We all have big dreams for our little people, and there are so many ways to define success: finding purpose in life and work, reaching goals (whatever those might be), surrounding yourself with loved ones, to name just a few. Psychologists have pointed to a variety of practices that can help our kids achieve these things. Spending time with your child is a major one; others include letting your child make decisions and prioritizing kindness.
Jessica Rolph welcomes Esther Wojcicki to today’s episode to talk about raising successful children, her area of expertise. Her daughters, Susan, Janet, and Anne, are some of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley. They are respectively, the CEO of YouTube, a professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and the Founder and CEO of the genetic testing company 23andMe. Esther, also known as the Godmother of Silicon Valley, is the author of How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results.
[2:17] Did Esther set out to raise CEOs?
[3:24] Esther explains the acronym TRICK: Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness.
[5:19] What does trust look like in our modern-day society?
[8:00] Perhaps we shouldn’t be so worried all the time.
[8:50] Esther explains why allowing babies to self-soothe can be a demonstration of trust.
[12:02] How can parents of toddlers show respect? Just listen!
[14:15] Don’t do anything for your children that they can do for themselves.
[15:12] Esther speaks about collaboration in the home.
[17:30] The profound impact of kindness.
Mentioned in this episode:
Visit Raise Successful People
Jessica: Great to have you with us today, Esther.
Esther: Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, and I’m very honored to be here with you. And I look forward to this exciting conversation.
Jessica: So I have to begin with a little bit of an edgy question: Did you set out to raise CEOs?
Esther: That’s a really great question. I can tell you honestly, I did not set out to raise CEOs.
My main goal for my daughters when they were born was I wanted to teach them to be as independent as possible. So that was really my goal, “How can I help them feel good about themselves and be independent?”, and it was a very simple goal, there were no parenting books that told me how to do it, there was no research and education institutions that told me how to do it. I just… This is what I wish I would have had when I was little. So I said, “This is what I want my daughters to grow up with. I want them to grow up with a sense that they can be independent and they can do whatever it is they choose to do.”
What is the parenting acronym TRICK?
Jessica: Tell me more about what you tease out in your book, the acronym TRICK.
Esther: So, yes in my book I put this acronym, and the purpose of putting the acronym is to help people remember in an easy way what I think is the most important part of parenting. And trick stands for “trust, respect, independence, collaboration and kindness”.
And so, what I say is, what you want to do is give your child as much trust and respect as possible. You might want to teach them how to do a few things, then let them do it and respect their ideas when they do things. Give them as much independence as possible, I want kids to feel independent, be independent. Collaborate with them instead of dictating. Parents in general, the general pattern, is that you dictate. You tell your child what to do and they have to do it. And so my goal was, “Let’s collaborate on this, let’s talk about why you have to do what you’re doing”, and see whether there’s some input from the child.
And then kindness, you need to treat them always with kindness. And Mr. Rogers, he said that there’s three things that guarantee success: Number one, kindness. Number two, kindness. And number three, kindness. So that’s something that always stuck with me, and I think it’s really important for us to remember how important kindness is in child-rearing, and in just personal relationships.
Jessica: You give beautiful examples and really vivid examples in your book about what does trust really look like for the child? Is there an anecdote that you could share with us of what trust can look like in our modern day society? I’m thinking about the Target example, where you had your grandchildren go into Target and shop for themselves, but maybe there’s another example, or maybe that’s the one.
Esther: What I did is I had, I have, still have them, I have 10 grandchildren, and two of them, two girls that were about 8 and 9, had to go to buy some school supplies. And Susan, my oldest daughter, asked me could I take them to go shopping for school supplies, and so I thought, “Well of course, they can go shopping for school supplies. What a fun experience.”
And then at the same time I had to take another child to get a haircut, so I thought to myself, “Well why don’t I just drop those two girls off at Target by themselves?” And this is the Target in Mountain View, California, it’s a very nice store. And I just dropped them off there and I said, “Hey girls, when you’re done, text me and I’ll come pick you up, and you’re supposed to buy school supplies so let’s just go in the store and you can get your school supplies and look around and then let me know.” And then I took the boy to get his haircut.
