that we reconsider what success looks like? Can you talk about that a little bit?
Julie Lythcott-Haims 22:30
Yeah. So here I am in Palo Alto, California, which is a hotbed of overparenting, where the definition of success, put forth to kids is incredibly limited and narrow and elitist. And I think kids in our community feel, hey, in order to be successful, I’ve got to have a company that has an initial public offering by the time I’m 25, I’ve got to drive a Tesla, I’ve got to go to one of those big brand name universities, I’ve got to invent something the world has never seen before. I mean, it sounds absurd. But these are the kinds of things that are happening in the Palo Alto area in the Bay Area, as are happening in other areas with great technological advancement, and so on. And our kids grew up thinking, that’s what I have to do to matter, to my family, to my peers, to the world. So I hear teenagers talking about how I am going to make my big contribution to the world. You know, when I was a teenager, what I was most concerned about, and I did work hard, and I did study hard and do well in school, but I was most concerned about my relationship with my boyfriend. You know, my teenagers are worried about making an impact on the planet, you know. So all right. So in my TED talk, I tried to make this point, that success in life isn’t about the high grades and the high scores and all of the activities and sports and accolades and awards and leadership and community service, which is the suite of things we expect a teenager today to stuff into their childhood, in order to have a college application that will impress a college dean at one of these highly selective places that’s requiring a completely stuffed to the hilt, perfect, flawless childhood. Those things aren’t actually the markers for success in life. Turns out there’s a long study of humans that was conducted that is still ongoing, that showed that the humans who were professionally successful at the end of their lives, you look back, and you can kind of see the causal factors or the correlations. The people who are professionally successful, had done chores as a child. And I tell this and I tell them in front of live audiences, some people clap, and some people gasp, and the people clapping, they’re like, Yep, my kids got chores, and the people gasp they’re like, oh, no, I’ve been stuffing my kid’s childhood with all of this enrichment. You know, it’s not Kumon. It’s the vacuum, it’s a joke. Like, yeah, you think you’re giving your child everything they need by, you know, teaching the Mozart in your womb, and making sure they know algebra by the time they’re five, but it turns out that those who are professionally successful did chores as a child. And if you are exchanging all of that enrichment for the expectation that a child helps out on a daily basis at home, you are undermining your kids’ chances for thriving in the workplace. So the good news there is, we can just fix that in a moment, you can just turn that around today. The second thing I talked about in that talk is that happiness in life comes from love. So our kids have to be unconditionally loved at home, so they have a chance of actually loving themselves. So they have a chance of getting out there in the world and giving and receiving love to and from their fellow humans. So the talk basically boils down to chores and love. These are the foundational building block items that their childhood must rest upon. So that they can ultimately have that healthy, successful, joyful, meaningful, purposeful adult life. We want to have, we want to have for them we want them to have
Debbie Reber 26:04
You know, I will admit, and I’m again, I’m sure listeners are like, Uh huh, you know, with the chores thing, I fall into this trap of not wanting to get pushed back, because, you know, especially when my son was younger, I was just constantly trying to keep peace, because when he would get dysregulated it was really just sucked. Honestly, for all of us. It was big emotions. It was meltdowns. And it was just easier, right for me, and I’m sure for many parents out there to just not go there. And I And now I’ve got this 14-year-old where as I’m as we’re recording this, I’m painting this house that we’re trying to move into a New Jersey, and my son is with his grandparents now, but I was here last weekend, and I gave him a screwdriver. And I was like, it’s time to take down the window treatments and it really put them out. And I was like tough toenails, dude. But if you know, I feel like I’m having to start over training him almost. Is that what we need to do? Just say, Okay, we went down the wrong road, and we’re going to get on a different path right now.
Julie Lythcott-Haims 27:10
I love your phrase tough toenails. I’ve never heard that before. A lot of your listeners are shuffling along with me. Before I answer that question, tell me how the screwdriver effort turned out?
Debbie Reber 27:22
Well, it hurt his hand like there was a lot of complaining. Especially when he thought he was done. I’m like, oh, actually, there’s a whole other floor that you need to do, you know, so there was a lot of griping. But he did it. I thanked him. He said you’re welcome. And then he kind of went on with his day. So ultimately, it turned out just fine. It was just a little grumbling.
