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Raising Happy Productive Kids with Dr. Dona Matthews, Could It Be Simpler Than We Think? (Ep. 109)

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Welcome to the Balancing Busy Podcast, your go-to destination for finding harmony in the chaos of modern life. I’m Leah Remillet, your host, and today’s episode is all about simplifying parenthood and nurturing happy, thriving children. In a world filled with endless demands and distractions, we often overlook the simple yet profound keys to raising joyful kids. Join me and special guest Dr. Donna Matthews, PhD, as we explore how focusing on family connections and embracing simplicity can lead to greater happiness for both parents and children alike.

Meet Dr. Donna Matthews PhD

Dr. Donna Matthews has dedicated her career to understanding the optimal development of children. With a background in psychology and education, she has taught at universities in both Canada and the US, ran a private practice focused on gifted and special needs children, and served as the founding director of the Hunter College Center for Gifted Studies and Education in New York.

Dr. Matthews is the author of several books, including her most recent work, “Imperfect Parenting: How to Build a Relationship with Your Children to Weather Any Storm.

Happiness Starts at Home

Matthews paints a vivid picture of how the foundation of a child’s happiness is laid right within the walls of their family abode. It’s not just about the physical space; it’s about the emotional climate we create—one that’s brimming with love, understanding, and support.

In this nurturing environment, parents play the role of architects, crafting a sanctuary where their children feel not only safe but truly cherished. It’s about more than just providing the basics; it’s about showering our kids with affection, attention, and encouragement so they know they’re valued for who they are, quirks and all.

From bedtime stories to impromptu dance parties in the living room, every interaction becomes an opportunity to reinforce the bonds of love and create lasting memories. And amidst life’s inevitable ups and downs, this sense of belonging and security becomes a beacon of light for our children—a constant reminder that no matter what challenges they face, they’re never alone.

Gratitude: The Secret Ingredient

The secret ingredient that holds the key to unlocking happiness

But here’s the twist—

it’s not just about saying “thank you” when someone holds the door or hands you your lunch order. It’s about embracing gratitude as a way of life, weaving it into the fabric of our everyday routines. And as parents, we lead by example, modeling gratitude in our words and actions. From expressing appreciation for a homemade meal to highlighting the beauty of nature during a family hike, we show our children that gratitude isn’t just a sentiment; it’s a superpower that empowers us to find joy in even the smallest of moments.

When we teach our children to embrace gratitude, we equip them with a lifelong tool for happiness—one that will guide them through life’s twists and turns with grace and gratitude.

Tackling Entitlement with Empathy

Entitlement—a word that sends shivers down the spine of many parents, conjuring images of spoiled kids, tantrums, and demands. But what if tackling entitlement didn’t have to be a battle of wills? What if empathy held the key to unlocking a deeper connection and understanding?

Dr. Matthews illuminates the power of empathy. Instead of wagging our fingers and preaching about gratitude, she suggests we put ourselves in our kids’ shoes. By acknowledging their feelings and gently nudging them towards empathy and gratitude, we’re not just raising happy kids; we’re sculpting compassionate little humans who know how to navigate life’s twists and turns with grace and resilience.

So, the next time your child slips into entitlement, take a deep breath and dive beneath the surface. Acknowledge their feelings with empathy, validating their frustrations while gently guiding them towards a more grateful and empathetic mindset.

It’s not about dismissing their emotions but rather helping them navigate the complex landscape of feelings with resilience and grace. By fostering empathy and understanding, we equip our children with the tools they need to overcome challenges and cultivate deeper connections with others.

Self-Care for Sanity

Dr. Matthews reminds us that self-care isn’t just a luxury; it’s a necessity for our well-being and our ability to nurture happy kids.

So, carve out some “me time” amidst the madness. Whether it’s a bubble bath, a solo walk in nature, or simply curling up with a good book, prioritize self-care like your sanity depends on it—because it does.

Because when we take care of ourselves, we show our children the importance of prioritizing well-being and finding balance in a busy world. So go ahead, indulge in a little self-care guilt-free. After all, a happy parent is the secret ingredient to raising happy kids.

Choosing Happiness

Happiness isn’t just a destination; it’s a journey—a series of choices we make every day. Dr. Matthews invites us to embrace happiness not as a fleeting emotion but as a conscious decision to find joy in the ordinary moments of life.

