Transcript: Let Kids Be Kids & Accept Them For Who They Are

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Let Kids Be Kids & Accept Them For Who They Are and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Helen Thompson: Bringing children into the world and raising them is often a stressful time for you as a parent. So why make it harder on yourself by projecting your expectations and demanding perfection from your child? Whilst it’s important to provide that guiding hand, you also need to live and let live and allow your kids to make their way in the world warts and all! Trying to protect them from everything and wrapping them in cotton wool is likely to prevent them from reaching their full potential and may also put strains on your relationship with them. You need to ensure your children can handle life, take care of themselves and speak for themselves.

This week’s guest Lisa Sugarman is a mother of two, a parenting author, columnist and radio host. Lisa has written a number of books on parenting and is currently working on her next one. In this episode, you’ll hear Lisa and I talk about why you don’t need to be the perfect mom or expect to raise a perfect child, why it’s okay to screw up and make mistakes and why you should celebrate them as well as your wins and why you must accept your child as they are, and not fall into the trap of comparing them to other children or their siblings.

Hi Lisa and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat, I’m delighted to have you here and how are you today?

Lisa Sugarman: Oh, thanks Helen. I’m well, thank you. It’s the end of my day here. I’m in the states, just north of Boston in Massachusetts. So we’re winding down our day while you’re getting yours started, I think.

Helen Thompson: So can I ask you to tell us a bit about yourself and what got you involved in what you do?

Lisa Sugarman: Sure, sure. So I am Lisa Sugarman and I’m a parenting author. I’m a syndicated columnist. I write a column here that’s in the states and because of our lovely internet, it’s everywhere at this point. And I’ve been on the radio here in the US for the last couple of years as well with a radio show that kind of marries everything that I do. All the content that I create for parents.

I’m a mom. I have two daughters, my youngest just turned 22 and my oldest will turn 25 on Monday and I’ve been talking about, writing about, creating content about embracing your perfectly imperfectness really as a mom, because so often we just don’t. We just kind of get our heads wrapped around the idea that we have to be the perfect mom and we have to raise the perfect child and when we make mistakes, we’re so hard on ourselves and we shouldn’t be, we don’t need to be. It’s toxic when we are. So I worked in the school system for many, many years, here in the Boston area and when I was in the school system, I was just watching all the dynamics between parents and the students and students and teachers and parents and teachers and it just became very obvious to me, the longer I was there, how intense parents were micromanaging, how intensely they were hovering over their kids and bulldozing their children’s lives to the point where they were really kind of just mowing down every obstacle that their kids might have had.

And in doing that, they’re creating a whole generation of kids who can’t handle life. They can’t take care of themselves, they can’t speak for themselves, they don’t know how to recover from mistakes. And the more I saw it, the more I realized we just needed something out there in the world that would remind parents that they can screw up and they can drop balls and they can make mistakes and we should be celebrating those, as much as we celebrate the wins. So that’s who I am, that’s what I do and that’s why I do it.

Helen Thompson: I think it’s interesting you say that because I’ve worked in childcare for a long time and I saw the exact same thing in childcare. I just used to get on burnout because I used to listen and watch exactly what you say, watch what parents are doing and I just thought this is not what parenting’s all about. This is not how we bring up our kids and even today I still work occasionally with babysitting, but I’m noticing there’s a lot of parents out there who are beginning to embrace their children and if they make a mistake, they’ll accept it and say look I’m sorry I made that mistake. I’m noticing it a lot more with parents who I’m babysitting with. They’re a lot more respectful of their kids, which is a good start in the right direction.

Lisa Sugarman: Yeah, it is a good start and I’m starting to see that trend shifting here in the states also and it’s refreshing that people are not so wound in the ways that they were before. Their expectations, I think maybe are a little bit more relaxed, which is good and it needs to be because when the bar is set so high and for whatever reason, an expectation isn’t met, well that’s a hard thing to recover from when you’re the child and especially with young children who really just are trying so hard to please their parents and trying so hard to measure up to their peers and to meet expectations. It’s hard and it leaves a mark. It really does on a child when they’re being grilled constantly to perform.

