Advice to live by: ‘Get a dog’ and ‘cultivate our lilies’

“What can we do to manage our children’s crazy busy lives?” That is one of the many questions Dr. Ned Hallowell answered during his Colorado Academy SPEAK presentation to parents on November 19.

For forty years, Ned Hallowell has been a positive contributor to many national discussions on education, parenting, brain science, and living a fulfilling life. His book Driven to Distraction (co-written with John Ratey) should be on every educator’s bookshelf. Although first published in 1994, it remains one of the most important books ever written on ADHD. The way we understand learning differences was strongly impacted by his work, and the legacy of those breakthroughs in the mid-90s still resonates today.

For this particular talk to the CA community, Hallowell emphasized his keys to helping our children lead more positive lives. Among his top ten, one of my favorites was “embrace the force of connection!” We all need that human interaction and engagement, and we need to find ways to connect to each other in healthy, meaningful ways. He worries that today’s independent school parents sometimes over-value achievement and under-value connection. That is not a recipe for long-term success and happiness. He acknowledged that the pandemic has hindered our ability to be together, which in turn has created a unique challenge for adolescents. But there are creative ways to stay connected, even if it’s only over Zoom.

He also recommends that all of us “cultivate our lilies.” By this he means that we should seek out and pursue those things in life that truly reward and sustain us. Adults can help adolescents with this pursuit of the truly meaningful. Sometimes parents need to lead their children in subtle ways; they may need to be “artful” in their attempts to persuade their children to try new things and then persevere in helping them develop their skills and talents. High schoolers in particular want to do meaningful things and want to feel valued.

He also repeated advice his daughter gave him right after 9/11: “Don’t hold back on life out of fear.” Take reasonable actions and stretch yourself. Band together and seek connections with others in your community (including the school community) when you can. Even in a pandemic, when there is much to be legitimately concerned about, we need to react with intelligence, calmness, and courage. Our children are following our lead.

Finally, he offered this wonderful advice, “Get a dog. (If you must get a cat, that’s OK, too,” he added facetiously.) He noted the psychological benefits, now very well chronicled, of having a pet. Having just brought a second dog into my home, I admit to being partial to this advice.

For me, this SPEAK event represents the fourth or fifth time I have seen and heard a Hallowell presentation. Each time, I have come away enlightened and impressed. His easy-going manner, combined with practical wisdom achieved over decades as a psychiatrist, makes him one of the most inspiring speakers on the lecture circuit.

For more information, you can go to Dr. Hallowell’s website: https://drhallowell.com/