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How To Raise Healthy, Happy Kids

Lissa RankinWhen I wrote the title of this blog, I think I might have been overly ambitious. How DO you raise healthy, happy kids? It’s a question I ponder almost every day and one my readers ask me about frequently.

Because I’m a mom, doctor, and entrepreneur, I’m often asked about my parenting choices, and as you may have noticed in my blog, I pretty much steer clear of anything you might call “mommy blogging,” not because I don’t have plenty to say about the topic but because:

a) Anything even beginning to resemble parenting advice can push a parent into a shame spiral quicker than you can blink
b) I want to protect Siena’s privacy
c) I don’t want to bore you with all too many details of my home life
d) With fabulous writers like my friend Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery mommy blogging, I have no business even getting in
that arena!

Parenting is one of those areas of greatest vulnerability for most of us. From the moment I saw the plus sign on my positive pregnancy test, I just knew I was going to do it all wrong.

Like me, most of you who are parents probably question yourselves all the time. We bumble through life as parents wondering whether we’re feeding our kids the right foods, sending them to the right schools, pushing them hard enough to excel vs. pushing them too hard, disciplining them enough but not too much, loving them well with our limited time and patience, teaching them the right life wisdom, boosting their self esteem enough.

YOU Know Best How To Parent Your Children!

The ways in which you can screw up as parents are endless. Some of you write to me and ask me about my parenting choices, and I’m reluctant to answer you, because ONLY YOU know how to best parent your kid. The choices I make as a mother only apply to my little family – not yours. And I don’t want you to judge yourself – or me – based on the choices I make.

But with that disclaimer, I’m going to dedicate this blog to a few select questions from readers, as long as you promise not to use them as some measuring stick by which you’ll judge anyone, especially yourself. I’m sure you’re doing a great job with your own kids!

1.  From your Facebook posts, Siena seems so self-assured, creative, and spiritual. What have you done to raise such an exceptional child?

Yes, Siena is exceptional. But every child is exceptional. I believe every child is born with an inborn divine spark, and the worst thing we can do as parents is extinguish this natural spark. We do this by trying to impose our will upon our children, by controlling them, by competing with them, by criticizing them, by undermining their natural genius, by dismissing their creativity, by physically harming them, by neglecting them, by manipulating them, and by imposing upon them the limiting beliefs, self-sabotaging behaviors, and patterns we’ve inherited from our own childhoods. We do many of these things unconsciously through habitual behaviors, so the best thing we can do as parents is increase our own awareness through personal growth work aimed at helping us be more conscious, mindful individuals aware that we are all spirits having a human experience.

2. How are you educating your daughter?

Siena attends a private school inspired by Waldorf, not because we have elitist beliefs about public school (Matt and I both attended public schools), but because she attended her school for preschool and we loved the school’s philosophy so much, we chose to keep her there. What I love most is that the school nurtures the spiritual growth of the children without being religious, and it fosters immense creativity, as well as very healthy non-competitive social skills.

3. What do you feed Siena?

Whatever we’re eating. She never gets special food. Even as a baby, we just blended our dinner in a food processor and turned it into baby food. I joke that we’re “raw vegan omnivores” because we eat a lot of raw, vegan foods, but we also eat meat from time to time. Siena loves vegetables, and I’ve taught her how to help me cook, so she’s really proud to eat the stir fry she cut and stirred herself. She adores heirloom tomato soup, which we just made this week from tomatoes we got at the farmer’s market. She won’t drink the green juice Matt and I drink daily, but if we mix it with half apple juice and freeze it into molds, she loves “green apple popsicles.” She also loves my go-to smoothie – kale, frozen mango and coconut water.

The most unhealthy thing she eats is her Annie’s mac & cheese (a Daddy staple when Mama is on the road). We do let her eat sugar on special occasions, but mostly, fruit is her dessert. She really will eat anything except avocado, olives, and spicy food. Go figure.

4. You talk a lot about how we program the subconscious mind of our children by the time they’re seven. Siena is seven. What have you done to keep her mind healthy?

I was in the middle of writing Mind Over Medicine when I interviewed Bruce Lipton, and some of what he told me terrified me! I filled Matt in, and because Siena was four, we figured we had a few good years to do some serious reprogramming. The most notable thing we did was work on the limiting belief we had been instilling that you can’t heal yourself. We had been raising her to believe that when she got injured or sick, she needed to go to the “kid factory” to get a new knee or a new nose. She also was learning that getting sick or injured meant that the solution lies in a doctor or a medication.