So when they don’t have to do that, I think it just creates an awful lot of space for them to embrace wherever they are and whatever they’re doing, whether it’s successful or not successful, because that’s just a part of life and the farther along they go the more resilient they’re gonna need to be. And if they have no practice, well, then you’re raising teens and young adults and adults who can’t cope.

Helen Thompson: And they’ll continue that trend with their kids. If they’re encouraged at a young age to express themselves. Okay, kids have temper tantrums. We all know kids have temper tantrums, but I’m learning to let the child have the temper tantrum and just say to them, look, I’m here for you when you need me. I’ll let you calm down and when you’re ready, please come and talk to me and I’m happy to negotiate with you or chat to you. And it’s okay to have a temper tantrum, it’s okay to show your emotions.

Lisa Sugarman: Absolutely and the fact that you’re doing that Is wonderful for those kids, because I know in my own life with my own girls, when they were much younger, when I would kind of walk away, my instinct as a human being, just me personally, the way that I’m kind of hardwired as a mom, was always to try and dive in and fix a problem. Not fix it for them, but fix it with them and if there was a conflict or an issue, let’s attack the problem, not the person. Let’s talk about it, let’s work through it and my kids are very different than I am in that way. They needed space, they needed a minute to either, like you said, have the tantrum or feel the feelings or maybe just not engage right away. And it wasn’t until I had been a mom for a long time that I finally realized that one of the most powerful things that we can do, there are two things that are incredibly powerful that we can do for our kids in that situation.

The first is to do exactly what you said, which is to tell the child that if they’re kicking and screaming or having an issue, it’s not gonna do anyone any good. It’s not gonna serve anyone to talk about it while everyone is upset and to take their time and to come back when you’ve cooled down.

And the other thing is just to not push, to just not be afraid to walk away and to let them know that they’re being supported and they will be supported and when they’re ready come to you and that was a big turning point for me as a mom, when I started saying that to my kids, because they responded to it and they knew that I would always be there and it really kind of removes that layer that we usually have to work through, which is that confrontation and everyone’s heated and everyone’s upset and when you can learn to walk away, it’s a powerful tool.

Helen Thompson: It is a powerful tool and it’s very hard to do sometimes because they’re having their temper tantrum and you’ve still gotta sort of watch them and make sure they’re okay, but you’ve also got to give them that space and it’s very, very hard to do, because as you say, you want to get involved and I’ve learnt that it just doesn’t work if you try and push too much, because they’re just gonna get wound up and you just say, look, that’s it.

I totally agree with what you’re saying and you said you’d written a book. You’ve written umpteen books I know, but is there a particular book that you want to talk about.

Lisa Sugarman: Sure, sure, yeah I haven’t written umpteen yet. We’re not in the teens yet, but I have written several. I’ve written three, I’m working on the fourth right now and the first three were really parenting focused books and the most recent is called How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids and Be OK With It and it really is just an extension of all of the work that I’ve always done really around parenting. There’s an expression here, I don’t know if you have it there, kind of embrace the suck if something is hard or in any way challenging or upsetting, you need to kind of sit in it, accept it for what it is and find a way through and it may not be perfect and the way to get to the other side of it is really just to embrace it and go through it because oftentimes most often, at least I’ve found that the things that we have in our heads that we planned for, whether it’s as a human being or a mother or a child, the things that go off the rails, the things that don’t work for us they often lead us to the things that we belong in or the work that we need to do or the place that we need to go. It’s interesting how failures can often bring us to the place we really belong. So yeah this book was what came from all my time working in the school system and seeing everything that I had seen and realizing that there are some really incredible parenting resources out there that speak to parenthood in so many different ways.

And yet at the same time, there was no one out there really doing a lot of talking I felt, about how do we grow resilience in human beings? And we do that by letting our kids, I mean, it sounds basic, but we let them fall on their face and we let them make the mistakes and we let them have the disappointments as hard as it is.