It’s about savoring the taste of a ripe strawberry, laughing until your sides ache, and finding beauty in the everyday chaos of family life. It’s about recognizing that happiness isn’t dependent on our circumstances but on our mindset and perspective.

Raising happy kids is a journey filled with challenges and rewards. By prioritizing physical health, fostering strong family connections, cultivating gratitude, addressing entitlement, practicing self-care, and embracing happiness as a choice, parents can empower their children to lead fulfilling lives. Join us next week as we continue our conversation with Dr. Matthews, focusing on raising resilient kids. Thanks for tuning in to the Balancing Busy Podcast!



Donna’s Website | Donna on Facebook

On Amazon: Imperfect Parenting: How to Build a Relationship With Your Child to Weather any Storm

I’d love to connect and know your thoughts on this episode. Find me on Instagram!


Ep 96: Navigating Phones and Social Media With Our Kids

Ep 107: Balancing Screen Time For Our Kids

Ep 21: Helping Our Kids Balance The Busy

Leah: Welcome to the Balancing Busy Podcast. I’m your host, Leah Remillet. And today we are jumping into another area that helps us to just feel more balanced in every single area of our life. And one of the places I love coming to again and again is Our families, our roles as moms, as parents, and how we can help our kids to find that balance and just all the good things.

So today we are talking with my guest, Dr. Donna Matthews, PhD. I’m extra excited because this is actually going to become this week’s episode and next week’s. It was so good. There were so many different directions I wanted to go that I was like, okay, we are stopping one. We’re then hitting record again.

And I want to go into a completely different direction. So this week we’re going to be talking about helping our kids to be happy. Oh, because you can’t feel [00:01:00] balanced if you don’t feel happy. So we are going to dive deep into how we raise happy kids and also how we ourselves find more happiness. And then next week we’re going to shift this and we’re going to talk about Raising resilient kids, kids who can weather any storm, who can handle whatever life throws.

And unfortunately we can’t avoid that hard things are going to be thrown at our kids. We can’t, we can’t remove all of that. And we shouldn’t is one of the things we’re going to talk about in that episode. So Donna Matthews PhD has worked with children, families, and schools since 1990. She taught psychology and education at universities in Canada and the U S.

Ran a private practice focused on gifted and other special needs, and she was the founding director of the Hunter College Center for Gifted Studies and Education in New York. She has [00:02:00] published dozens of articles among multiple books as well. I’m going to have the links for those in our show notes. She is the author or editor of seven books on various aspects of supporting children And their optimal development and her most recent book is Imperfect Parenting, how to build a relationship with your children to weather any storm.

And that is one of the themes that you’re going to hear through these two episodes that we are going to keep talking about. So without anything else, let’s jump in and learn how to help raise our kids to just be happier [00:03:00] I am so excited to welcome Dr. Donna Matthews with us today. Thank you so much for being here. 

Dona: My pleasure. 

Leah: I am especially excited because I feel like. We are not only getting your educational expertise, which is profound, and you have, you know, a lot of experience that way, but also as a grandma.

So I’m like, oh, we’re getting like all of the goodness here. So I’m just so excited for this conversation. Will you just take a moment and what would it be that you would want everybody to know about you? 

Dona: so by my initial area of interest as I started by my graduate work in psychology was intelligence, the nature of intelligence.

What is it? How [00:04:00] does it develop? What can parents and teachers do to support the development of a child’s intelligence? And as I explored that field in my research, My area of initial expertise was giftedness, so kids who are exceptionally advanced in one area or another, and creativity. So what is it that leads to that kind of exceptional development, exceptionally advanced development?

And so I worked in that field for a long time and, um, I started the Center for Gifted Studies at, at, uh, Hunter College, City University of New York. So that was an area of, of interest. But as I worked, as I spent more time working with kids and schools and families around that kind of exceptionality, um, I became [00:05:00] most interested in taking everything we’ve learned about, about advanced development and then sharing it more broadly with a wider audience.

What does this mean for every child? So what are the kinds of things that families and schools and teachers and psychologists and others can do to support kids optimal development? So, So with the last, I don’t know, 10 or 20 years, the last 10 or 15 years, I guess, um, I’ve been working much more with the idea of happiness and well being, resilience, all of those kinds of things, because in my strong opinion at this stage of my life.