Julie Lythcott-Haims 27:41
So that’s the lesson. Yeah, there’s going to be some grumbling. And the later we start asking kids to pitch in the more grumbling there will be. I didn’t realize chores mattered until I started doing the research for my book. And so when I laid it on my kids who were I don’t know, 12 and 10 at the time, I like to say what they lacked in chore skills they made up for with analytical reasoning. If chores are so important, why haven’t we been doing them so far? Why haven’t we been doing them all along, Mom. And you have to own up to it. We these days like to be our kids’ friends, their best friend, we hate to create conflict. So we want to say, oh, I’m sorry, honey, I know, you don’t want to do chores. I don’t want to do chores. But there’s an expert out there that says chores are really important. So if you wouldn’t mind, it would really be nice, right? All of this BS language, okay, that just undermines our authority as parents don’t do any of that. Instead, you say, if you’re instilling chores and into the family life late, you say, you know what, I’ve realized that I should have been doing chores for some time. Now chores are an important thing for kids to do, helps you grow, helps you learn, I’ve got a set of things that I need your help with. And we’re going to sit down and each one of you can take something you really like. But then you’ve also got to take some things you like less are going to sort out who does what. And if the kid pushes back, you say, you know what? Yeah, absolutely. I understand you don’t want to, we should have started this long ago, you wouldn’t have been complaining if I’d started you at five. And here you are, my bad. But let’s get on with it. You know, you acknowledge your mistake, but you don’t dwell on it and get all overly apologetic for it, because they need to see that we’re in charge, that we’re setting expectations and boundaries. And they might grumble when you first put that screwdriver in their hand or ask them to get on a ladder and do something. But usually I asked how it played out because usually, after a human spent some time making something, fixing something, handling something, dealing with something, they feel competent, because they’ve done something. It’s the antithesis of being over-parented to actually get to put your hands on a screwdriver and unscrew some screws and then complete a task without a parent hovering over you and handling it for you or checking in constantly or micromanaging. Our kids are hungry to prove they can do things. And so when we actually make them do things and step back and they do the things, all of a sudden that human, that little human child is feeling some agency. Like I did that job well done, you can see them kind of dusting off their hands and beaming with pride. Like I handled that. If you give them too small a task and praise, praise, praise the heck out of them. Their psyche says be quiet lady be quiet, man. I didn’t do that, you know, don’t make such a big deal. It was like the infinitesimally smallest thing you asked me to do. Oh, my gosh, you open a can of peanut butter. Congratulations. Okay, no, stop them from doing an actual task to do. Walk away, let them do it. And just a brief Thank you. Thanks, I appreciate it took care of that move on. I love that. They want our approval. They want to be recognized when they do things, but they don’t want this wildly blown out of proportion, praise for some tiny little thing, because they know and you know, your praise is overblown. And that doesn’t help anybody.
Debbie Reber 30:59
Would you say that that’s a universal desire for humans in general to feel that sense of you know, I’m just wondering if people are listening and saying, Well, my child has never, you know, doesn’t seem to be interested in and feeling that are doing anything to help Is it is it that we have beaten that out of them or hovered over them.
Julie Lythcott-Haims 31:21
Think about our you know, you can think about our current year or decade, our century, our era. But go back in time, go back 500 years, go back 1000 years, go back in the present to cultures that are far less, quote unquote, advanced than us. There are plenty of communities, plenty of different cultures around the planet where folks are still hunters and gatherers. You know, they’re still having to, you know, find the food they’re going to eat and make it and cook it and handle, you know, the upkeep of the home that isn’t about Tesla’s and technology, it’s about kind of the basic, just getting through a day and, and eating and sleeping and caring for one another right. And in those cultures, small children help out, they help out with food preparation, they help 10 fires, they help look after small children, younger children they pitch in, it’s just what humans have always done. We have always up until recently, as my point been useful, we have put ourselves to work, and we have gotten things done just in order to survive. But now we’re in this much more evolved place. Turns out that sitting down all the time, just working at a computer, being served constantly by other humans, but not really putting in a sweat equity ourselves. I’m not an anthropologist, I’m not a psychologist, so the people who know far more about this than I am, but I have read a lot of people’s work, which suggests this is doubling our sense of self as humans, we feel good when we get out there and sweat some and make something happen. We feel good. When we chop wood, we feel good. When we stack logs, we feel good when we create a wall out of bricks, or a wall out of wood. When we make things with our hands, we feel we have a purpose. And it’s not to say that we black a purpose if our work is white collar, and we never have to chop wood or stack bricks. But the point is that there is something intrinsic in our nature as humans that wants to make things create things, you know, sort of have the satisfaction of achievement and accomplishment. And there’s nothing like hands-on work that gives you that sense of achievement because it’s concrete. It’s different than oh, I created a spreadsheet, look at it. It’s awesome. I mean, we can feel a sense of achievement from that. But it’s not quite the same satisfaction as that physical achievement of a job completed. I am way out of my will to answer. But this is what I have learned. And I believe in it so strongly, I see kids who are just, they’re just handled and manage. And all they have to do is sit there and be driven from place to place. And we do have high expectations, they have to work hard, you know, to get the right grades that we want them to have. And they have to be on that team that we want them to be on. So they get into the right college or whatever. I mean, it’s not like they’re lazy. But there is so much of their lives that is managed, planned, constructed, perfected, fixed, handled for them. And that deprives them of feeling the basic agency humans need to have in order to be healthy and whole humans and a lack of agency. That lack of sense of this is my life and I am responsible, and I will do tasks and they will be completed by me. A low sense of agency contributes to higher rates of anxiety and depression. It’s all connected.
