I stay true to his mission on the Get Over Yourself podcast and record the stuff that happens after the stop button is usually pushed on a formal show. Sure enough, Gitta and I kept rolling after wrapping up our previously published show.
After a few minutes, sensing the momentum, I reflexively pushed the record button again and away we went. I explain how at the end of the first show, I experienced an epiphany about why I was alternatively a painfully shy teenager in normal social settings, but a brazen class clown inside the confines of the classroom. I could pop off with abandon, perhaps emboldened by the notion that the teacher would eventually reign me in. However, I could never close any deals outside of the classroom, which required being more authentic and vulnerable than I was capable of at that age. Gitta delivers some winning tips about how to overcome adolescent shyness; alas, 35 years too late for me, but whatever.
The discussion flows with a shout out to film and television star Robin Wright (whom I reparteé’d with at high school high jump practices), my epic quip in 8th grade sex education class that launched my career as class clown, and how I decided to transform my personality with a snap of the fingers upon leaving for college. Parenting is the next topic tackled head on, particularly the disturbing trend of helicopter parenting and over pressurized childhoods. Compare and contrast with Gitta’s German and Swedish cultural influences, where kids are less sheltered, less pressured, and given more responsibility and accountability (you won’t believe what Gitta allowed her kid to do in the kitchen when he was 18 months old!) Gitta explains how she attempts to reconcile personal and cultural values with the guilt and pressure elicited by prevailing parenting and cultural values in the affluent Marin County scene (former hood of Robin Wright, yo.)
I mention the fabulous New York Times article that instantly transformed my attitude about parenting, and that he thinks about every single day since: How Not To Talk To Your Kids—The Inverse Power of Praise. This piece, which we will discuss further in future shows, honored the revolutionary work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, promoter of the growth mindset over the fixed mindset. With your kids, praise the effort, not the character attributes. The provocative suggestion is offered that you might never want to tell your child, “I’m proud of you.” OMG, horrors! Instead, consider reframing to say, “You should be proud of yourself,” so the kid can own their own accomplishments instead of become a show pony for parent amusement and cocktail party fodder. Gitta speculates that we have most influence over our children when they are ages 0-6. After that, we have much less than we might think. Plug into this unplugged show and see what you think!
How Not To Talk To Your Kids: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/
LISTEN:Download Episode MP3
Get Over Yourself Podcast
Speakers: Brad Kearns and Gitta Sivander
Brad Kearns: Welcome to the Get Over Yourself Podcast. This is Brad Kearns.
“Because we’re in this culture of helicopter parenting, the parents navigating this smooth sailing successful route for their kid. That’s what we’re up against. So, when we want to apply our philosophy and our boundaries in our own parenting, I’ve experienced times where it feels like that’s going to set my kid back from an opportunity in life because I didn’t turn in his college essay for him.”
Gitta Sivander: “As parents believing that we have to pressure on push our children to learn certain things at a certain time is a lot of effort spent on nothing, because when our children are ready and when they want it, and when their brain is ready, they will just do it naturally.”
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And now, onto our show.
Hi listeners, welcome to this wild and crazy and unplugged episode with Gitta Sivander. This show represents my dream for the podcast, which was to get real and authentic and unplugged. And like some of the marketing description says, we record the stuff that happens after the stop button is pressed. And indeed, that’s exactly what happened as I was doing the podcast in her home. We did a fabulous one hour and 12 minute podcasts on her dynamic expression and PACE method, all that good stuff that she’s doing for her career.
Then we were chit chatting for a while and I just reflexively pushed the record button just in case. And what happened was we went off into a wonderful Alison Wonderland journey into my childhood and this epiphanies that I had based on the commentary that we did for the previous hour.
All kinds of fun stuff come up. My role as the class clown and why I was so comfortable in class and so shy out of class that I couldn’t even talk to future movie star and TV legend Robin Wright, who I hung out with at high school a little bit. The one-liner that I got off that kind of launched my career as the class clown, all kinds of fun stuff.
Then transitioning into wonderful insights and reflections on parenting. Gitta with this nice little eight or nine-year-old boy that she’s raising wonderfully and giving him the multicultural experience of having going back to Europe and engaging with their family there, and the different values that Europeans and other progressive cultures have for child rearing versus the helicopter parenting, over pressurized childhood experience that we see prevailing in United States of America. Especially in a fluent areas where everything has gotten so out of hand. It’s kind of crazy.
So, we talk all about that kind of stuff, those moral dilemmas that we face when we’re trying to give our kid every advantage and fair play opportunity. But we’re seeing this crazy corruption and distortion of what childhood should be all about. You’ll find out about the crazy thing that Gitta and let her boy do when he was one and a half years old that most American parents would be horrified about. And we just keep going and going and going.
I mean, we already had the show in the bag, the first show, so we didn’t feel those normal constraints that we usually do when we’re trying to put forth a focused production. Didn’t know how long this show was going to last. So, I’m sure you can peek and see, but we just let this thing flow and I think you’ll really enjoy. I’m trying to be vulnerable and tell my story, man.
It was tough times and how I reinvented myself. I snap my fingers and decided I was sick of being shy and reserved and having trouble communicating, and I just wanted to turn the corner. So, you’ll get a kick out of it. Everyone will have some good reflections and thanks for listening.