And in the middle of this whole experience, my daughter calls me, Susan, and she’s like, “So, how’s the shopping going with the girls?” And I said, “Well, I dropped them off at Target and they’re shopping, they’re going to call me when they’re done.” And there was this long silence on the phone, and then she was like, “Huh! What did you say? Where are the girls?” And I said, “Well, you know, they’re shopping.” She said, “You dropped them off alone at Target?” And I said, “Well, you know, last time I was at Target it looked pretty safe to me.” And I’m not kidding, they were so happy and so empowered by this experience.
It worked out beautifully for the girls and for everything, and I can tell you eventually Susan came around and said she thought it was a good idea. But it took a while, and I think she is, and all these mothers all over the country today, are all in this mindset that you don’t want to leave your child alone anywhere, and you always need to protect them.
I put the example in the book because I want people to realize that we are just all so ultra worried about things that perhaps we shouldn’t be that worried about.
One way to empower your child is to give them an opportunity to do things like this alone. Go to a store alone, if it’s not far away and they can walk or if you can drive them there.
Giving kids an opportunity to make a difference, maybe even make a dessert for the family, or come up with a plan for what we are going to do this weekend.
Jessica: My daughter Bea makes Bea-style eggs in the morning for everyone and cracks the eggs and whisks them, and I let her cook them on the stove and everybody loves her eggs. And she started doing that when she was four, so it’s really fun, it’s a source of pride for her. You talk about how you urge parents to allow their babies to self-soothe as a demonstration of trust. Can you explain that for us?
Esther: Yeah, so I think one thing that happens is babies are not given any opportunities to self-soothe, none. The minute that they start to whimper or do anything, we run in but, you know, if you give them an opportunity, I’m not saying an hour, I’m just saying a short period of time to self-soothe, they then learn how to self-soothe.
And we lived in France when Anne was an infant, and the philosophy in France is one of self-soothing. They don’t rush out the same way that American culture does, to just pick up the child and do everything for them. I remember thinking, when she was an infant, “Gee, this is an interesting way to do it.” But I did it, and it was very effective. And in France also they have these people, they’re kind of like nurses that come to your house after you have a baby, and they come once a week just to check and ask if you have any questions. And they promote this self-soothing. I can say that the entire country of France, all the people seem pretty normal to me, and they’ve all been through these childhoods where they learn to self-soothe.
Jessica: Yeah, I think it’s… I’ve heard of pausing, as a… Just pause. Your baby sometimes might grunt or might make some kind of little moans or little whimpers, but just pausing a little bit before going in can really make all the difference in helping them. You might notice that they will go back to sleep on their own.
Esther: That’s right. That’s exactly it, it’s pausing, it’s not just letting them scream, and you don’t want them to have a difficult experience but just give them an opportunity to do that.
Jessica: So, “respect” in the TRICK model. So let’s break down what respect really looks like. And imagine it’s like a parent of a toddler or pre-schooler.
Esther: So, starting early is a really good idea, and one of the reasons I say starting early works is because you don’t have to re-establish patterns of behavior later on. You’ve already established these patterns of behavior, and what I’m talking about with respect. You know, kids come up with the wackiest ideas. We all know that, right? And so respect means sitting there and listening. That’s the number one way to show respect, you listen to their ideas and then if they don’t make sense and if they are a little crazy you can help them reconstruct those ideas so that perhaps the kernel of that idea can be followed.
And that is really what I’m talking about with respect. Just to make it really simple. It’s just listening, listening makes such a big difference, and most of the time we don’t listen. When you’re dealing with a toddler, they’re irrational in many cases, as you know. But even if you don’t go with their idea, just the fact that you listened goes a long way. So that’s “respect”.
