Staff Voices: An Interview with Sarah MacLaughlin
Did you know that Senior Writer and Training Specialist Sarah MacLaughlin is also a published author? Her second book on parenting recently came out and she was kind enough to answer a few questions for Crib Notes.
1. Why did you write Raising Humans With Heart: Not a How-To Manual for parents and caregivers?
I started on the path of parent education long before I was a parent. I spent about 10 years caring for other people’s children as a toddler/preschool teacher and a nanny. I started writing my first book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking With Young Children around that time, and I had specific ideas about ways caregivers could communicate more clearly and say things to children with more respect. I had opinions, but very little experience as a parent myself. My son was a toddler when that book went to print, and while I still stand behind what I wrote, I have a more, ah, humble and practical viewpoint now. This new book was born from the desire to share more of the nitty-gritty—real-life stories of being at my wit’s end and needing to learn more tools—as well as a broader perspective. I also try to share many of those tools and approaches. I wrote it so parents would feel less alone in being frustrated by their children’s behavior, and so they might see more clearly the benefit of focusing on the relationship as a means of expanding their sphere of influence.
2. What’s the most important thing you share in this new book?
Impossible question! But I can try to sum it up in three statements:
1. Don’t take your child’s behavior personally. Sometimes there is nothing you can do differently to change it, because the answer to immaturity is time. I like to point out that most parents don’t rush their baby to walk at 6 months because they know that skill comes later, and naturally. What if parents knew the same about the ability to share, or to accept a “no” gracefully? Instead of reacting, be curious about what’s driving the behavior and how you can be a support.
2. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup, so keep your own personhood (and emotional gas tank) in mind when honing your parenting style and skills. Boundaries are your friend and setting and holding them is great modeling.
3. Do your own work! If we want to raise great kids who turn into happy, kind, respectful, inclusive adults, then we need to model that. We guide our children with who we are. For me this meant tons of practice moderating my emotional reactions so I could stay regulated while parenting—it’s really hard! And also, making use of chances to make amends when I lost my cool, because that happened plenty too.
OK, one last thing that’s important about both my books is that they are SUPER SHORT. I tried to write in bite-sized pieces and at less than 100 pages because I know how stretched and overwhelmed caregivers can be.
3. Will you be writing any more parenting books?
Oh goodness, I’m not sure I have much more to say on the topic, but I do fantasize about what the world would look like if shame-y, punishment-based, punitive parenting just—poof!—went away. The belief that children need to receive contrived behavioral consequences (such as punitive timeouts) for learning to occur is still alive and well. I can’t help but wonder what emotional regulation, natural consequences, and gentle guidance would bring to society over the long term. Maybe my next book will be a utopian novel?