Yeah. So, what was it about being in the classroom? It was this artificial constrained environment where I knew the teacher was going to bust me. Oh, I didn’t have to follow up with closing the deal. Right? And that would be the time when I’m in the hallway and my friends say, “Dude, there’s that girl that thinks you’re so funny and cute. She told me, so go ask her to hang out after the football game or whatever.” And I just couldn’t do it. Even your neighbor here in Marin County, Robin Wright, the famous actress, we were high school classmates.
Gitta Sivander: Oh, you were?
Brad Kearns: And she was so funny and so wild and we would flirt all the time on the soccer team. But I was perfectly comfortable flirting with her at track practice. I said, soccer – track practice, and doing high jumping and goofing around back and forth, because there’s a coach there and they’re going to yell at us if we get out of hand, and then it’s time to go do the next practice. But I remember seeing her by herself in the school parking lot and I couldn’t approach her.
Gitta Sivander: That’s a very different environment. You were obviously really comfortable in a place where you knew that you could do step one, which is having people around you, and that was safe for you. But step two would be, you taking you and the other person being together in an environment without others. So, it’s a very different environment.
Brad Kearns: And also, I mean, that’s one part of myself, is I can be a funny performer guy on the stage, that is the high school classroom. And then the other part of myself is to be vulnerable and authentic in a different way to say, “Hey, I think you’re really cool. We should hang out more. Do you want to go to the shopping mall this weekend and get an ice cream?” I could never once say that throughout the years of my youth and yeah. I’m recording now because we’re doing this as like an outtake, I call it a breather show where I do these little shows. So, it’s like Brad’s deal in high school as class clown and number one shy guy.
But I promise my listeners like in the description of the show, it’s like we talk about the stuff that happens after the record button has stopped. It’s a real fun, authentic show. So, I hope you don’t mind Gitta, but we’re rolling right now.
Gitta Sivander: No, I don’t mind at all. I’m up for this stuff. I like this. I like it when we go off the conventional. So, this is a great conversation. I have a lot of questions that come up for me that I’m curious about you.
Brad Kearns: Push your start button because this is an official coaching session. This is okay, here we go.
Gitta Sivander: There we go. An official coaching session for you. Well, here’s one thing, when somebody is a class clown, most of the time, it is a way for him or her to stay safe because when you’re a clown, you don’t have to show your real feelings. You can be funny and you can hide your real feelings from … you hide them in this pocket of like, “I’m funny.” And it sounds like as a class clown, you were liked, you were loved, you were the funny guy and people were able to relate to you, and you were able to relate to them by being funny constantly.
But when you actually had to show who you really were, and this relates to being authentic, then the shyness was coming through or some fear was coming through for you. Does that feel kind of an alignment?
Brad Kearns: Yeah, that’s it.
Gitta Sivander: My curiosity is now as an adult, thinking back, well, you lived at a different time and we have moved along several decades from your high school time, now thinking about, had you been allowed to state and then would have it been appropriate at the time to state that real feeling that you had, maybe that you were shy. Like when you would have approached the girl, had you been allowed to say, “I would really like to go out for an ice cream with you. But just saying this right now is really hard for me. I feel really shy about it.” And had you been allowed to kind of look away in that moment, do you think that would have given you more of a permission to do that?
Brad Kearns: Yeah, that would have been the secret. I needed my younger sister Gitta there to counsel me at home and then go down with that, armed with that. But I think that gets back to so much of what we talked about in the podcast. That who I really was, was a shy, insecure teenager like everybody else. And I just had that one attribute, that element of my personality where I could go off and be a goofy guy, but that’s a hiding coping mechanism to be …
I remember like this memorable occasion was in eighth grade, where we’re doing sex education. So, it was a very tense classroom and the teacher was stressed about it, but you have to go learn these things and watch the video and engage for the first time with your peers on this very sensitive and embarrassing situation when we’re talking about the reproductive system, we’re doing this, we’re doing that. And the teacher was talking about the female menstruation and the whole thing.
Then she paused the projector for a moment and she says, “Well, I’m not sure we’re going to finish this movie today. And if so, we’ll do our worksheets and then we’ll do it tomorrow. Let me see. It looks like there’s not much left. Now, how long does the period last?” And I go, “28 days.”
Everybody just cracked up and it was like, it was at a time when the class was so sensitive and the teacher herself was – she was probably a 27-year-old science teacher and here she is with these rowdy, sweaty, 14-year-old teenagers packed into this little mobile classroom. But it was like in that high pressure situation, I diffused any of that with a joke, where it’s like if you had me stand up in front of the class and ask about, my frequency of erections in eighth grade, I mean, I would have turned beet red and fall on through the hole in the floor of the classroom. Right?
Gitta Sivander: Yes, I can totally see that. And this was coed, right?
Brad Kearns: Oh of course. Yeah, and the teacher did a great job scolding me with the biggest suppressed smile. Like, I knew she was going to burst out laughing too, but I kind of referenced that now because that’s when I started to build this momentum of like, wow, this is a way that I can succeed and break out of this painfully shy shell where I’m shy watching this stupid movie, but I can pop off with a joke. It’s like an escape and sort of going right back to that point where, “Why didn’t I just go up on the playground and say, “Hey, Robin,” because I know Robin’s listening. She has to be listening now to this fabulous podcast.
Gitta Sivander: Hi Robin.