Those are the things that matter most. So intelligence is great. It’s important. I still believe it’s important, but, um, [00:06:00] I think there are other things that are more important. So, so that’s, I mean, that’s a little, a little summary of my career to date. 

Leah: I love that. And so there’s a little test that I give things as I’m trying to decide what to focus on.

And I, and it’s the good, better, best, because honestly, all the things in my life really are good, right? And yet, as I’m trying to figure out how to balance, I have to ask myself, okay, Is this good? Is this better or is the best thing? And ultimately what I have come to over and over and over is that my family is always best.

Always. Right? Like it’s, it’s just, that is always the best choice. And our wellbeing, our happiness, us being rooted together is, it ultimately becomes the most important thing to me. So I want to have a conversation with you and talk about how we teach our kids to choose [00:07:00] happiness. You’re seeing and realizing in your career, wow, you know what they really need?

They, they need to know how to be happy. I mean, cause we’ve all seen brilliant, brilliant minds that are tortured, that are miserable. And so, right, clearly intelligence. Does not equal happiness. We all have seen very wealthy people who are miserable, so wealth doesn’t mean happiness, so, yep. So let’s start with what is the root for happiness in your mind?

And then kind of bring that into whose job is it to ensure our kids happiness? And then we’ll go. Okay. 

Dona: Okay. I like it. I like, I like the direction you’re taking this. Excuse. Sorry. The, um, thinking about. What leads to happiness? I mean, there’s so much involved, right? So there’s physical health, physical well being.

So all those health habits of getting enough [00:08:00] sleep, eating well, lots of exercise, lots of time outside. I think that outdoor play is extremely important. If, if you want your children to be happy, I think making time for being outdoors. It’s, it’s very important, it’s very sort of underrated and, and not honored enough I think in a lot of families.

Um, so, uh, those are, that’s sort of a very basic thing, sort of a child’s physical well being, but that sort of moves into emotional, social, psychological well being, as well as cognitive well being, interestingly. All those healthy habits. of nutrition, sleep, et cetera, um, do support every kind of development.

So a child who is thriving and finding, um, excitement, things that they [00:09:00] want to do and being supported in doing them. So I’ve moved off into a different area. It’s all interconnected though. Happiness, it seems to me, is like the culmination of everything going well. So you’ve got the physical development in one dimension.

Then, equally important, more important, maybe, is connections, family connections. As you say, for a child’s development, The single most important thing is the love they feel in their family. If a child feels loved and accepted and supported, valued, cherished, they’re probably going to do okay. So, so having at least one person in a child’s life who feels really strongly, positively about that child is, is like [00:10:00] a, uh, it’s golden in terms of resilience and happiness both.

Um, sort of further to that, so that’s all the connection in the family and the physical well being is like the foundation. necessary, but not sufficient for happiness, right? Great starting place. the, the next thing that I would say after the physical wellbeing. After the solid loving connections, dependably loving connections, right? Reliable. Um, so a child knows they’re loved and valued. Um, one such simple, but I think extremely powerful thing is to show your child gratitude and make sure you model gratitude in your own life for all [00:11:00] the good things that come along and find good things.

So look for things for which you maybe ought to be grateful and talk about that with your child. And similarly to Expect gratitude from them also. And I know lots of families think that they don’t feel comfortable insisting that their child thank them when they do something. So a mom creates a meal. I think it’s important that the child expresses some kind of gratitude for that.

So learning to find what you’re thankful for is something that, I mean, there’s, there’s good, solid research showing that gratitude and attitude of gratitude. [00:12:00] Yes. I know it’s just awful. 

Leah: No, I love it. I literally, one of my questions I have for you is about like, Okay, this attitude of gratitude. How do we cultivate?

So I just love that you already said it, but keep going. Oh, okay. Yep. 

Dona: Yep. No, it’s, it’s one of my, my things. I think it’s, it’s so important and I see it in, in kids I’ve worked with through the years and kids in my own life and my family and, and friends. The um, Children who, who experience and express gratitude are happier and kids, the, the opposite of gratitude is entitlement.