And so the book talks an awful lot about that and it really just debunks a lot of different parenting myths. We talk about not falling into the comparison trap. We talk about that a lot actually. Both in terms of comparing your child to other kids or your child to maybe a sibling, if you have multiple kids and then not to compare yourself to the other parents in the room, because we fall into that trap as easily as we compare our kids.

So we talk a lot about that and the book I think is just one giant reminder to cut yourself a lot of slack and use positivity as a tool. Find the humor in parenthood because it’s everywhere and if you don’t embrace that humor, I think just the funny aspects of parenthood that happen to all of us every day. The things that go completely chaotic when you absolutely can’t afford to have them fall apart.

That’s exactly when things do when you’re a parent and just to learn to embrace that and find the goodness that’s in that because there’s a lot to be drawn from the things that fall apart. We build our own resilience at the same time that we build our kids by moving through those moments and modeling those moments for our children. So the book is really kind of a giant reminder that everyone should let go of the expectations that they have of their children, of themselves and meet your children exactly where they are.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think a lot of parents are beginning, slowly to do that. Even if they’re playing and if they’re climbing up something and you are scared, you’ve got to allow your child to experience, if they’re scared or not. You don’t want to put your fear onto them and encourage them to climb and just say, well done or, keep going, I’m at the bottom and just let them know that you are there and not sort of say, oh gosh, that’s too high, you can’t climb up there. I find that one incredibly hard because I get really nervous because I’m looking after the child and if they fall, well, then I’ve got to explain it to the parents. But yet on the flip side of that, I also feel that I’ve got to let them go for it.

And I know that I’m here and the parents know that I wouldn’t. I always say that to the parents, I’ll let them do what they can do, I’m not gonna limit them and if they fall well then I’m there to catch them and I know you’re only a phone call away. I think they respect that.

Lisa Sugarman: Yeah, it’s, it’s so important and I think that our fears get in the way of our kids being able to do so many of the things that they want to do because I think that we underestimate our kids so often. I mean, I’ve definitely been guilty of that. We just go under the assumption that they’re not ready to learn how to ride a bike yet, or they’re not ready to learn how to cook yet, or they’re not ready to walk the dog. All the little day to day things and so much of parenthood I think is such a leap of faith in our children and it’s hard to know exactly when to kind of turn the reins over to them. And we do it in little bits and pieces, but I’ve found myself just with the kids that I’ve taught and with my own girls, that they were always farther along than I ever gave them credit for and when I loosened my grip a little bit, that allows them to really see what they’re capable of and that’s huge. And I think that not only knowing that, like you were saying, that, I’m right here, if you fall. The fact that we trust them, we’re showing them that we trust them to climb the tree, or to stir the pot, that’s huge for a child. Even if we’re like in knots inside and we’re freaking out inside, if we can keep it together and project a little bit of confidence for our child’s sake, that’s almost more significant than anything else that we can really do because when we say, oh yeah, I believe you can do that, I really believe you can do that, well that’s how you raise a kid who shoots for the moon because then they feel like they have that support and that confidence.

Helen Thompson: Even if they say to you, mom, I know you’re scared, but you’re saying to me, I can do it. I think that’s good as well. I might say to a kid, look, I’m scared of you doing that, but I know you can do it. You let them know that you may be scared and I think that’s important too, because you’ve gotta let them know your fears as well. You might say I’m afraid to do that it’s too high for me, but you can do this and encourage them to do it.

Lisa Sugarman: Yeah. It’s, it’s nice too, because I think as parents, we kind of create this facade, or a veneer for lack of a better word, that we hide behind in a way. And we don’t want them to see us frightened, we don’t want them to see us cautious or upset, apologetic, but those are exactly the things that our kids need to see.

So we need to come out from behind that veneer and we need to have the honest conversations, I mean age, obviously age appropriately, but I mean, especially as your kids get older, it’s so powerful to let them see us have these real legitimate emotions because then they get to see what we do with them. Then they get to see how we handle them. You know and that’s a powerful thing in itself too.