Brad Kearns: It’s right up her alley. Good luck on the set of your next smash series. Why didn’t I just say, “Hey, I know I’m that funny guy in class, but really what I am also about is I’m a little shy and insecure, but I do like to go eat ice cream at the mall, and how about you?” Anything of that nature, that’s kind of your … because usually what we see, especially in the young scene, is you get built up and propped up by your friends to be a bullshitter. And go over there and go, “Hey, what’s up? I might have some free time this weekend. I’m not sure yet, but you want to hang?” That kind of crap.
Gitta Sivander: Yes, so you have to be somebody else than you really are. You’re being prepped to be different. Even I think most of the guys at that age that are showing that they are confident, they are prepping themselves up in a different way. They are able to take on more confidence, like fake confidence. And everybody else wants that fake confidence because I think that’s the real confidence. And I don’t think that’s who we are. I think when we’re teenagers, there’s so many insecurities. I mean, we haven’t explored our lives yet. We don’t even know what it’s like to be with a girl or with a boy. And maybe we have started to explore it, but there are so many questions, there’s so much uncertainty ahead of us. And how can we really be confident when we are actually uncertain.
So, being able to be willing to or having permission in our society to actually express that uncertainty, because that’s where we’re at in life, that’s going to let us be much more confident because we can be confident about the uncertainty. But instead, we have been prepped to pretend that we are certain, that we need to be somewhere else. We need to be a 30-year-old, although we are just 16 or 18, and that doesn’t work. That’s not real. That’s not who we are being. So, we’re not present. That’s not who we really are. We are not authentic, and we can’t even be expressed because we’re not allowed to really share that we are feeling uncertain, because then we’re being told by others that they’re going to laugh about us.
I personally believe that even a teenager that is willing to share their uncertainty or when I have a guy coming at me that feels a little insecure and shares that with me, I’m much more able to open up and to understand who he is being, than if he’s trying to show the cool guy and then I’m not … I don’t know who he really is, that doesn’t impress me. I’m sure it impresses some girls, but we wouldn’t be a good match anyways because it doesn’t feel real to me.
Brad Kearns: It impresses those that are stuck in the same artificial manufactured pattern. And boy, that sounds like trouble.
Gitta Sivander: Long-term travel for sure.
Brad Kearns: Or when you’re going to first crack and show who you really are, and then how’s it going to be handled? It’s going to be handled poorly because everything’s been fake. The whole relationship is built on fake – in the workplace too, it’s so common. Your relationship with your boss. I remember one of the best encounters I had with a boss was he was talking to the whole team, the little marketing team of I think five people. And we’re wrapping up a meeting where he’s directing us and orchestrating and telling us our responsibilities because he’s the boss. And he closed the meeting, he says, “You guys remember something, I work for you, not the other way around. The most important thing, most important job I have is to work for you and tell me how you need me and how I can help.”
Because his job was to be a leader and manage five people, and he flipped it around, and it was such a profound comment because really that is the most – my most important thing was to go and organize the schedule of the event. That’s my job. But his job is to work for me, if I go and need his help. And so, it made that open communication and totally transformed the usual stale, stuffy dynamic of your boss telling you what to do.
Gitta Sivander: The hierarchy, right?
Brad Kearns: Yeah.
Gitta Sivander: It changed the hierarchy around and maybe there are some hierarchies around teenage boys and girls too. And especially at your time, it was probably the boy that always had to make the first step, and then you’re being put under pressure that you have to do something that might be difficult for you. I’m actually curious, did that ever change for you and when did that change, that you were able to address girls more freely?
Brad Kearns: Oh boy, you teed me up with a good question there. So, I finished high school and this is a big transition in life. I’m heading off to college, moving away from home, first time UC Santa Barbara. And I made a conscious decision at that time that I was so sick of myself and the way that I was conducting myself, with this shyness and this insecurity that I decided to just leave it behind and really transform right in conjunction with heading up to school.
So, I made a conscious decision that I was going to reinvent myself and not be this shy, painfully insecure person. I knew I had it in me. I had some A-game if you call it that, because I was able to crack people up in class or had glimpses of places where I was confident such as on the athletic arena. I made it to the State Championships and the national finals of running. And I had a sense of self-esteem and confidence from excelling and hitting these goals in life. And so, I just wanted to apply and redirect that stuff to socializing.
Everybody was new, the situation was new, and I think that worked out pretty well for me where I was able to just leave that stuff behind, and in an abrupt transition to being a new person, where if you met me freshman year in the dorms, I might’ve been outgoing and engaging. And I didn’t need the alcohol. That was my other strategy in college.
It was like very soon after I got there, I hadn’t drunk a sip in high school. I didn’t know what drinking, I didn’t know what being inebriated was. I had no idea what it felt like. Then I got drunk my first time and it was pretty silly, and I was riding my bicycle zig zag on the path instead of straight, and I didn’t know why. But then I realized like it didn’t really work for me. I didn’t enjoy messing with my brain function and getting silly. And I realized that while everyone else was needing that alcohol to get to that point, I could just snap my fingers and get to that silly point because of who I was.
I was just easily capable of doing that. And so, I sort of had an upper hand or an advantage in that sense because I’d be the only one sober at a party. But I was acting silly and like everybody else. But I had a slightly better judgment, rationale, decision making, knowing when I could go for an advance move and say, “Hey, what’s up? It’s too loud in here? You want to go out to the balcony and talk or whatever it was.”
