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Stephanie Malia Krauss and "Whole Life, Whole Child"
Listening to our child's cues, leaning in to what nourishes them, and why you should stop at the scenic overlook.
Stephanie Malia Krauss is the author of “Whole Child, Whole Life: 10 Ways to Help Kids Live, Learn, and Thrive.”
Tell me about your book:
“Whole Child, Whole Life” was something that I wrote in response to requests I was getting form teachers, counselors and parents all over the country. In the middle of the pandemic, I had my first book come out, and that was focused on what young people need to be ready for adulthood. That’s an area I've explored for about 20 years. As I was talking about that, parents and educators were seeing such an elevation in worrisome behaviors, mental health concerns, and really just worried about their kids overall. So when I would talk about “Making It,” the question would come back, What do young people need right now? What are the couple of things I can focus on to make sure these kids are well?
I wrote this book as fast as I could, across 8 months, and it really focuses on the science of what young people need to thrive even when times are challenging, and how we as the adults who are taking care of them can protect them and support them. So the context is a little different, to attend to the fact that things can be really hard right now.
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So why aren’t we already doing these things?
The book covers 10 proven practices that have really held across generations and cultures as being supportive. At the end of the book, the very last practice is one that I often forget to do with my own kids. The reason why is easy — it’s just time scarcity and I feel like it’s not as important as the things we’re rushing to. And that practice is seeking awe and wonder. It has roots in this really cool body of research that kids are born with this inborn spirituality that we are by design made to question and wonder what's out there. And any time we experience awe — whether it’s standing at the Grand Canyon or a moment of seeing something that we’ve never seen before — it expands our worldview and it feeds that natural spirituality. And that can be with or without religion.
What’s really cool is that the science shows, as we strengthen that, that’s actually one of the strongest protective factors for kids against hardship. As I was writing that chapter, I took my kids on vacation and I noticed, even though we were on vacation, how many scenic overlooks I would drive past. So I made it a practice at the end of that vacation to be like, No, I’m going to practice seeking awe and I’m going to stop with my kids and see these beautiful things and watch them. And what happened was so powerful. Not only did I get to see them experience something beautiful that was stretching them; it woke something up in me too. And then it was a shared memory and experience.
Often, these are things we want to do, but we deprioritize because we think something else is more important, and often that’s what scheduled. So one of the things “Whole Child, Whole Life” does is affirm that some of the things we know are important and meaningful, actually are not only worth the time, but might matter more than we think.
Was there anything you learned or were surprised by when you were researching this book?
One of the beauties of writing something longer form is that you go on the journey yourself. This was written with the heart of a mom. I was writing the book I needed. Mhy oldest had struggled with mental health challenges that cropped up in the middle of the pandemic, and my youngest was living this COVID childhood. I wanted to do this look back and look forward to see if they were going to be OK. I was being really profoundly impacted by what I was learning.
One thing that was confirmed is that relationships matter more than anything. Ever. All the time. Whether you’re looking at, what are important factors to live well, to address mental health, to live for a long time, to have social health, to have emotional health, even to learn, the single thing that shows up is the power of nurturing relationships and the importance of community.
So when I am thinking about what to prioritize in the life of my kids, whether it’s a team that they are on, an activity that they are participating in, a club, ac academics, whatever it is, I have put the quality of interaction and relationships above everything else.
I think one of the pieces of information I didn’t know was how much the past impacts the present. The book addresses trauma, historic generational trauma, and the impacts of what can carry across generation. We are born with a kind of directional blueprint that has been passed down at least two or three generations through the maternal line. So experiences that my mom and my grandmother and my great grandmother had, and what they learned was safe and not safe, what they learned was worth being anxious or not anxious about, those light switches are part of my coding and have been passed down to my own kids. If we see behaviors that seem really out of place, or if a kid hits a particular time of life and something changes, a part of the holistic picture has to include that look back and at least the attention to it.
The great news is, we can unpack it and process it. My grandmother is still living and I had the experience of being able to have conversations with my mom and my grandmother as a mother myself to say, We have to talk about our family history because I need to know it for my children.
Compared to the household you grew up in, what’s one thing you’re doing differently as a parent?
I think there have been so many moments when I have unfairly judged my parents, because they truly did the best they could, and it was genuinely a difficult childhood for me. One of the things that I have realized has shifted in me, only in the last few years, has been shifting my orientation from, “I don’t want to be like,” whoever, to this understanding that my husband and I have built up a life where our kids get to have certain experiences.
Probably the most powerful thing for me is time and presence. I invest deeply in time with my kids. We always sit down for dinner with no technology. We play games. I deliberately set up our house with the idea of how my kids would kids age in it and how could they see themselves in every other room so that we wouldn't retreat, and we could be a safe space for other kids to go to.
Tell me something wonderful about your kid(s):
We had spring break last week, and my kids are 12 and 10, which means my 12-year-old was finally old enough for me to ask him if he wanted to get paid to babysit his younger brother. The only requirements were that he had to come up with a daily schedule that I would see, and that his younger brother needed to treat him like a baby sitter. So there were requirements for both of them.
But my 12 year old developed these schedules, and this is actually what inspired me to start taking cues from the, because they built in so many things that were important for them to rest and recharge. There was Lego and reading and eating healthy food and indoor basketball and all of these pieces. I was so impressed with how he could take over his own day and ask the question of, What do I need and what will my brother need in order for us to recharge and replenish in this week?
And my 10-year-old — I’m a writer and I'm a reader, and I think I'm most proud of him because he has taken a deep dive into Greek mythology, he loves Percy Jackson, and he’s found his first favorite author. He is now reading anything that author has ever written, and it s just so fun to see him light up with the magic of what reading can do. It’s just really caught fire.
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