Lou is a mother and the author of Happy Child, Happy Home: Conscious Parenting and Creative Discipline and Creative Discipline, Connected Family: Transforming Tears, Tantrums and Troubles While Staying Close to Your Children.
Her books have wonderful tips for connecting with your children and she empowers parents to create an environment of magic and wonder and gives you tools for disciplining without using punishments and rewards. Lou trained as a special needs teacher, worked teaching autistic children, is a trained Waldorf teacher and ran playgroups for 12 years. She travels and gives talks and workshops in Europe and Australia and is known for being a common sense educator who presents in a heartfelt way, her motto is “never to harm, only to help, I just inspire.“
She believes the most important parts of parenting take two minutes, one of the things she said that really resonated with me was “childhood is a sacred special time and children don’t know time, they don’t know minutes or days of the week and rhythms make them feel safe, rhythms hold families together.”
I know you’re a Waldorf teacher, but what inspired you to write a book about discipline and happy households?
I write to give parents new ideas to create happy homes. I know parenting isn’t easy and parents don’t have ideas unless they watch somebody, read a book or attend a workshop or learn from their own parents. I do it for children because childhood is an important stage of life and I’m passionate about childhood, I think it’s a special and unique phase. I want to give parents ways to connect with their children, so their children can have a childhood of magic and wonder. When you use creative discipline, both the children and the parents can be happy.
Did you have any deep held beliefs about discipline you had to let go of during your training as a Waldorf teacher?
I didn’t have any deeply held ideas. I was very lucky because my parents didn’t know anything about creative discipline, but they did use creative ways. So I was never hit or given time out or grounded. When I was doing my Waldorf teacher training, I learned it’s not what you teach, it’s who you are as a person that has the most profound effect on a child. Running playgroups and having children made me more conscious about what works and what doesn’t work. My ideas have evolved based on what works without using rewards and punishments, what works without making them feel really bad. It doesn’t mean letting them get away with things. Discipline means to teach, not to punish. Teach them to self-regulate their behavior. If you punish they just learn not to get caught.
Would you say your books are for every parent or for parents that already have knowledge of Waldorf schools, Rudolf Steiner and his teachings?
Definitely every parent, a lot of people say I have a common sense parenting or heartfelt parenting approach, it’s definitely for everybody.
What do you say to the parent who is struggling to accept that sometimes parenting means doing things we as a person don’t want to do? For example, not using our electronic devices around our children, or staying at the park for 3 hours when we’ve barely slept the night before.
It’s a dance between the parent and the child. The parents have to be happy too, childhood is a stage and everything will change. Make rhythms for yourself as a parent. If I’m on the phone all the time I’m not connecting with my child. It’s important to be aware, because children imitate you. Put your phone up high in a basket during all mealtimes, the child’s afternoon nap or after bedtime. If you’re tired it’s okay to go home from the park, but then you do something fun at home like make a reading tent! Just transfer the activity to look forward to. Rather than saying, ‘You have to go home!’ Try, ‘Let’s go home and read, let’s make popcorn.’ Afternoon rest is really good for both you and the child. Sometimes you can play a little game, but sometimes you have to tell them mommy is tired.
Do you have one good tip for dealing with a child who wakes up crying in the morning?
Sometimes they cry because it can be their personality for a short while. They may also get into the rhythm of crying to get your attention. Ponder why, as a parent, step into the child’s shoes. Reteach something more positive (ring a little bell when awake to get your attention, or teach a special way to call out and you will answer), or change the environment (add a night-light or get a little music box near their bed or a special book to see which you leave on the end of the bed. Try going in with a hand puppet or funny hat on to make them giggle! They will grow out of it.
I know Waldorf doesn’t support media for young children, what are your feelings about children and television, cellphones and computers? Is it a useful tool, some people work from home or need to get food on the table…
My son is a whiz at computers and makes computers from scratch. He didn’t have technology till he was 13 and he’s now 16 and I think his imaginative play and his creation made this possible. It’s not that we’re anti-technology, it’s let them have a childhood, let them enjoy imaginative play and let them enjoy regular life.
I feel pretty strongly about this. It’s easier not to, it’s fodder for lots of whining and tantrums. Even though it’s a Waldorf thing to reduce or not have media, when I speak to general audiences, they still understand why it’s a good idea not to have media. I really emphasize and say the three I’s of childhood are not the iPhone, iPod and iPad. They are imagination, imitation and impulse to move. Albert Einstein said ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’. In childhood, there’s only pure imagination for 9 years, the child is totally wired to imitate. They can help a little bit when you’re grocery shopping and folding laundry. There are scientific studies that children learn language through human interaction and listening. They don’t need electronics to learn shapes and colors; we’ve learned these things since the beginning of time. When you move your body you fire up the left side and right side of your brain and it all works together and fires up your neurons through movement. When you’re sitting with an iPad you’re not imagining and you’re not moving.
You can’t get rid of technology if you don’t have a plan, if there’s nothing to replace it in the home. Make sure they have good rhythms and can help you with chores and cooking, have good play, then the gap will be filled and they will not say I’m bored, entertain me.
I do understand that parents want a break, so audio books can be good. Sometimes it’s also easier to have television in a regular Saturday rhythm, make home movies, and get real movies with real people.
How do you balance your career and travel with your children?
I was a stay at home mom in the early years, but I worked around my husband’s schedule, I wrote when the children were asleep, ran playgroups from home two days a week and my children attended and I worked away from home on Saturdays, when dad could be with them. I had a lot of home support with my husband who worked from home. My son had his own desk, pad and telephone in my husband’s office to play with while he was working.
We have family meetings now that they’re older. We create a white board of everyday I’m away and they all pick a job and share an equal part of running the household and taking care of each other. When they were young, I worked around them, or tried to be creative with their play while I worked. I still go out of balance. They tell me to get off the computer or they talk to me and I’m barely paying attention and they remind me to be present.
What is inspiring you right now in your work?
I’m traveling to New South Wales and I’m working on my teenage column. I’m hoping to come to LA
What is your best self-care tip for parents of children under 7 years old?
Have time to yourself each week, for me it was swimming and they went to the swimming nursery, then I took them in the pool. Have yoga or a once a week date with yourself where you can joyfully give the children to your partner on the weekends, because they need time with the children too, and walk out the door. If you can’t, maybe they can go with grandma or a friend. You can also have a hobby you can do while the children are playing.
Can you share one thing we should do with our children every day that takes 10 minutes or less?
Really do a moment that’s just softness and love that involves touch. The main thing is touch, touch is really important, it speaks a thousand words and raises your oxytocin levels. Every child will like something different. You can rub their hair; sing to them, sing all the people in the world who love them. It could take 30 seconds and that’s money in your emotional bank account. When they’re teenagers they will still let you touch them because they’re used to it. Find out how your child likes to be touched.
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Photo of Lou Harvey-Zahra Courtesy Of Skip To My Lou Parenting