We had the honor of chatting with Dr. Becky Kennedy, the incredible, clinical psychologist and parenting expert behind Good Inside. She endeavors to help us all raise confident kids and most importantly, ensure that parents don’t feel alone. From her podcast, to her workshops, to her book, we’re confident in saying we’ve all turned to her for expert advice (and we’re so grateful).
Name & Occupation:
Dr. Becky Kennedy, Founder & CEO, Good Inside
I’m a woman on a mission to:
Raise the bar on how we raise our kids - and how we raise ourselves along the way
What cause or issue are you most passionate about?
Helping parents become sturdy confident leaders so they can raise sturdy confident kids
You have three kids of your own and as often is the case with founders and entrepreneurs, Good Inside came out of a personal need. Could you tell us about your founding story?
I think the story started many years ago when I was in private practice and parents were coming to me for guidance with their kids. Their kids were struggling with a whole range of behaviors and pretty soon I became disillusioned with the way i was trained. I was taught to give parents the tools to give time-outs and sticker charts and praise and ignoring – there was one day in my private practice where i had an intense feeling in my chest that this is not the way. There is no way we’re supposed to raise kids with these approaches that just make them feel alone, overwhelmed, and misunderstood. And if we want to help kids become adults who are confident and who are resilient then we need to help kids build skills. Punishments, consequences, time-outs, and sticker charts do not build skills; they are just ways to temporarily shape behavior. So that got me thinking, well, what does help people get skills? What I knew from my private practice and working with adults is I had worked with countless adults who came to me struggling and I helped them build the skills they were missing that they needed to be sturdier, more confident versions of themselves. I realized, why don’t I reverse-engineer these skills back to parents so they can help kids build these skills early? And that’s what I set out to do. Moreover, what I realized is parents need access to this. Parenting is the most important and hardest job in the world – and it’s the only job we’re given no training and no resources for. And many moms and dads then say to themselves. “what’s wrong with my kid?,” “What’s wrong with me?” Nothing is wrong with us. It would be like a surgeon trying to do surgery without going to medical school, without doing a residency, without working at a hospital – it’s not their fault they don't know how to do surgery, they weren't’ prepared appropriately. It's my mission to give parents an approach that feels right and makes sense and to give them access to all of the skills they need to build the skills that they need. Good Inside Membership ensures that parents never have to spiral in confusion or worry again - because now they are equipped to be the parents they want to be.
While we have you, we might as well bend your ear for a little advice. When it comes to raising kids who are aware of the complicated nature of the world around them, without overwhelming them, what is your advice for raising empathetic kiddos?
To me a starting point has a lot to do with the word noticing. Before we develop empathy, before we develop gratitude., we have to develop “noticing”. We have to notice things around us for them to register and then we have to actually learn how to cope with the feelings that come with what we notice, like certain inequities in the world, and from there we can develop empathy. For example, when you’re walking on the street, let’s say you’re walking in NYC and you see a person living in homelessness. Kids will often say, “hey, why is that person living on the street?” Lots of times parents might say “don’t say that, that’s rude” or “that’s not something we talk about.” But if we think about the skill of noticing as a precursor to empathy, we might say “wow, you’re noticing that that person is sleeping on the street. You’re right to notice that.” You might then say after, “you have a home to sleep in, that’s pretty different.” Starting with the skill of noticing is validating that kids really do see differences and we can’t build empathy if we don’t allow our kids to process the world around them. After that, you don’t have to force empathy, you can say, “hey, what would that be like?” Just noticing is the first step. You can ask questions like, “ We have a roof over our heads, what else do you notice that we have?” Broaden your child’s perspective without adding guilt. Guilt doesn’t develop empathy. When it comes to really young children, focusing on noticing is a really important first step.
I am also curious about how we as parents can support our children’s journey from awareness and empathy into feeling empowered enough to take action? How can we help foster the little everyday activists of tomorrow without dumping our anxiety and outsized hope and expectations on the next generation?