Yes. And, you know, and I find, personally, I find entitled kids, I find that really unattractive. I don’t like to see that. Kids who, who aren’t feeling or expressing or appear not to be feeling. [00:13:00] grateful. Instead, they expect just what they want when they want it. Um, and they think that’s okay. 

Leah: And I think kids can go through Ups and downs, right?

I mean, I’ve definitely had moments as a parent where I’m like, I’m seeing lots of gratitude. We’re clearly doing a good job on focusing on gratitude. They’re saying a lot of things. And then I’ve absolutely had moments where I’m like, Whoa, what is happening? Why are they acting so entitled right now? So can we take a minute and talk about if, if a parent is finding themselves in that moment where they’re like, okay, yeah, we’ve got a problem.

They’re starting to act very entitled. I think there’s definitely, you know, time going into adolescence, right? As they’re starting to hit that teenage years that it can really suddenly show up. And so how do we, how do we course correct? How do we help them recognize and stop that behavior? 

Dona: Yeah, and, and I love just how you described it.

You’re [00:14:00] so right. It’s natural, it’s normal, and, and for lots of reasons. It can be, uh, on a sort of a very temporary level, a child’s tired and grouchy and doesn’t feel good, so. You know, yeah, good point. 

Leah: Just like us, just like sometimes I forget to be grateful because I am tired and hungry and it’s been too long of a day.

So I love that reminder. Yeah, 

Dona: absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. It’s normal to be grouchy. Um, sometimes, , And then, as you point out, there are stages of a child’s life, and that early adolescent time, sort of starting somewhere around 10 or 11 and going for the next few years, oh my goodness, I mean, those kids, they’re going through so much, you know, the hormonal changes, the, there’s so much going on in their bodies and in their head, that, that to expect them to behave well all the time is, is wrong.

At the same time, [00:15:00] you are helping them if you, so if you’re in that moment that you just described, which is so normal, where you’re a parent and you’re looking around and you’re saying, This isn’t okay, you know, right. Um, you know what do what I do myself with grandkids now, or, you know, when my kids were little with them, um, I do, I stop everything.

I say, okay, take a minute, everybody take a breath. And then, and then, you know, my grandkids now grown, when they hear this coming, they know what’s coming. Cause I’m going to say, okay. Okay, Jackson, what are you grateful for right now? And you know, a kid who’s in the middle of a grump. Right, right. It can be tricky to find something.

Well, it [00:16:00] can be, but it shocks them into changing the mind. You know, changing their way of behaving. And so it’s lovely. It’s, uh, you know, I see it on their faces, they, you know, because they know I’m serious, that we’re not going to continue until they’ve identified, you know, and so they know I’m not joking, you know, I’m friendly about it, I’m, you know.

It’s, it’s a good natured question that I’m asking them and maybe I start by saying, you know what? I, I am grateful that you’re here and that we’re here together. That makes me happy. So my best thing is when I have time with you. What are you grateful for right now? 

Leah: I know you’re not. I love this. And I, this is, this has made me so happy because I do this with my kids.

Where, you know, if I notice them being especially grumpy, everything’s wrong, right? I can see they’re in a fixed mindset where they’re just, everything’s wrong. It’s all a problem. And so I’ll be like, Oh, okay, nope. Let’s make a list of what we’re [00:17:00] grateful for. And I get all the groans. I get all the, like, you know, just the biggest, most dramatic, you know, Uggs and sighs and all that stuff.

And so it feels good to be like, Oh my gosh. Okay. You do this also. Okay. I’m like, I’m, you know, I, I’m letting them, maybe this is a good thing. Cause I do. It’s interesting. I love to hear your, your opinion and I’m just going to be vulnerable and share. I understand how people say like, we need to allow our feelings.

Right. And, but then I’m, I don’t know if I’m going to get, get slack for this, but I hear people say all feelings are good. And I’m like, I don’t agree with that. Actually. I, and I don’t even agree with that. All feelings are valid. Like, I actually think that sometimes I’m like, cause I don’t know. All I have to do is look at myself personally and admit that there are times where no, my feelings are not healthy.

They’re not good. They’re not appropriate. They’re not going to serve me. Right. Or that like, [00:18:00] sometimes my feelings aren’t valid because I’m only looking at it from my lens and I’m missing a very huge piece of the puzzle that if once I recognize and see it, then I’m like, Oh my gosh, you know what? I was being a jerk.

