Conscious Parenting: Finding Balance Between Permissive and Punitive Approaches with guest Dr. Elham Raker

About this Episode

Has someone ever told you to “enjoy every minute of parenting because it goes by so fast”? Or that “you only have 18 summers”? For some of us, the extra pressure to feel like we have to relish every touch point with our kids only adds to the stress we feel as busy parents just trying to do our best to juggle it all.  On this episode, Dr. Amy and Sandy interview Dr. Elham Raker, pediatrician and certified parent coach who has worked with parents through telemedicine and her virtual coaching program, Ask Dr. Mom. Dr. El says the pressures and expectations for parents can lead to unnecessary feelings of guilt. We bet you can relate.

In her coaching, Dr. El provides support and guidance to parents looking to strike a balance between punitive and permission parenting. Through Conscious Parenting, she helps parents grow deeper connections with their children in ways that are calmer, more respectful, and enriching for both parent and child. She also shares her knowledge and experience as a pediatrician to clarify which unnecessary “shoulds” we can let go of as parents.

Parents, if you’re constantly worried that you’re not doing enough as a parent or you’re just looking for ways to develop a deeper relationship with your child or teen, this conversation with Dr. El may feel like a breath of fresh air. She’s the trifecta of experts—mom, pediatrician and certified parenting coach—and we hope her expertise will help you enrich your relationship not only with your child, but also yourself.

About Dr. Elham Raker

About Dr. Elham Raker: Dr. Elham Raker is a board-certified pediatrician, a parent coach, and the brains behind Ask Dr. Mom, a telemedicine and virtual coaching site for parents. She started the virtual platform after recognizing that the typical 10- to 15-minute office visit with doctors was just not enough. Now parents can get their medical and parenting questions answered in the comfort of their own home without time constraints.

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Read the transcript for this episode:

Dr. Amy Moore: Hi, and welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms brought to you today by LearningRx Brain Training centers. I am your host, Dr. Amy Moore, coming to you today from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I am joined by my co-host, Sandy Zamalis, coming to us from across the country in Stanton, Virginia. Good morning, Sandy.

Sandy Zamalis: Good morning.

Dr. Amy Moore: We’re excited to bring you a conversation with our guest today, Dr. Elham Raker. Dr. El is a board-certified pediatrician, a parent coach, and the brains behind Ask Dr. Mom, a telemedicine and virtual coaching site for parents.

Sandy Zamalis: Hello, Dr. El. Thank you for joining us and welcome to our show. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how and why coaching parents has become an important part of your life’s journey?

Dr. Elham Raker: Hello. Thanks for having me. Yes, I would love to. So, as you mentioned, pediatrician was my first career. Then I had kids and decided to take a step back a bit. So always have worked part-time. And that led me to work in every aspect of pediatrics. So I was a hospitalist for a while. I worked in urgent care. I’ve done private practice. I’ve done low-income kind of clinics, and it’s been great to have that wide variety of experience. But with each interaction, I just felt like—oh, I’ve done home visits. That was my last thing I did—and with each interaction it was just brief. It was really brief and it just—I felt like I couldn’t answer all the questions. I couldn’t give all the counseling and encouragement that I’d like to. So that’s where the telemedicine kind of came in. That’s where Ask Dr. Mom and that concept of just being available to answer questions in a more complete manner without this, like, I have 10 patients waiting for me and you know, it was just this pressure cooker. And the coaching came along actually during Covid when it felt like, again, parents needed more. And I love that counseling aspect of it. So I decided to get my certification and it was an amazing experience. Although I did it more as a service, I gained so much from it myself. I have two teenage kids, a 16—a 15-year-old son, I don’t know why I try to make him older—and a 13-year-old daughter. And it really changed—it really opened my eyes, you know, to things that I had been doing and, and things I had done when they were little. It just made me even more passionate about sharing that with other people so that they could benefit from it, ideally when their kids were younger, but at any age, even with adult kids. I think it’s a fantastic program about learning about yourself, you know, how you were parented and how you want to then become that parent that you wish you had.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. And I love that model. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times when my kids were little, we would sit in the pediatrician waiting room for two hours, waiting for our 15-minute appointment, right?

Dr. Elham Raker: Yep.

Dr. Amy Moore: You could only cover one thing in 15 minutes. And it was usually just, “Hey, let’s go through this developmental checklist,” you know, or “Let’s see if this is an ear infection or not.” And then we were on our way. Yeah. Like we didn’t have any time to really dig into, “What should I be doing as a mom about A, B and C?” or many of the other topics that, you know, you have the opportunity to spend time on with a mom.