And I’m not saying I was not a player by any means because that didn’t work for me either. But I felt more comfortable in myself, thanks to the athletic experience was a big help. And going to school and being independent and being away from home and all these things. My parents didn’t mess with me and they didn’t intervene with all the little day-to-day challenges of life.
And this is the kind of thing, I’m kind of rambling, but like, I think we’re missing that a little bit today. Where the kid’s relying on their parents for every single thing and to navigate and orchestrate with their college applications and their college application counselor. And then they’re looking on the GPS application that you have where you can find where your kid is at any and all time. And they’re off to college and they’re saying … I was at a party where one of the parents was showing me this cool app and they’re like, “Look, she’s at the dining hall right now because it’s 5:30 to 6:30.”
And like thinking back to where I was in college, like my parents didn’t know what state I was in. We were down in Mexico at a friend’s house and there were no cell phones, but it was so different. I think there’s a lot of value to that to where we need to kind of figure out ways to let kids bust lose today like I’m describing for myself.
Gitta Sivander: Take on some responsibility for themselves even at a younger age. How can we be responsible for ourselves as adults if we don’t learn to be responsible for ourselves as children? We need to learn that from early on.
Brad Kearns: And say, “Oh,” and do things like that-
Gitta Sivander: It’s actually a whole another topic here to talk about. Because I have a son too and I-
Brad Kearns: Well, he’s 10 or 11?
Gitta Sivander: He’s eight.
Brad Kearns: Oh eight, yeah. He acts like a 10-year-old. A very mature guy, entertaining himself during the boring seminar – boring for him. It was great for us. But yeah, you’re doing a great job. He’s seeing the world and kind of you brought him to this thing and he got nicely dressed, which I noticed. And I think it was like, “Hey man, I got to drag you to this thing and it’s not the park and it’s not the birthday party.” But he went with it.
Gitta Sivander: He went with it, and not his favorite thing to do. But it was important for me to show up. I wanted to see David Rossi speak, and I wanted to meet you obviously because that’s where we got connected. And my son just loves dressing up. I don’t know what it is, but his dad is a speaker and speaks worldwide, and he’s always nicely dressed. So, when we go to events, my son wants to dress in his Italian clothes handmade for him. And so, then he was actually quite surprised that it was a smaller event, smaller room, more intimate. And he was like, “What? I thought this was going to be hundreds.” But he always brings something with him to be busy with.
A lot of children don’t do that. I don’t know how many parents bring their children to events that are for adults. And I think it’s important for children to follow their parents to their work sometimes too. Not only go to birthday parties and to the pool and not only do what my son needs to do on a weekend, but actually my son needs to do something that I need to do. He needs to learn that he needs to follow adults sometimes. And of course, I often do something for him, but it’s not all about him. That’s not how life is when he’s an adult either. We can’t do every day what we want to do
Brad Kearns: What is she saying? What? It’s not all about your son? Oh my gosh. Don’t you realize we’re here in America where that’s the law.
Gitta Sivander: I forgot about that. I just flew in from Sweden last night, and I guess I’m a Swedish mindset here right now. No, I really think that even in America and even in Marin where we, parents are so like the helicopter moms and yes, I mean to some degree we need to be – there’s definitely more danger here. The child abductions happening all the time and I don’t hear of it quite as frequently in Sweden. So, there’s a lot more freedom around it. So, we do need to be careful and we can’t give our children the same freedom that we did when you were young, and when I were young.
But still there are definitely certain areas where we can give our children freedom and we don’t, we don’t do it. We are older parents. We only have single children. We are even helicoptering them even more. It was like we worked hard to get this kid. We may not have been able to get pregnant. And all the times, parents were young, they got pregnant, they had this child, it was much more natural and was just happening. And I think that we would give kids more freedom that way as well. And now, our children are wished children in so many ways, that we are so afraid of losing them.
That’s just one aspect out of many, but it’s also one aspect I think that brings in this constant fear of loss. And I believe in order to really be growing into responsible adults, we need as parents, we need to let go on some levels. We need to be okay with, okay, feel that fear, but let the child do it anyways. The same for you. I feel the fear of becoming an entrepreneur, but do it or feel the fear of applying for a new job, but go do it. And feel the fear that you have, that your child may get hurt on some levels, but they have to make their own experiences, even as little children
My son was a year and a half old when he stood at a gas burning stove and made his own breakfast egg, scrambled egg. He stood on a pedestrial for a child so he could be high up. And my ex-mother-in-law, she is an American – she was like, “What are you doing? He’s 18-months-old and he’s standing there by the fire and making his own egg?” And she was quite scared. And I was like, “Yeah, he may have burn himself. Hopefully, he’s not going to burn himself very, very hard,” because usually they don’t burn themselves very strongly. They get a little burn on the finger. You have to find out that fire is hot in order to know that. And most kids learn that very, very quickly. And so did he. He’s an amazing chef now.
Brad Kearns: I feel like the Sweden and other progressive European cultures seem to have figured this out much better than the classic example of the helicopter parent in America. And I’m wondering if you see some disparities in the culture, especially going back and forth – that’s got to be aggravating because you’re trying to preserve the highest values that you have in running up against roadblocks.
Gitta Sivander: Yes, yes. Well, there’s the cultural difference, but then there’s also – I think what I’m also running into passionately is a generation conflict. Like when I go back to Europe, my parents live both in Germany and in Sweden. And then I ran into the way that they were raising their children and they tell me, “Well I see you do a lot of good with your son, but there are things that we see that you do that are not good at all. And if you keep doing that, you’re going to have a really, really challenging teenager.” And then, “I go really? What am I doing wrong?”