Helen Thompson: And it teaches them vulnerability too, it teaches them to be vulnerable as well and to work through it. Have you ever heard of the Montessori approach? I love that approach to bringing kids up. There are lots of them and I’m not saying that the Montessori is the best one, but I’m following somebody on Instagram at the moment who is Montessori and some of the stuff that they come up with is absolutely amazing. You know, encouraging kids what we’re talking about, letting them play in the puddles, letting them fall in the puddle, letting them get dirty, letting them do all that kind of stuff and if you’re gonna go out somewhere, you’re going to a park and you’re going to go out and visit a friend or something else, take a change of clothes so that you can change him afterwards.

Lisa Sugarman: Yeah and it’s so much easier than we think that it is to adapt in that way. What you’re saying in terms of Montessori in that approach, that really truly is an example of meeting the child where the child is, because from what I know of that type of environment, you’re really letting the child pick and choose what they enjoy and what sparks their interest and motivates them and in so many ways, that’s a beautiful environment because then when you support that and you foster that, some really great things can emerge from that kind of experience.

Helen Thompson: And you can get some wonderful stories from your kids. You can get some lovely expressions and you can observe a lot and they can tell you a lot and they learn through their mistakes which I think is good.

Lisa Sugarman: It is good and that’s one of the most powerful ways that we learn as human beings because I think when something goes, well, obviously it feels good, it’s exciting, it’s inspiring. But when something doesn’t go well, when something goes really, really badly that’s when you can navigate that as a child and you can figure out another way or a better way that outcome I think is an even more powerful situation for a child to be in because they’ve gone from a place of, maybe failure or disappointment, and they’ve figured it out and they’ve arrived at a better place, maybe a different place and they’ve done that on their own. And I think that’s exactly how we teach kids how to take care of themselves, which is what so many parents are having a hard time letting their kids do nowadays, which is why we have terms like helicopter parenting and lawnmower parenting, and bulldozer parenting because parents are kind of hovering over their kids or running around behind their kids trying to make sure that that life is smooth and there are no obstacles but they’re not learning anything. They’re not learning anything from that, they’re just learning how to let someone else do for them and that’s not how you raise a child who will eventually at some point go out on their own and live on their own and make decisions on their own and be able to.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I love those terms, helicopter, bulldozing and mowing. Are they terms you’ve got in your book?

Lisa Sugarman: Yeah, they are. Helicopter parenting was really kind of the original term and the others have sprung up over time, but I just think that they’re really good images. I think everybody can connect with what they really mean and when they stop and really think about themselves in that context, it’s easier for them to think, oh yeah, I kind of do that, I kind of do hover over my kids or I kind of do step in and I’m the one talking to the teacher instead of letting my kid do it, or I’m the one trying to talk to the coach about how much time my kid is on the field. My kids should really be doing that. You know what I mean? It’s a good image.

Helen Thompson: Or doing it together. You talk and then allow the child to talk and then let the coach intervene or do whatever he needs to do. I think those approaches are very good for parents, as I said, I think the trend is slowly beginning to change. It. It is hard to be a parent these days. Very, very hard to be a parent, it’s not easy. So is there anything else that you’d like to add? We’ve covered a lot of ground.

Lisa Sugarman: Yeah, I think that one of the things and I know that this applies to you know, parents who have children who can really communicate. I know you’ve got a lot of younger parents, newer parents in your community who are hearing this. But I know you also do have parents whose kids are on all ends of the age range. I think that one of the most important things that we can do as a mom or a dad or a caregiver is really allow our kids the freedom to talk to us because we are the ones who are always doing the talking. And I think that when we start asking them what they’re thinking, what they’re needing, what’s on their mind and we give them the space and the opportunity to really answer those questions. You’d be really surprised to see how quickly your kids will respond to that, will engage with that. And I think it’s a really, really powerful thing that we can do as a parent.

Helen Thompson: I agree. Giving them choices. Letting them express their feelings and their opinions, even if you don’t agree with them, you need to let them express what they want to express.

