Dr. Michaeleen Doucleff has reported on COVID variants, vaccines and boosters and is known to NPR listeners for her science reporting and her enthusiastic delivery. She was part of the team that earned a George Foster Peabody Award for its coverage of the ebola outbreak in West Africa.
We spoke with Doucleff about her book and shared portions of our conversation with the Insight audience. It is a study in sociology that parents and non-parents can enjoy.
On why she wrote the book
“You know, two reasons: One, I was a desperate parent. I felt like I was really failing as a mom when my little girl was two and three. I was flailing. I mean, I tried everything that I read. I tried reading scientific studies. I couldn’t handle her. I couldn’t handle her tantrums. Like I say in the book, I would walk out of the house in the morning with a handprint on my face because she would hit me so often. And then, while I was reporting for NPR, I started to learn about parenting around the world – parenting in the Yucatan, parenting in the Arctic, parenting in Tanzania – and I started to realize that, whoa, there’s like a whole other way of doing this than I’d been taught. And when I started trying what these parents were teaching me, here in San Francisco, I was amazed at how well it worked. And that was really why I wrote the book, because the things that I learned, that parents taught me, were like miracles in our home and have transformed our home. Like my husband says, we cannot go back.”
On the underlying message
“The book is about learning to cooperate with people. It’s about cooperating with kids, and minimizing conflict with kids, but it’s also about cooperating with anyone, and minimizing conflict with anyone.”
On the cultures she and her daughter visited
“The Maya are well-known. The Maya raise incredibly helpful kids. They can wake up in the morning and want to help around the house. One morning I saw a 12-year-old wake up on her spring break, walk past her mother and start washing the dishes in the kitchen. Nobody asked her. The Inuit have these incredibly sophisticated tools for teaching kids to control their emotions — teaching anger control, executive function. And then the Hadzabe in Tanzania are world-renowned for raising confident, self-sufficient kids. All the anxiety and depression that we deal with kids in the US is unheard of in this community.”
On kids and chores
“It’s getting kids to want to do the chores, to motivate them, to get excited about them. There’s a way of doing that. You basically make it a social event. “We’re going to do this together.” If the kid doesn’t want to do it, if they’re older and they don’t want to do it, then, “Just come over and be with me. Show me whatever activity you’re interested in. Tell me about your boyfriend. Come over and hang out with me while I cook dinner.” And then, while they’re there – and this is what I did on some adults that I interact with – you just kind of casually get them to help. “Hey, can you grab the onions from the refrigerator? Do you mind cutting this cilantro?” Not much. Just one or two things a night. If you do this every night, it becomes fun. The kid is talking to you about what they like, but the kid is also learning how to cut the cilantro, how to make the dish you’re making. And over time, the kid will be able to make dinner. And they’ll want to make dinner because it becomes something fun. It becomes something that they do with you. Especially younger kids. They want to just be with their parents. Just be there. It will work. It will take a couple months, but it will work. I guarantee you.”
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.