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The WD Interview – William Sears, MD

May 5th, 2008 · No Comments · Education



William Sears, one of America’s most renowned pediatricians, is the father of eight children, ages 6 to 31 years, author of 40 + books on childcare.


What makes a ‘successful parent’?

The key is being connected to your child. We certainly all have love for our children, but getting connected with your child helps you to get to know your child. One thing I think we have learned with our eight children is to understand why a child does something or how we should react.  A little trick we use is to get behind the eyes of our child. We asked ourselves: “If I were my child’s mother, how would I want my mother to act?”


What’s the best way to deal with toddler tantrums?

Realize that there are two types of tantrum. One is the frustration tantrum – toddlers try to do more than they are capable of such as attempting to climb over something. In these tantrums you have to help your child – the parent becomes a facilitator. Parents don’t do things for the child, but help them to do things for themselves. You help the child out of a jam.


Then there are manipulation tantrums when the toddler learns that the more they cry the more they get their way. Those kind of tantrums need to be disciplined by the parent. The parent needs the child to know that manipulation tantrums are not going to be listened to by saying things such as: “ I will listen to you when you use your nice voice.”



What’s the best way to discipline a child?

We have had eight children and we have had to have a very disciplined home for our own survival. In our home discipline to us was creating a home environment in which you like living with your children. It’s a very simple way to look at discipline. Discipline begins with trust – people tend to think of discipline as punishment – we look at discipline as creating an atmosphere and attitude within your child so punishment is less necessary and where it is less necessary it’s more appropriate.


How can you boost a parent’s confidence? Do you think modern parents too tough on themselves?

Yes, I do. You do the best you can with the resources you have and the rest is up to the child. I think parents take too much blame. I don’t want to sound preachy, but I think these days children get too much ‘stuff’’ i.e. material things. They don’t need all that stuff. They need human interaction.


Should you use different techniques for boys and girls?

Yes and no. The usual techniques of good parenting apply to both genders. I think the temperament of the child is more important than the gender. I don’t see much difference at all in the disciplining and parenting of a boy or a girl. I think what helps parents in to realize that they are helping to train up future husbands and wives, future mothers and fathers. What is important for boys and girls is to see how their parents treat each other. Especially for girls a father is the first significant male in their lives. I had to give a talk to some young fathers the other day and I asked my grown-up daughter for advise on what to tell them. She said: “ Just tell them to be the man they want their daughter to marry.” I thought that was good advice.


How do you measure parenting success?

I don’t measure our success by the fact that four of our older children have all gone through college and are now doctors. We are happy about that, but we look at our three married children who are parents; we see how they are raising their children using the tools we taught them. That’s success. Raising connected kids is one of the most important phrases in parenting, because so many of the kids that make the headline of the newspaper go to jail or do drugs. This boils down to one thing: they are unconnected kids. I see our kids connected to their families, to us and other people, being kind and caring. When my sons joined me in our medical practice I told them: “Your success in life is not measured by the money you make or the degrees earn, but rather the number of people’s lives that get better because of what you do.” That’s how we measure success in our kids.


What are the biggest challenges facing parents today? – How can they solve it?

One big challenge over here in the US is financial. Mothers have to leave babies in daycare in order to go back to work. I am talking about mothers who have to; not want to. That’s a huge challenge and that’s where the government is really wrong. If I could be Prime Minister for the day, one of the first things I would do is to pay mothers to stay home for the first year. So many social things could be done to help mothers in the workplace.


What is your proudest achievement as a parent?

Staying happily married for forty years.


Can you avoid making mistakes?

No. You are going to make mistakes and we believe that every time you make a mistake, you are turning a problem into an opportunity. It’s ok to apologise to your child: “Mummy blew it – I was tired – I reacted too quickly – I didn’t think through. I want you learn one of the keys to life: think through what you are about to do. Well, I didn’t think and I reacted wrongly.” If you do make a mistake, turn into a teachable moment.


If you have a difficult child, can you still be a successful parent?

Absolutely, it’s just more challenging. We do have a child that needs more intense care and intense parenting than the others. These children bring out the best and the worst in you. But with these children, the rewards are even greater because you see the pay-off through your efforts.



If you had your chance again would you do anything differently i.e., has your understanding of successful parenting changed over the years?

As a father, I wasn’t as involved in the first year of the first two children as I should have been. I thought that Martha was such a good mother; I’d get more involved when they got older and wanted to play football or something. That was a big mistake. If I had to do something over again I would have gotten involved much earlier. I learned that after the third child.


What single piece of advice would you give all parents?

Enjoy your children.



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