So, there’s part of that American culture that I’ve learned and taken on from being away from here for so long. But then the other one is also the generation difference of how we raise our children. And it is very refreshing for me to go back and to what others do. And it’s also conflict creating. I definitely see quite some conflict that is coming from that. And in some ways, it’s easier for my son to be with my parents without me there, because they get to do with him whatever they believe is right. And he can adjust to that situation because they know that his grandparents are with him in a certain way.
And some ways, it’s easier with the older generation, the way they are with their children, because they demand respect from the children. I don’t think that we demand as much respect from our children, both culturally but also generation-wise. Because I see that happening in Germany and Sweden too, that the children don’t respect their parents as much.
Brad Kearns: Hey, I see it happening in aisle number four of the supermarket all the time.
Gitta Sivander: Yeah, the aisle number four where all the candies are, and the chocolate,
Brad Kearns: You just see this inner play where it’s like it’s mind-blowing how ridiculous it is that the kid’s running the show over and over. It just constantly reminding how backwards it is.
Gitta Sivander: It is. And I can see that with my aunt’s son too. He is running the show with me at times, and I protect him and I go, “Oh, it’s just because he comes from divorced parents and oh, it is because he has some fears and anxiety because his parents are divorced.” So, I’m protecting him in a way that is not good either. I do see there’s like something to buffer. You got to got to be sensitive to certain aspects of divorce, but on the other hand, you also just got to be a fricking parent. And being a parent means that your child has to sometimes just learn to listen to you, and you have to set boundaries. It’s a boundary question.
I feel like generally in our time in the Western civilized world, we are not willing to let our children feel those boundaries strong enough. And some children demand them more than others. Other kids don’t need as many boundaries. But all children need boundaries. And I can see that we don’t really enforce those boundaries. And here in Marin County, we more so than other places, I see, we don’t enforce those boundaries for whatever reasons that is. And I think that children really do thrive – they thrive on boundaries in a certain way.
Brad Kearns: Well, they’re programmed to pursue the limits of the boundaries. So, that’s how they gain their independence, is they’re pushing the limits. But if there’s no limits, then they just turn into entitled
Gitta Sivander: Entitlement, and also I think that’s a way of reflecting on who they are. I think that we all need reflection. I know that I crave reflection. I crave to hear from others how they’re perceiving me. And when we get boundaries, that’s another way of holding that mirror up and say, “Up until here and no further.” It’s defining what you’re capable of doing and who you are being yourself, and it helps them to define themselves. Because children that don’t have that definition yet, they’re being born into full expression.
We talked about expression earlier in my work, self-expression. And children are fully self-expressed, that’s their job. All they do is to be fully self-expressed. And as adults, we move more and more into less self-expression. We move more into confinement and going from free – we call it free flow in their lab and moving analysis in one of the trainings I’ve done. It goes from free flow to bound flow. Children are completely free flow and then the older we get, the more bound flow we get.
Now, how can we as adults stay more in the free flow and not get too bound and how can we help our children to take on some bound flaws so that they’re not completely crazy overly expressed such as in aisle four in the supermarket.
Brad Kearns: Yeah, and the bound flow comes in because of all these traumatic childhood experiences where you were told you weren’t good enough for the team and discouraged from … they wanted you to come to a different classroom because it was a hassle to use the microphone and all these things to serve to bind us up. But then we also maybe, are we making up for it in this generation with this freewheeling helicopter parenting experience where the kids are indeed the center of the universe and come before the needs of the couple and all those kinds of dynamics that you see playing out over and over. Maybe we’re making up for it because, “I had a rough time with my dad telling me I was no good,” or whatever the situation was that you’re trying to make up for.
Gitta Sivander: Yes, I can see that in my parenting relationship as well, and with the father of my son, my ex-husband. And there’s definitely a lot of that happening for both of us. And part of it is because in our time, we do – bringing in a lot more awareness of emotions and almost all of us adults have had some kind of therapies. So, we have our childhood trauma, and then we don’t want to repeat that. But it also brings in the opposite, which is two little boundaries. And sometimes, it’s not even about discussing anything, it’s just about this is what needs to happen.
But on the other hand, I do see, I mean, my son’s aid, he’s going to turn nine next month, and I do see that it does help to talk as well. I don’t just want to tell him at this age now-
Brad Kearns: Because I said so.
Gitta Sivander: Yeah, I don’t think that’s true and why? Because I said so – that doesn’t help very much either.
Brad Kearns: Good luck when he’s 17 and start to use his middle finger for real. It’ll work. And I remember picking up my kid and removing him from the situation, just using two hands and picking up and at the armpits and carrying him into the room for a timeout, which works very well when they’re three and four. But if you don’t build that respect, that natural respect, then when they get bigger and taller than you, like the George Michael Video, “I’m big enough to break down the door. Bad boys!” Welcome to that era and it’s coming soon. I mean, it just is what it is.
