An Interview with Nancy Carlsson-Paige

1.    There are so many books on parenting these days. How is your book unique and why should people find it compelling?

I don’t know of another book that describes the social trends that are impacting childhood today such as the media, consumerism, academic pressures in schools, and fast-paced lives of families, and offers suggestions for parents on how to counteract these potentially harmful trends.  Also, my book is grounded in child development--in an understanding of children and how they see the world at different ages.  I try to help parents see things from children’s eyes and use that knowledge to find ways to interact with them that can truly help kids feel secure and loved, and learn to genuinely love and care for others.  My book is very comprehensive.  It covers a lot of topics such as violence in the media, consumerism, power dynamics with kids, conflict resolution, and the importance of play.

2.    Parents often struggle between strictly disciplining their children and being very hands off… how can they achieve balance and know which way is truly the best way to parent?

I believe that how we use our parental power with children is the most pervasive and important aspect of our parenting.  I am concerned about the many popular approaches to parenting that encourage rewards, bribes, time-outs and punishments.  I believe that we can work with children, share our power with them, as we help them become responsible, caring human beings.  When we use our power “over” children, of course we can get them to comply in the short term, but is that our goal?  I believe we want to help our kids learn to build empathy and healthy relationships from the inside and for the long term.  So I choose approaches that help children learn to regulate themselves and build social and emotional awareness and skill from within.

3.    Should parents be involving their kids in their overall decisions about their philosophies or are parents better off to simply direct their kids from a more authoritarian perspective?

We can involve our children in many decisions we make in our everyday lives.  Even two year olds can choose between two options such as, “do you want to walk or ride in your stroller?”  As children get older, we can engage in dialogues with them, listening carefully and respectfully to their viewpoints, and expressing our own.  Ideally, we would find solutions to shared problems, ones we can both agree to.  We can hold onto our role as the parent in these dialogues by telling children what we want and need from them.  For example, if a five-year old says he wants to watch three TV shows a day and we only feel comfortable with him watching one, we can say, “I just don’t feel good about you watching so much TV.  Let’s try one show a day and see how that works.  How do you feel about that?”  Usually when we truly listen to kids and express our honest feelings to them, we can find solutions to problems that we both feel okay about.

4.    What is the best lesson parent’s can teach their kids?

There are many important lessons we teach our kids, but one of the most important is that we humans are able to experience a sense of deep, inner tranquility at any moment.  We don’t have to strive for more or have things in order to be happy.  There are a lot of ways we can help children discover this sense of inner peace from a young age.  When children play, they often experience a sense of relaxed alertness and peace.  We can provide time, space, and open-ended toys that encourage our children’s depthful play.  And we can give children our full presence when we are with them, at least some of the time.  Even if we are very busy, we can focus ourselves fully on the moment we are in with children, listening with full attention, and reflecting back what we hear.  When we find moments like this with children, we build closeness and help our kids learn that everything they need and want is right here, right now.

5.    What is the biggest misconception about parenting that you hope to address?

A very big misconception about parenting is that children are pushing against us and that we have to “manage” their behavior.  I believe that a lot of the power struggles we have with kids aren’t really there but we perceive them this way largely from our own fears and emotions.  It can be helpful to step back even briefly from an interaction with a child and tune into our own feelings.  When we do this, we can often see more possibilities.  And if we understand how children see things and what they need, we can find a constructive way to interact with them or solve a problem.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige is a professor of education at Lesley University and the author or co-author of five books. Her most recent book is Taking Back Childhood:  Helping Your Kids Thrive in a Fast-Paced, Media-Saturated, Violence-Filled World.  Nancy writes and speaks about how media, violence, consumerism, and other social trends are shaping children today and what parents and teachers can do to raise caring and compassionate children.  For more information visit www.nancycarlssonpaige.org.

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