Jessica: The listening really resonates with me, especially around four little people, our little children just start talking and talking and talking, kind of at us, and then that just continues until 10 or 11, I find. And so just listening to them and listening to their ideas. I’m going to bring that advice home, Esther, tonight. I’m going to listen. My little guy Thatcher really loves to talk and he really loves an audience, and so I’m going to give him that respect. So thank you for that.
So you have a quote in your book, “Don’t do anything for your children that they can’t do for themselves”, which I love, and it really kind of sums up that independence part of the acronym TRICK. You talk about that in your book too some more, but I love these examples.
Esther: So, people… What I think happened in the world is that people had more access to resources, and they’re like, “Oh, I’m just going to do everything for my child that I possibly can do.” And what they did is they disempowered their child, because they do so many things for the child and the child just sits there and is trained to just receive. When they go to school, a lot of these kids feel at a loss because they don’t have that person there in their life that’s doing everything for them.
Jessica: You talk also in your book about the path to collaboration, and like all of the TRICK principles that you’ve laid out in your book, collaboration starting with you, and if you have a partner that you’re co-parenting with, it’s with your partner as well. Can you talk a little bit about what collaboration looks like?
Esther: Collaboration in the home is where I would start. So what you want to do is collaborate with your child as much during the day as you possibly can, instead of dictating. And it can start with just a meal, the breakfast. There can be options for breakfast and you can just say, “I have X, Y, and Z, and then you get to pick what you think you would like to have.” So I would give them as many opportunities to work with you as opposed to just following your directions. And I know it sounds like it takes more work, and initially it might take more work, but it will pay off and be much better later on. So that’s what I talk about, collaboration starting early, just small things. And then as they get bigger, collaboration on bigger things, doing a project together, going on a camping trip together. Just think about it, if you have…
It’s a mother, and let’s say you have two kids, and those kids are eight and 10, who packs the suitcase? That’s a test. If you packed everything for them and then they just follow your routine, then are they empowered? I would let them pack their own suitcase. Yes, they might forget important things, but trust me, they will then learn. And you will help them solve the problem, “What do you do when you forget you didn’t bring any underwear? Okay, so now what are we going to do?” But it’s a constant learning process, and kids rise to the occasion and they feel really happy about it.
Jessica: I’m taking so many notes [chuckle], as I’ve packed and unpacked my kids suitcases from this weekend. So I love this. And lastly, “kindness”. Can you help bring this to life for us?
Esther: Kindness makes such a huge difference in the world. Kids make mistakes, kids are supposed to make mistakes, they don’t know how to do things. And if you treat them with kindness, they will try to do it again, and they’ll do it with passion. And in the classroom as a teacher, I can tell you,
I always tried to look at it from their perspective. And they got into all kinds of trouble, I can tell you in all the years I was teaching, I don’t think I ever sent one kid to the office, not one. And it’s because I always felt I could talk to them about whatever it was they had done that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. I could have them right about it, and then they wouldn’t do it again. And you know, it sounds like a very simple process but it worked. I had kids who did things, plagiarized, and I had to work with them, or kids that came on campus with beer. If you come on the school campus with an alcoholic substance, they will expel you, it’s not just suspend you, it’s expel.
You can imagine what could happen. But kids, they don’t think clearly about things. So you need to help them and you need to make it clear that there’s always a way for them to do it again. And so I think kindness involves listening to them, empathizing with them, having compassion, and it makes a big difference in their lives.
And then for toddlers, toddlers who are always asking why. “Why? Why do I have to do this? Why don’t I have to do that. Why, why, why?” Try to be patient and explain it to them, and honestly. When they ask “why” it’s a sign of intelligence, you can put it in a special little bonnet where you say, “My child is asking questions because he’s a smart kid.”
Jessica: That’s such a fleeting stage too. I just wish I had a little toddler asking me “Why”, so to all the parents out there that are going to have a toddler asking “why”, or do you have one, enjoy. Esther, it’s been so wonderful having you with us today, thank you so much.
Esther: Thank you for inviting me.
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