So, I always wanted to build that natural respect with my kids and honoring the rules and all that. And this great book “Raising Winning Kids without a Fight” – Dr. William Hughes from Sacramento. I think it was from that book, a lot of other great insights, but he said, “Yeah you want to get used to using the word bummer a lot when you’re raising your kids.” In other words, “Oh, you didn’t do the dishes? Bummer, you can’t use the car today.” “But I have to go here.” “The rule is do the dishes, then you can use the car.” “Oh, that’s such a bummer. I’m so sorry about that.” I’m not apologizing, I’m saying, “I’m sorry about this situation and I’m sorry about your pain, it’s a real bummer, but you didn’t do the dishes.”
Then not engaging in that dialogue. Like, “Do you see how hard I work? How dare you take advantage of me? I feed you the food. I bought the food too.” All that stuff is just like blah, blah. But it might as well be Swedish [Foreign Language 00:33:47]. The kid’s like “What?” He’s not listening to your rationale and he doesn’t need to, and it weakens the relationship to have this argumentative like case in point. “I also washed the car last week,” all that nonsense. It’s just like, “Do dishes, get to drive car. Didn’t do dishes, bummer! No car.”
Listen to me talk tough here. And like in my own life and with my own kids, and they can tell you too, we’ll get them on a podcast like, you know what to do, but all these impure influences get in the way. And one of them might be in that example like, “That means I got to drive and pick them up at basketball practice instead of doing what I want to do with my day,” or whatever the example is where you don’t hold that hard line because you don’t want to deal with conflict or all that kind of stuff.
Gitta Sivander: Well, the other thing is also that it’s really challenging to hold that hard line. And I know for myself, that sometimes I’m just tired. As a single mom, I’ve been working out and about and I come home and my own health issue with hypothyroidism leaves me feeling tired at the end of the day. And if I’m then supposed to also hold that really hard line at times, I’m just like, “You know what? I’m just going to go and do it myself.” And it’s not the best for the education of my child, but it’s just what happens. I’m human, he’s human. And maybe I have to build stronger boundaries at a different year then. Sometimes you just have to give in.
But of course, the ideal situation would be to hold your strong boundaries no matter what. And at this age, when they’re eight, nine where my son’s at, he can still scream really loud. I mean, as teenagers, they won’t scream. They will hold their boundaries in different ways. I think that boundaries are – they’re all necessarily at every age but you hold them differently in different ages.
Brad Kearns: Well, here’s another thing that comes into play, because we’re in this culture of helicopter parenting, the parents navigating this smooth sailing successful route for their kid. That’s what we’re up against. So, when we want to apply our philosophy and our boundaries in our own parenting, I’ve experienced times where it feels like that’s going to set my kid back from an opportunity in life because I didn’t turn in his college essay for him. And I’m not just joking, it’s actually going on where parents are writing papers in high school or they’re pulling in highly paid consultants to help the kid write his college essay, that is a big part of the admissions process in many schools. But it’s not really the kid, it’s been orchestrated by the parent.
Another example was the accelerated competitive sports experience these days. And my son was a little basketball player when he was a little guy in the park league, and it was so much fun and he scored a bunch of baskets. And he was clearly passionate about this thing and wanted to improve and very competitive. And I’m like, “You know what? We need to find you another level of play here to fully develop.” And so, you take that plunge at a young age and take that precious, innocent, competitive spirit and we have to go into the AAU basketball scene, which anyone who’s heard about it, it’s pretty crazy. It’s pretty intense. These young kids are playing year round and they’re spending money traveling around.
But it’s like if you sit back and say, “Basketball should be fun, we’re going to shoot baskets in the park after I get off work.” Guess what happens in high school when you go up face against these kids that have been developed like miniature professional players. And so, that’s a big dilemma there. And especially the college admissions process. And it’s like, “You want your kid to go to Harvard? Oh, it’s a dream for every family, and it’s a meal ticket for the rest of your life. But I also believe in not interfering with my kids’ schoolwork and letting him be accountable to himself.” Wow! What are you going to do?
Gitta Sivander: Well, I think that’s a choice a parent needs to make. And also, a belief system. Friends, I don’t believe that Harvard is the place that a child needs to go to.
Brad Kearns: Good, you call that out as this mere belief rather than an absolute, which is great. That’s a great starting point there. Like eff those guys at that school because maybe they’re a bunch of spoiled snobs that were all helicopter parent. Not necessarily so. But on that note, since I have many friends from Harvard and they’re fine, well-adjusted people, those people were destined for Harvard.
Big George, my buddy who graduated Harvard, MIT, he was destined for those institutions because he was a top performer in the field of mathematics since a little boy, and had whatever circumstances that led him to have that passion and that natural ability. But trying to push your kid and orchestrate that to compete against someone who’s naturally meant to be there – it’s like in the athletic arena where the natural athletes with competitive passion, they’re going to make it to the pros anyway, even if they have a lousy coach or they get put on the wrong travel team and all that. And the rest of us are just worried and stressed that our offspring is not the exact destiny that we dream for them. Good start, carry on.
Gitta Sivander: I find this special in America, it is so artificial to see what our children have to show in a very young age. What they have to be capable of doing. And Sweden school doesn’t start until they’re seven-years-old. And here, it starts when they’re six, and the the kids in school and in certain subjects, they are doing things that I did when I was in fifth or sixth grade. My son in third grade has to do writing on a level that I learned when I was in sixth grade.
