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Expert Insights on Creating Happy Kids with Dr. Sharin Sherkat, Parent Strategist

June 23, 2013

by Michelle LaRowe
Editor in Chief

When it comes to kids, it takes more than video games and candy to keep them truly happy. No one knows that more than Dr. Sharin Sherkat, parent strategist and author of Create Happy Kids. Recently I had a chance to connect with Dr. Sherkat and learn what she thinks defines a happy kid and how she empowers parents to create one.

eNannySource: How do you define a happy kid?

Dr. Sherkat: Happy kids can take many forms. In my book, I describe “happy kids” as ones who can be defined by 12 important factors.  Happy kids are those who:

  1. Understand what you, and other adults, expect from them. This occurs when people in their environment explain expectations in a positive, clear and concise manner.
  2. Are honored; they feel: heard, respected and validated.
  3. Understand what to expect from their parents and the environment. They know, for the most part, what the rules are, because someone (the parent) defines clear boundaries, rules and expectations every day. Even if kids are testing those rules, they still know what they are.
  4. Can expect, to a great extent, some routine and structure from their environment. Structure and some predictability create a great sense of security in kids. This is very important for healthy growth.
  5. Have parents who tell and show them they’re loved unconditionally.
  6. Are allowed to make some mistakes in a supportive environment.  When a child’s behavior is criticized, it’s not the same as if their character is being judged.
  7. Are motivated by loved ones to make good choices.
  8. Understand the difference between privileges and rights.  Children need to understand that their rights are always respected and privileges are always earned.
  9. Are noticed and rewarded for making good decisions. Children feel validated when they makes good choices. Kids, their good decisions and their desirable behaviors should be rewarded by their parents.
  10. Are learning how to cope, thrive and face challenges (in an age-appropriate way).
  11. Are learning to face the natural consequences of their choices (whether good or poor choices). As a result, children strive to make improvements and try their best because more than anything, they remain hopeful.
  12. Are learning how to negotiate and assert themselves while respecting others.

eNannySource: Why are power struggles so common?

Dr. Sherkat: Because in one corner, we have parents who want the BEST for their kids; they have the know-how and the benefits of age and experience. And in the other corner, we have the kids with will power! The kids are developing their personalities, their own opinions; they are exercising the right to push limits and test boundaries, which by the way is super healthy for their development. Parents, on the other hand, are setting firm limits, as they should! This is why we have power struggles. Having these power struggles is normal and, to some level, even necessary for healthy growth.

However, “too many power struggles” is usually defined this way: When a parent feels that most requests placed on the child are faced with arguments and defiance, then we are talking about an ‘unhealthy’ level of power struggles.

Power struggles are more common than they should be, because parents forget to use the tools they have to empower and motivate kids to make better choices. That happens mainly because kids are so good at wearing parents down and exhausting them to a point where parents forget the tools they have to help the kids be more motivated to take care of their own responsibilities, and that’s where I usually come in! I give parents the tool, or remind them of the ones they have, that they can use to empower their kids to make better choices and to not argue so much!

eNannySource: How can parents stop them?

Dr. Sherkat: Here are 5 key steps to stopping power struggles:

1) First, Remind the kids of their Rights vs. Privileges

2) Assure kids: “I will always protect your rights”

3) Help kids understand how to EARN their privileges

4) Be concise, clear & concrete about what you expect from kids

5) Make sure privileges are only EARNED.

For example if your 7-year-old son, Alex, has to complete his homework before earning the privilege of going over to his friend’s house, then that should be clearly spelled out and Alex should earn that privilege only after completing his homework. I often suggest to parents to provide a supportive and positive statement like: “Alex I want you to earn the privilege of going to your friend’s.”

eNannySource:  How can parents motivate their children to make good choices?

Dr. Sherkat: GREAT question….Once the above steps are accomplished, there is one tool that I often share with families: the Magical Sentence, as I call it, is very motivating!

“FIRST ______________, THEN ___________”

This sentence MUST be used correctly. Any other version of it is not effective. For example, used correctly: “Alex, FIRST complete your math homework, THEN you can go to your friend’s house.” Please note, the first part of this sentence, which contains Alex’s responsibility, is short and clear–you want to use under seven words! Also, note the sentence is positive. Here is an example of an incorrect version:

“IF you don’t finish your homework, you won’t get to go play with your friend.”

eNannySource: What’s the most common mistake parents make?

Dr. Sherkat: Not listening to their kids’ point of view. Not really hearing the child. Parents are often in too much of a hurry to let their kids finish a thought or expression of a feeling. So they miss out on their kids’ point of view. What is the second most common mistake? Not validating their kids’ feelings.  If you say to your four-year-old, “I hear you are feeling angry at me for not letting you play right now” it doesn’t mean you agree with your kid, it just means you validated a feeling.  Parents who experience power struggles often forget the power of validation and, unfortunately, forget to use this highly effective tool for healthy communication. This is sometimes because parents may feel that by validating their kid’s feeling during an argument it may mean that they agree with their child.

eNannySource:  What’s your best advice for today’s parents?

Dr. Sherkat: You want to create a good listener in your kid? Model it.

eNannySource: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Dr. Sherkat: When spending time with kids, be presentTake a moment to see the kids’ world from their point of view.  It’s beautiful!


Sharin Sherkat, Psy.D. is on a mission to honor children and empower parents around the world with proven, road-tested and simple parenting strategies that reduce struggles and add more joy for every member of the family.  The author of Create Happy Kids, Dr. Sherkat is known as “the child whisperer” by many happy families who value her gift to see each child’s perspective as they use her methods to bring harmony to their formerly conflicted families. 

She teaches parenting workshops and shares keynote presentations to parenting groups that put preventive strategies center stage. Dr. Sherkat grew up in Vancouver, Canada, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from the University of Washington and later earned a Doctorate in clinical psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego.  She resides in Kirkland, Washington.

To learn more about Dr. Sherkat, visit www.CreateHappyKids.com.


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