Lisa Sugarman: Exactly and I think so many of the issues that come up between parents and children, so much of the conflict is driven by the fact that we don’t want them to make the wrong choice, we don’t want them to fail. So we use the benefit of our own experience and we assume that just because something didn’t work well for us, it’s not gonna work well for our kids. So that’s kind of what our inclination is to feed our kids, but it’s not always true. Sometimes what didn’t work well for us, didn’t feel right for us is right for our kids and part of being a parent is kind of exposing your kids to the world and being there to support your kids when they’re in that world, but letting our kids, again, age appropriately, make those decisions and let them decide for themselves if something is right or wrong.

And that’s another really powerful tool that’s hard to learn. It really is hard to learn, but once we do it creates kind of a collaboration. That’s what this is all about, it’s not a dictatorship, it shouldn’t be a dictatorship and I know that we’re the ones who obviously for sure, we have to create the boundaries and care for and nurture our kids but at the same time too, we also wanna have a collaboration with our kids and be able to communicate with them and work together on the things that they’re doing, before they’re capable of going out in the world and doing it on their own. So, we’re kind of ramping up, you know, childhood is just a ramp up and the more that we can do that together and the more that we can allow their voice to be heard, I think the less you’ll find yourself in conflict with your kids and that’s when it becomes more of a communication instead of a conflict.

Helen Thompson: When you were saying that, I was thinking to myself, when I was a kid, my sisters were very bright, very and I wasn’t as academical as they were. And I remember my father saying to me, I don’t want you to take the common entrance exam for going to the school that your sister’s at, because I don’t think you’ll pass.

And I remember saying to dad, well, if I don’t pass, that’s fine, but I’d still like to try but he didn’t feel that it was appropriate for me to take it. And whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know. But I think of that when you were saying that. It’s what you were saying, allowing failure, allowing your child to fail.

It was just this sort of feeling that I wanted to try and I was told no. You’ve got to allow your children the opportunity. If they want to do it, let them try.

Lisa Sugarman: Yeah and I think too, it’s our own, maybe not ego in this case that gets in the way, but our protective instinct I think gets in the way as parents, because we don’t wanna see our kids get hurt and that’s kind of at the root of all of it. Even the helicopter and lawnmower and bulldozer parents, they really are doing what they’re doing because they’re really trying to protect their child and we’re all guilty of it.

Helen Thompson: It’s a natural instinct to want to protect your child.

Lisa Sugarman: Yeah, but I think we have to be really intentional about allowing our kids the freedom to put themselves in situations that may not go well and like you said, remind the child. I’m here, I’m here for you. I’m here if this goes well, I’m here if this doesn’t go well, and if it doesn’t, we’ll figure out another way and we’re not perfect. So your dad at the time felt like that was the best thing for you and in hindsight, maybe now he would feel differently. All we can do is try and keep that top of mind, as much as we.

Helen Thompson: And not wrap our kids up in cotton wool. So you mentioned your book, so just before I close, if people wanted to find out about your book or find out more about you, how would they find that?

Lisa Sugarman: Yeah, they can find me. They can go to my website, I’m on Instagram at Lisa underscore Sugarman. I’m on Facebook at the Lisa Sugarman and all of those places have all the information about the columns I write and the books that I write and all the work that I do and you can also do the old fashioned way, you can just Google me and see what comes up.

Helen Thompson: I like the way you say the old fashioned way. In my father’s day it would be going and looking it up in a book or looking up who’s who.

Lisa Sugarman: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Or way back it’s going into the card catalog at the library and finding it that way. That’s going way back.

Helen Thompson: Thank you Lisa so much for coming on this podcast, as always, I really enjoy talking to parents like you and getting the information out there. So thank you for being my guest, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Lisa Sugarman: Well, it was my pleasure being here and I really appreciate the chance to come on and chat.

Helen Thompson: Lisa certainly shared some excellent tips and insights on parenting and I hope she’s given you lots to think about. I certainly will be incorporating some of her suggestions into some of the babysitting that I do. And I encourage you if needed to relax your expectations of your children and encourage them to find their way in the world and develop their strengths and abilities.

I strongly encourage you to check out Lisa’s website, instagram and Facebook presence and I’ve included links to all of these in the show notes, which can be accessed at