First of all, every child develops on their own pace, and also our brain just develops in it’s on pace. I mean, we can squeeze things in really young and we can force our children to learn certain things at a young age, but isn’t really necessary. I remember that I always wanted my son to learn how to swim. I wanted him to learn how to bike, and there were certain things he was super afraid of. And took him to swim classes as a baby and he screamed. And I thought when I do baby classes, he’ll be a great swimmer from early on. It wasn’t his thing.
When he was ready to learn how to swim, he asked for it. When he was ready to learn how to bike, which was later than most kids at age six, he learned within one day. And so, as parents believing that we have to pressure on push our children to learn certain things at a certain time is a lot of effort spent on nothing, because when our children are ready and when they want it, and when their brain is ready, they will just do it naturally.
Brad Kearns: There’s a 32nd back button on most podcast apps, hit that button and listen to that again if you’re a parent, especially if a kid of age. And my insight, my perspective now, my kids are 20 and 18, so they’re adults, right? So, that phase where you thought you had so much influence and it was so important to a) expose my child to sports or b) try to get them into the best academic environment – all these things that we think are so important, I realize now, you’re weighing less important. Your role as a parent is way less important than you might think it is. It’s not all about you. The kid has their own life to live. Even at a young age, their wiring and their genetic attributes and their passions and the way they navigate their environment is so much more on them than we think so. And that’s heavy.
Gitta Sivander: Yeah, the peer pressure already at a young age and what they learn from their friends is huge.
Brad Kearns: Is way more important than the parent. Studies show, no doubt, their peer influence is way more significant than their parental influence from those formative adolescent years.
Gitta Sivander: I think that we have six years to really influence our children.
Brad Kearns: Ooh, what six years are they?
Gitta Sivander: The first six years.
Brad Kearns: Oh, the first six – woo, you’re on your own kid. Here’s 100 bucks, congratulations on graduating elementary school.
Gitta Sivander: I think that’s where we really have an influence. And after that, from six to 12, we have some influence. And after 12, I think it really starts breaking down. So, like at 14, 15, we don’t really have any influence anymore. We try and it’s still important to keep up our boundaries. Like you earlier shared with the dishes and the car. All that’s still important. But the real influence happens much, much earlier. And also, influence on how our children will develop in later life, it’s already happened the first six years of life.
And certain things we don’t really have an influence on. I mean, some children develop patterns of being very emotionally sensitive and we parents do not understand why that is. Why are they so emotional if we are not that emotional as parents? They’re hard wired for something and it’s … I also believe that astrology has a certain influence on that.
I think there are many more influence factors that we don’t even know about. It is as it is. And of course, we as parents, we need to stay strong. We need to stay grounded, we need to stay present, authentic, expressing confident as parents in order to help our children be the best they can. Because we can always help our children excel. But it doesn’t have to be with that kind of pressure that they need to be the best athletes. Maybe they are never athletics. Some children just aren’t born to be athletes. You can support them in using the bodies, but they thrive much better on doing other things. Maybe reading books, maybe that’s their thing. And like my son, he has to be really good at reading books and he’s just in third grade.
I remember my mom telling me she hated reading books and she didn’t start reading books until she was 18, and she now reads a lot of books. And now when I ask her – I actually did ask her this question on this trip that I had in Europe. I said, “Well, what do you do if you had one more month to live?” And she said to me, “I would read books.” Hearing that from a person that hated reading books most of her school years, that’s huge, right?
So, a lot of the development happens through life and we do need to support our children and of course, we want them to be able to make it through school. But I feel a lot of pressure from my son’s school. He goes to a private school and there may be a little bit more pressure than in public school, possibly. I just got his, his grades today, this morning before you, and I started doing this interview, here.
Brad Kearns: I was in a lousy mood after that.
Gitta Sivander: I opened it and it’s not grades like numbers, but still there’s like – he was doing, very excelling, doing well, just hanging and those kinds of grades. And I can see that he’s not good enough in math and divisions and he’s not good enough in writing, and like he’s really challenged and writing. And so, I’m going like, “Oh my God, I’m going to call my parents right now and tell them that they have to do writing every day. And they have to do math with him every day, and then I decided, “I’m not going to do that,” because his brain is going to develop in its own pace. And just because he’s going to spend this summer every day doing math and writing, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easier for him when he comes back to school in end of August.
I believe that what he learns the summer, the languages he’s exposed to, again, Swedish, German and Italian since he’ll be with his dad in Italy as well, is going to help his brain grow and develop and at some point, the writing and English will become easier too. Will help him during the school year. But right now he’s got a break and I’m not the kind of mom who goes like my third grader needs to do schoolwork every day. I don’t believe that it’s really going to excel in life. It may make me feel better as a parent because I feel like I’ve been pushing harder, and I’ve done everything I can, but that’s my belief he’s going to still develop and maybe in two years he’ll excel in writing in English or in divisions in math. I don’t know that.
I just don’t believe that just because we keep pushing our children harder and harder that it’s going to make them better kids at school. Yes we do need to help them when they have like a real deficiency, but maybe we can do that during the school days as well or give them a break as well.
Brad Kearns: Very well said. I mean we know from brain research that you learn when you have these gaps and these chances to unwind from a rigorous school year and just absorb things, and it comes with foreign language too. I realize I’m getting better at Spanish from just cooling off from my intense effort to learn and listen to the tapes over and over, and just kind of relaxing and picking up a conversation and those kinds of things. Just in a more relaxed manner, you can make progress.