This is an amazing follow up from the last question. If we encourage and build noticing, we can then ask our kids “Huh, I wonder if there’s anything we can do about this?” We’re a family of people who like to solve problems. What can we do? Are there solutions?” What we’re doing here is after we’ve established with our kids that we notice differences, we’re activating our kids natural problem solving ability. And sometimes you have to educate your kids, “there are policies. I wonder if we want to write to our senator. Oh, what’s a senator? Let me tell you about that. I wonder if there are shelters in our area? Where are people experiencing homelessness getting food?” And then you can have a conversation with your kid about food banks and other opportunities to help. What we’re doing is following a natural arc – we’re noticing with our kids and then we’re forming a bond with them around that. We’re connected to them. “What can we do about this” activates that natural activism inside them.
You recently spoke at a TED Conference (congrats!!), could you tell us a bit about the “single most important parenting strategy” and why it’s so critical to our success as parents?
Here is something I know about parents. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Every parent is doing the best they can with the resources they have available to them at the moment. And every parent is imperfect. Knowing this, the single most important parenting strategy in the world is “repair”. Repair is the act of going back to a moment that didn’t feel great, taking responsibility, and sharing what you would do differently the next time. It might sound like, “Hey, earlier today I yelled at you. It’s never your fault when I yell. I’m working on managing my own frustration so I can stay calmer, even when I’m upset.” What we do when we repair is we get to reconnect with our kid. We ensure that they don’t store in their body a memory of fear and aloneness. That they don't end up blaming themselves for a bad moment with us, which is what they do when we don't repair, because they need some way of explaining what happened and so we've removed the self blame and aloneness and we end up building connection.
It’s the holiday season, which we all know can be magical but also busy and stressful. What advice do you have for parents this time of year?
I have a few pieces of advice. First of all, I think the holidays are a really important time to check with yourself about what boundaries you need to set. To be clear about what a boundary is, a boundary is something we tell others we will do and it requires the other person to do nothing. So a boundary isn’t saying to your aunt, “hey, I hope the party wraps up at 9 so that people can get home.” That would require your aunt to do something. A boundary would be saying, “Hey, I want to let you know, we’re so excited to come, our family will be leaving at 8:45 because our kids get really tired.” You’re telling people what you will do. So I’d ask every parent to pause and see what boundaries you can set. And remember that boundaries aren’t requests. Another thing I would say is to create some type of visual calendar or reminder for your kids. Kids don’t do well when they are surprised (neither do adults), so when you wake up in the morning and say “hey, come on, wake up, we have to get going, we’re going to see your cousins.” A lot of the reasons your kids have trouble, or are resistant, or have a tantrum, is simply because they didn’t know. Write down on a piece of paper, make a little calendar, it’ll take two seconds and save you a lot of tantrums. That way when you’re in the kitchen together you can refer to it – visual reminders are really, really helpful. The last thing I would say is to anticipate arguments and whining and meltdowns. All of the behaviors your kids engage in outside of the holidays, they’re going to engage in during the holidays. And this is one of my favorite phrases – ”I expect blank to happen, I can cope with it.” For example, “I expect my kids to have a meltdown during gift-giving, I can cope with it.” What you’re doing is instead of you being surprised in the moment, you’re prepared for it, so in the moment you actually feel powerful because you anticipated this would happen and you’ve already reminded yourself that you're a sturdy leader who can cope.
FEED Fire Round:
- Coffee or tea – Coffee
- Minimalist or maximalist – Minimalist
- Early bird or night owl – Early bird
- Manhattan or brooklyn – Manhattan
- Three things you always have in your bag – My "Good Inside" pen, phone charger (and phone), and my small wallet that has an AirTag on it because I’m always leaving it somewhere in my house.
- The FEED bag that’s so me is – I love the Work Collection. It’s so versatile and has a place for everything.
- Giving back for me, means – Showing up in a way that’s helpful to others.
- The #1 thing that gets you up and out of bed in the morning – Truly, Good Inside. Our larger mission of giving parents the resources and support they deserve to do the incredibly important and challenging job they have. That gets me excited each and every day.