Debbie Reber 34:50
So okay, I want to talk I want to be cognizant of the time here, but I want to talk a little bit
Julie Lythcott-Haims 34:56
I told you I’m long winded.
Debbie Reber 34:57
I love it.
Julie Lythcott-Haims 35:00
Now we’re in the short answer session people.
Debbie Reber 35:02
It’s all good. Yeah, we’ll have the rapid fire.
Julie Lythcott-Haims 35:05
Debbie Reber 35:06
I did want to just ask you about advocacy, you know, you talk a lot about the importance of parents not stepping in and, you know, intervening with coaches or teachers. And, and that’s something I know you experienced in your, your role at Stanford. And, and I think as parents of again, atypical kids were, were often reluctant advocates, but we find ourselves in that role. Do you have any thoughts about how to transfer or bolster our kid’s advocacy skills? Self-advocacy?
Julie Lythcott-Haims 35:37
Yeah. So the first thought is really this philosophical umbrella over all of this, which is, folks, like it or not, we’re going to be dead one day, and we hope we die before our kids do, right. None of us wants our kids to predecease us. So if the universe unfolds as we want it to, we die first. And our fervent hope is that when we are gone, our offspring can survive without us. Now that’s necessary for all mammals. That’s our, that’s what we do as mammals, we are with our offspring until they can fend for themselves. Now, as humans, hopefully they can fend for themselves by 18,20,25,39, whatever you think adulthood is these days, right? But we might still live near them or with them, but we know hey, my kids got it, you know, my grown son or daughter or whatever can handle earning money, paying bills, being in relationships, taking care of a house, household, you know, etc. Alright. So that’s the point. We’re, we’re successful as parents, barring significant special needs, when our offspring can actually stand on their own two feet, or make their way on their own. All right, so given that, that’s our goal, given that’s our purpose, then we have to dial back to the present moment and say, what am I doing today, in order to instill more independence, more skills in my kid, rather than fostering a dependence on me. So for every child, with every skill, there’s an opportunity to learn and grow or to be overly cared for, which is the sort of opposite. When it comes to challenging situations with authority figures, you know, there’s a teacher that has given a grade or an assignment, that kid doesn’t understand a grade that people are unhappy with, or an assignment is hard to understand, as a coach that’s not giving kid enough playing time or enough attention, or what whatever the case may be. Our instinct is to go and handle that. What we need to be doing is talking with our kid, and saying, you know, if you’d like, if you’re not happy with that situation, we can talk about what might happen differently. And then together, we can go and talk to the teacher or coach. And together is kind of that first step away from the parent doing it all by themselves. Go together, let your kid be there listening to you advocate for them with respect, but also being an advocate. And then we have to transfer the I do it with you, to I watch you do it. Okay, so I’m actually here now explaining a four-step method for teaching any kid any skill, which applies to talking to authority figures, but also making a meal or crossing the street. First, you do it for them. Second, you do it with them. The third step is you watch them do it. So now they’re doing the bulk of the work, but you’re still there in case you need to pipe up and say, and baba, baba, bah, or wait a minute, buddy, you can’t cross the street yet there’s a garbage truck in this. There’s a car hiding behind that garbage truck, you’re still there with your authority, you know, in case. And then finally, step four, they can do it independently. So we are on this journey to teach our kids through step 1-2-3 and 4, how to ultimately do things all by themselves. So if your kid is seven and has not yet spoken up for themselves with a teacher, when there’s a concern, it’s time for you to start letting your kids show up with you as you do it. And then you talk to the kid afterward and say, next time when something like that comes up, you’ll be able to do the talking and I’ll be there with you if you like but ultimately, one day you’ll be able to do it for yourself. Okay, this is a four-step method I learned from a friend of mine here in Palo Alto, Stacy Ashland, who’s an amazing mom. But Stacy’s got two kids, one developing typically and one with significant special needs from birth. And Stacy taught me this four-step method which I, with her permission, I put in my book, for sure, do it for them, whatever it is, then you do it with them. Then you watch them do it, and then they can do it independently. And for anyone who wants more on this. Come to my website, JulieLythcottHaims.com I’m sure we will put the link in the notes. And right up on the first page of the website, I talked about this four-step method. And there’s even a little link to an animation created by the magazine The Atlantic that demonstrates visually in a cartoon format, it’s really clever. The four-step method for teaching any kid any skill.