After talking to Bruce, we started teaching Siena how the body is brilliantly equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms and can heal itself. So now, we’ll put on a Band-aid and say, “This is just to keep your boo boo clean while your body heals itself.” Or we’ll give her cold medicine and say, “This is just to help you feel better until your body heals itself.” She corrects everyone now! “You know your body can heal itself…”

5.  What are you doing to make sure you raise your daughter with a healthy body image?

Siena is exceptionally beautiful in that blue-eyed, blond-haired California girl way, and from the time she was an infant, modeling agents stopped me in airports to ask if they could represent her. We made a decision early on that we would not be letting her model until she was old enough to make an adult decision about modeling (I picked the brains of a few supermodels, just to make sure Matt and I were making the right decision). I just never wanted her growing up thinking that her value lies in her beauty. In fact, we try to discourage people from even mentioning her beauty, encouraging them to focus instead on how kind, creative, smart and friendly she is. I think it’s very important to be careful what we say about the appearance of our children, even if it’s positive feedback. Because whether it’s positive or negative, if kids build their self-worth, or lack thereof, on something external, there can be lasting consequences down the road.

One of the best ways to help a girl grow up with a healthy body image is to model one. I try not to ever critique my body or my weight in front of Siena. A mother with a healthy body image is more likely to raise a child with a healthy body image.

6. Did you vaccinate your daughter?

Yes. I know it’s a controversial topic, but I chose what I thought was best for my child and respect your right to choose what suits you. You can read my thoughts about it here.

7. How do you balance a busy career and motherhood?

That’s the hardest question and could use a blog post all on its own (in fact, I did write one – about how I chose my daughter over Good Morning America here). But in short, part of how I manage being a mother and a businesswoman is that I have great help. Matt doesn’t work outside the house, and he’s been Siena’s full time caregiver from the time she was born. We also have April, who lives in our guest house and loves and helps care for Siena, and also helps in the kitchen. She helps free up Matt so he can pursue his own passions. Matt and April do most of the school deliveries and tooth-brushing, so I try to make my time with Siena high quality time. We have family dinners whenever I’m home. Siena and I write her books together (she’s on book #3). We read. We play games. We pick Goddess cards. I teach her Mama Mojo Tips and she teaches me Siena Mojo Tips. We go on family outings and family vacations.

But I’d be lying if I said I don’t constantly beat myself up for not being there enough. Matt is forever reassuring me that Siena is growing up confident, secure, and full of Mama love, but I feel guilty often, and I say no to many opportunities that would benefit my career because they require travel. I love my work and feel very purposeful in my mission, but if I succeed in my mission at the expense of my child’s happiness, I chose wrong. That reality is always at the forefront of my mind.

8. Is Siena involved in any extracurricular activities?

She’s been taking ballet and guitar lessons. But we’re also really encouraging her to be a kid. She plays in the yard a lot with her two BFFs. (You can read about her grand adventure here, yikes!) She paints all the time and has had her own art show. She loves to help me cook. She dictates stories to me and I type them and she illustrates them, and we self-publish them on Blurb.com so she can have book signings like Mama. Mostly, she’s seven, so she does a lot of kid stuff!

9. What’s the most important parenting tip you’d give a parent?

I have two. Love your kid unconditionally, and trust your intuition. Unconditional love – real unconditional love, where you love your children even if they’re not behaving how you want them to – will heal a variety of other goofs. And ignore any parenting advice you hear if it doesn’t resonate with your own instincts. Nobody knows your child better than you.

What Parenting Advice Do YOU Have?

Share your parenting wisdom in the comments below.

Doing the best I can,

Lissa Rankin

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Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities – HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.

  • Linda Burke

    Great blog post Lissa! One of the best books I have read about the challenges of parenting has been “The Blessing of a B-” by Wendy Mogel. I am not of Jewish descent, but I found so much positive, empowering advice — it really helped me open myself to the notion that our kids have their own journey, and I do not need to inject myself into everything with the intent of “protecting” them….!

  • NancyJo

    I did this with my four kids, and it worked beautifully to maintain order :0)
    To build trust, always do what you say you will do, good or bad. If I promised
    we would go to the dollar store to pick out a gift for each of them if they would play amongst themselves as I did the necessary household chores, then come hell or
    high water we would go so I could hold up my end of the
    bargain if they held up theirs. They learned to trust that my word was my bond.
    Have fun. My children are one of my greatest gifts. Hugs, NancyJo