And also, on that note that you just said, like the kids need to own their own experience too. And what we’re doing in part of the helicopter parenting, besides orchestrating everything, is we’re taking ownership and we’re taking credit for the success rather than having it be completely independent.
There was a great article called “The Inverse Power of Praise: how not to talk to your kids”. It was written in the New York Times in 2007. And honestly, I think about this article every single day as a parent for the last – that was 12 years ago. It just absolutely blew me away, and changed my entire approach to parenting. And some of the basic insights where we should do a whole show on this.
But they said when you say these platitudes, like, “I’m really proud of you,” which all parents think is such a great thing to say, “I’m so proud of you. You did great in the soccer game. Oh, I’m proud of you, you cleaned up your dinner table. I’m proud of you, you got pretty good grades in most subjects.” As soon as you say that, you’re taking the pride away from them and making it all about you, “And you just performed for me. And so, I’m proud of you for doing that.”
The argument goes that maybe, you might never want to say that to your kid, but every time you feel that, you could say, “You should be really proud of yourself, you played hard in that game. You should be really proud of yourself, you worked through and got a better grade.” And it should be all effort-based rather than character based.
Like the other example, which was really mind blowing is to say, you have a daughter, maybe you never tell her she’s pretty. You just say you’re beautiful, deep down inside and out or make it about something that’s more relevant than their physical beauty and how cute and attractive they look at whatever age you’re talking to them about. Because, especially a female, they learn to traffic on their physical appearance rather than develop their whole selves, and they form their self-esteem based on the fact that maybe they are considered more cute when they’re whatever year and they go to high school and they’re the hot cheerleader, whatever, you want to talk about that. And that can be a potentially negative thing to reinforce in talking to your kid.
And you’re like, wow, okay, so catching myself and coming out of my mouth – “I’m really proud of you … whoops, you should be proud of yourself the way you handled that.” And then going down the line, “You’re a great athlete,” good or bad to say to a kid. In this case, maybe not such a great thing, because they form their identity when you talk about them as, “You’re really smart. You’re really smart in math. You’re a fantastic basketball player.” If you say that, they want to own that. They formed their self-esteem around it, and then they’re afraid to take risks and push the boundaries of a place where they might fail when they try out for the more difficult team or take the higher math class, their identity and their parents’ pride is wrapped around how well they excel.
Gitta Sivander: Yeah, I think that is really that part that the child tries to live up to the parents’ pride. What you just described creates a child that only wants to have more positive stimulation from their parent. Instead of having the inner drive, they only need stimulation of what they want to achieve or what they think is beautiful. Like if they create a picture, a piece of art, who cares what anybody else thinks about it. The question is what do you think about it? What do you like about your piece of art? Instead of giving them particular notes and grades based on what the teacher thinks is beautiful on the piece of art.
I see that happening even though Ari’s School – Ari is my son. Even though his school is very open-minded and they do mindful meditation as part of kindergarten already and they do it every year, and they are very anti-bullying. They have a whole anti-bullying program, but it’s still about grades. And the children, they have to show their best artwork at the end of the year, and then it’s being showed to the county and the county then decides if they get a number one, number two or number three.
My son has been crying about it because he thinks his art piece was so beautiful, and then he only got a two minus instead of a one like some of the other ones in class. And he said, “Why do they all get a one and I get a two minus?” I think that’s crushing our children. It really is. It’s absolutely unnecessary pressure that we put in our little kids. If the children want to be in competition when they are older, they can choose to do so. But we don’t have to force them into this competitive thinking, especially around art and expression. Where it’s about them feeling good about what they do and somebody else knocking them down by telling them that your peers in class are actually doing better. How do you really know that an art piece is better? It’s a piece of art.
Brad Kearns: I guess it’s a teaching moment there to say, one thing important in life is not care what other people think so much. You think you did a great job, that’s great. And then the parent can support that. And that exact example I think was brought up in the article where if they present you a piece of art, you find a way to praise the effort rather than judge the finished result. Like, “You can sell that. That’s amazing.” No, there’s no need to say that, because that’s putting yourself into comparison to someone who sells their art and that designates them as a professional artist. Forget that. It’s like, “Wow, that must have taken you a long time, and interesting here how you used two colors for the birds. What made you decide to do brown and blue?” “Oh, you looked outside.”
All that, it will light up any kid even if they get an F-minus from the school, you bring it home and go, “Did you have fun doing it? It seems like you were really into it. I saw you in your room.” And the whole perspective changes from this win or lose, do or die type of mentality that’s so damaging. And that’s what we’re carrying around, we adults with issues and therapy sessions and trying to unwind all this bad programming where even a well-meaning parent’s saying, “I’m proud of you for this, I’m proud of you for that,” maybe needs some unwinding.
Gitta Sivander: Yeah, I really love this discussion.
Brad Kearns: I know we got a whole another podcast out of here, so thank you Gitta. What a great show. This is my dream to just get free flowing and we got into parenting. It started with Brad’s class clown experience. I was going to do an outtake for five minutes. We’re just killing it right now. Gittasivander.com. By now, if you’re not going to hit that website and watch some of those videos that you did – that was really engaging because you’re up there like with a blank screen and just going forward and looking into the camera , walking your talk. Right?
Gitta Sivander: Yeah, so I do it myself. I don’t really have a videographer working on me and polishing up everything. It’s just about showing up.
Brad Kearns: Thanks for listening again. For Brad and Gitta Sivander, have a good day.
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