Debbie Reber 40:19
if so great, because it isn’t timeline dependent. I love that. And even Yeah, crossing the street is something we’re still working on. But I love being able to apply that. So okay, I have so many more questions, and we’re going to wrap this up. So maybe someday, when your new book is coming out, we’ll have you back on the show. But before we say goodbye, I also need to at least mention your book Real American, which I read and loved. And if you want to just take a minute to tell us about that, and your new project and where people can connect with you.
Julie Lythcott-Haims 40:52
Awesome, thanks. And in the meantime, I’ll work on being not so long winded. My second book is a memoir on race, and being black and biracial, in a country where Black Lives weren’t meant to matter. It is a prose poetry memoir, which means I’ve written it for the ear as much as for the eye, I try to make the language sing on the page and have a rhythm and movement. And it’s a quick read, but a very vulnerable share. And if you’re interested in issues of race in our country, in our moment, please check it out. My third book is a sequel to How to Raise an Adult called How to Be an Adult and offering to 18 to 35-years-old about being an adult, I think we’ve made it look terribly unpleasant. And too many of them say I don’t want to hashtag adult and my book is an offering to them, I hope a compassionate offering that says, yes, you can. And you want to because it’s amazing to actually be an adult. And here are narratives of a bunch of other people that I’ve interviewed that demonstrate how people are going about adulting. And if you want to catch up with me, keep in touch with me for the longer term, come to my website, JulieLythcottHaims.com You’ll find links to all my social media on there. I’m on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. And I have an occasional newsletter you can sign up for. So yeah, let’s stay in touch. I’m always delighted to hear from readers. Like that tends to happen, particularly on my Facebook pages. So how to raise an adult has its own page, check it out, and look forward to being in touch.
Debbie Reber 42:16
Thank you so much. And yeah, listeners, I’ll have links to all of Julie’s info on the show notes pages, definitely check out her books and her and her big TED Talk and her small TED talks as well. Her TEDx’s. Julie, thank you so much for taking the time and for this conversation. I’m really just grateful to bring your voice to the show.
Julie Lythcott-Haims 42:36
Well, thank you. I think the hardest part about parenting is recognizing that this little being is entitled to live their own life. They’re not our pet. They’re not our project. They’re not our trophy for a job well done. They are a separate human being from us. And when we can actually act with humility and accept the fact that God or the universe or whatever you believe, has handed us this child, that this is a task that we must assume with great care and humility. We’ve got to help them become themselves rather than act as if somehow their life is simply a reflection of our efforts.
Debbie Reber 43:11
So beautifully said. See listeners now you know why I wanted her on the show so badly. Okay. All right thank you Julie.
Julie Lythcott-Haims 43:18
Debbie Reber 43:21
You’ve been listening to the tilde parenting podcast for the show notes for this episode, including links to Julie Lythcott-Haims website, her books, her TED talk, how to raise successful kids, and all the other resources we discussed. You’ll find them at tiltparenting.com/session140. And a quick reminder that Julie is one of the speakers at Zen Parenting his annual conference this year that’s in Chicago on March 8, and 9, so definitely check that out. You can still get tickets at ZenParentingRadio.com. If you get value out of this podcast, please consider signing up for my Patreon campaign to make a small monthly contribution to help me cover the costs of production. Even $2 A month makes a difference. To sign up, go to patreon.com/tiltparenting and Patreon is spelled PATREON. You can also find a link on the tilt parenting website on any of the show notes pages. And don’t forget to leave a rating or a review or both for till parenting on Apple podcast if you haven’t done so already. Thank you so much. And thanks again for listening. For more information on to parenting visit www.tiltparenting.com
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