Right. Or whatever it is. And so. So I, I’m loving this. Now, is there anything that I should, that you would adjust with that way of thinking or that I should think of in addition or differently? 

Dona: A little bit, one thought that comes to mind and, and I’m guessing that you understand this just based on what you’ve said, but I, I do think It’s important to always validate that the child is feeling it.

So, I know you’re feeling angry that I’m not letting you have another bowl of ice cream. I know I get it. You know, I’m making this decision [00:19:00] in what I consider to be your best interest. I know you’re mad at me right now. So, even though, in my opinion, the anger is not okay, um, At the same time, I think it’s important to acknowledge that they are having those feelings.

So I would say, um, you know, I would maybe say, okay, Let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about what’s happened today or, you know, I’ve sort of find some way to have them think about whatever it is they’re feeling and see if they can connect it back to something, you know, if I feel like it’s, uh, an inappropriate feeling or a feeling that’s not serving them well.

Um, so let’s talk about this. But I do think it’s important to acknowledge the validity of the feeling, like it’s [00:20:00] always okay to be sad. It’s always okay to be angry. You know, those negative feelings are okay. It’s, it’s then where do you go next? Yes, I like that. Yeah. And so if, if I’m sad, you know, I, I can’t just say, Oh, well, I, it’s not okay to be sad.

It’s always, this may not be the time and place for me to go there. So I’ll make a note to myself, you know, I’m growing up, so I’ll say, okay, I do need to think about what this is. But for now, in this circumstance, it’s not the time to indulge my feelings or feel my feelings, right? So I think, you know, one of our jobs as parents is to help our kids.

their feelings, but then move on. So the entitled child, that’s a [00:21:00] tough, that’s a tough one. I mean, I think gratitude is the pathway to helping them move beyond it, but they’ve got They’ve got there honestly, any, any feelings a child has or an adult has there, they come from somewhere real and yeah, and so the, the validation of the fact of the feeling is important and I think it’s a, a necessary precursor to moving past the feeling.

Leah: I like that because I do think the key isn’t to. The answer isn’t to, to say that their feelings aren’t real or valid or acceptable, or you, you shouldn’t be allowed to feel that way. Because honestly, we can’t really control always, right? Like there are times when I really don’t want to be sad in that moment.

It is a very awkward, inappropriate time because I’m, you know, in a, in a group setting, but I can’t turn it off. So, but I like that idea, [00:22:00] but that the focus is you’re feeling this and I get it, or I see it, like. And when, when you’re ready, or, you know, sometimes as parents, we might need to step in maybe before they think they’re ready, because we know that that’s the best answer, helping them move past that.

I love that. So I want to shift from, for a moment and just take to Obviously, I think we can all recognize that, okay, happiness is so deeply predicated on gratitude and is going to be best modeled, but the honest truth is sometimes we as parents are having a hard time and so to the mama who is like, okay, I want my kids to be happy, like very worthy, wonderful goal, and I want them to feel gratitude, but I’m going to be honest, I’m having a hard time right now.

Gratitude is eluding me. Happiness is eluding me. How does she help herself so that she can then help them? Yep. 

Dona: And, and [00:23:00] you’re right. You modeling what you want to see in your kids, it’s really the only way they’ll learn it. Like you have to, if, if you want happy kids, you’re going to have to find a way.

Being happy yourself, you’re going to have to take good care of yourself. And I think that’s the foundation. So I’m going to go back to sleep, nutrition, exercise, time outdoors. We’re all like, 

Leah: Oh, Oh, I got it. That’s the problem. Okay.

Dona: So, you know, taking good care of yourself in this, my most recent book is, is like really the, it’s imperfect parenting. And it’s sort of accepting that every parent has, um, you know, is, is human and is Going to, it’s, it’s extremely challenging being a [00:24:00] parent, like in my life, yeah, in, in my life, like I’ve done a lot of things, but.

Easily the hardest job, like just without, it’s not a question, hardest job I ever did was being a mom. It was the most satisfying job. It was, I got the most, oh my goodness, the most biggest rewards out of it. But, oh my goodness, like it took me down to the depths being a parent was like, it’s 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Like it goes on and on and on. And the challenges just keep on changing as soon as you’ve got it. As soon 

Leah: as you think you’ve got it, as soon as you’re in it, I mean, you know, one of the things, cause I’m always talking about balance. And I think it’s. But it’s really true [00:25:00] in all of our areas of life. Often, as soon as you think you’ve got it, ha ha, there’s a whole new season that shows up, and now you’re trying to figure it all out again, and so we do have to give ourselves so much grace, because I am a, This is my first time being a mom of these kids at this age, right?

Like when I finally had toddlers, we moved on. Then we had elementary school. Then we moved on. Now we have high school and college and right. Like I keep having to start over. As my very first time trying to, you know, do this version of momming. 

Dona: Yep. I know. And, and like, I can tell you this, at least from my standpoint and lots of my friends, the, the, Dessert time is when they grow up and they have lives, happy lives of their own.

Like, if you’re lucky, if you’re blessed with kids who do have [00:26:00] good, productive, happy lives of their own. Then, like, I feel like I’m in heaven. Like, I’ve got all these beautiful children who are my friends, grandchildren who I adore. Like, it’s, it’s like, All of a sudden, what, what was the problem? Yes, yes. So, so, I mean, I, I experienced it just the way you described it.

Just the challenges, it didn’t get easier as they got older. Just as soon as I understood toddlerhood, as you say, all those things, it, it changed and, and I thought, what am I going to do with this one? And, uh, but finally, you know, for now, you know, You know, and as I say, I, I am hugely grateful that my kids are healthy and happy and living rich, full, good lives.

So, and I know that is not always the case for lots and lots of [00:27:00] reasons. But, um, 

Leah: But I do love that reminder to keep that perspective beyond the moment we’re in right now, right? If we get too stuck in the weeds, if we get too stuck in this moment of heart, because we’re all going to have them, even if we’re not in one right now, there’s going to be one coming.

That is the mortal journey. And so keeping that, that, that larger perspective to realize, right? This is a moment this too shall pass like how do I how do I help it pass? With you know, maybe as few of casualties as possible, right? Like how do I help? Yeah us us go through this moment and Make the best out of it because I think another thing we’ve learned You know, through all the research and I think of Viktor Frankl and all his work is that happiness is a choice.

It’s not about our circumstances. It’s our choices. And [00:28:00] so, you know, even when things are really hard and tough, we can choose happiness. And so I think that’s the goal, right? To teach, I guess ourselves first and then our kids how to choose happiness as a choice. a way of life as a lifestyle instead of we’re waiting for happiness to happen to us.

Dona: Yeah, absolutely. Nicely put. Very nicely put. No, the idea of choosing happiness. I mean, cause I think in, in our current culture, there’s an expectation. That, excuse me, that you should be happy, and that if you’re not happy, you’re doing something wrong. Oh, yes! And, and, and, therefore, that happiness is something that is in the environment somehow.

That other people are getting it, but you’re not. So the victim, right? And And [00:29:00] it’s not a healthy perspective, it’s, each person who’s happy is choosing that, they’re making it, they’re creating that happiness, each and every day, it doesn’t just come, it’s, it is a choice, and it’s an affirmed choice, constantly.

of needing affirmation. And as you say, it is the mortal journey. We, we are on the process to the end. It, you know, we’re all moving in that direction and there are challenges. 

Leah: Yes, there. Oh, this has been so wonderful. Thank you so much. We are going to, so I’m just loving this conversation with Dr. Matthews.

So we’re actually going to turn this into two episodes. So we’re going to wrap this one up and then have her back because this is just so good. And I have more things I want to pick your brain about. So thank you so much for being part of this episode with me and [00:30:00] everybody. You can just get excited because there’s another one coming. 

Oh, there was so much goodness in that episode. Now, remember next week we’re coming back with Dr. Matthews again, but this time we’re going to talk about raising resilient kids. 

So in this episode, we talked about those two sides of the scale, having happiness versus entitlement. Next week, we’re going to talk about resilience and how resilience is the answer to helping our kids have more confidence, more gratitude, more contentment, and just feel more powerful. So I’ll see you next week and thank you so much for being part of the Balancing Busy Podcast. 



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