Dr. Elham Raker: Right. And it felt like, you know, I’m a part of the mom groups on Facebook and whatnot, and it just felt like parents were asking these really important questions on these groups to people that have no idea. I mean, some of it could be good advice. You know, I, I think mom advice is fantastic, and other moms’ experience is fantastic, but you don’t really know what you’re getting. And it made me sad because it just made me think, well, they must not have the ability to ask that other pediatrician and they need to come here. And so it just—there was like a missing piece.

Dr. Amy Moore: So, um, you wrote, um, an article for and you said, so many people giving advice, tell moms to make sure that you enjoy every moment because it goes by so fast. But you wrote how moms don’t have to enjoy every moment of parenthood. And I thought, what an intriguing piece of advice, and we’d love for you to talk a little bit about that.

Dr. Elham Raker: Yeah. You know, I think, you know, you’re sitting on a park bench and you’re with your baby and somebody older comes up and, “Oh, it goes so fast. You have to enjoy every moment.” And it’s like, you know that with, I don’t know how many other statements, we don’t need that extra pressure as mom, right? Like you can’t enjoy every moment. There’s the spit up, there’s the tantrums, there’s the diaper explosions that you have to clean up. You’re not enjoying those moments, and that’s okay. So I really had to focus on enjoying a moment, you know? And just if you had one moment in the day that you enjoyed and you laughed and you connected with your child, that’s good enough, right? And some days that may not even happen. But like I say about kids’ nutrition, you have to look at the whole week sometimes, not just the day to day. So it, it just, we just don’t need that extra pressure. You’re going to have those moments that you’re not enjoying and you want to put them to bed at like 5 p.m. and that’s okay. You know, I, I think I talked about in that article about going to Trader Joe’s and shopping by myself, which is kind of like heavenly, right? There’s like me. But I’ll see these little babies in the, in the little front of the things and, and they’re just like, cute and pudgy and, and I like, I want to pinch them. And I miss having that with my kids, but I also don’t, right? I also appreciate that I’m doing this by myself and I have a different relationship with my kids. I can have adult conversations with them. I can enjoy movies. So I think it’s just the concept of different stages bring different joys. And just appreciating that stage for what it is, but also realizing that it’s hard, you know, when they were babies and toddlers, like, yeah, they were cute and pudgy, but it was hard. Teenagers, it’s hard, right? So it’s just enjoying those moments of time that you have with them.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. And I think that when we try to live up to that expectation of romanticizing motherhood, right, where we should love every moment with a child and that that—then we experience guilt when we can’t live up to that expectation and then who set that expectation in the first place, right?

Dr. Elham Raker: Right, right. And, and then there’s no point, right? Once you get into guilt and shame about anything, you’ve lost all the pleasure or parenting. And then, you know, it’s just like this downward spiral. So I think it’s just a not realistic expectation to enjoy every moment. And it’s, again, it’s just not one of those things that we need as parents, as extra pressure. Another one is, you know, “you only have 18 summers.” I hate that one. Like, I’m not raising my kids so that they leave me at 18 and I never see them again. I want to raise them so that we have a lifelong relationship and maybe they won’t be living in my house, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be together or go on vacations, you know, whatever it may be. So that’s another one I don’t love. But yeah, I think those things that put these extra pressures on parents, it’s just, there’s no purpose.

Sandy Zamalis: You talked in another interview, and this kind of goes along that same line about, you mentioned that some of the “shoulds” that new parents are often told, are just that pressure that you just talked about and how you realize that beyond meeting the safety needs of your child, there’s a lot of leeway in how we raise our kids. Would you give our listeners some examples of “should” that perhaps don’t need to be set in stone? And you mentioned about nutrition. Just what kinds of things can parents take away in terms of what we can let go.

Dr. Elham Raker: I think bathing doesn’t have to happen every day. Watching TV, screen time? I mean, a hundred percent, we don’t want to stick our kids in front of the screen all day, every day, but you need to get some work done? You need to use that as a babysitter for an hour? Go for it. Like it’s not the end of the world. Nutrition? Most kids are going to get what they need. You know, our bodies are really good about that. I don’t even recommend supplements for most kids or vitamins. Do you want to try to get some vegetables and a balanced diet? Yeah. Are they going to have days where they’re just not eating anything? Yep. They’re going to have days where they’re eating more than you think is humanly possible. That’s just part of the growth of a child. So it’s definitely one of those things you want to take off the worry list. That’s one of the things I put on the pediatrician, right? I’m like, if your pediatrician is telling you that your child is growing and gaining weight appropriately, like take that off your list because it’s just not worth, you know, like, “Oh, my kid didn’t finish their plate.” Like, that’s just them following their stomach and telling them they’re not hungry anymore. So that’s something we want to do. I just read an article today actually that said parents—the only thing parents remember about nutrition is just they don’t remember what time, what age to start. They don’t remember like what to give or, or worry about, just that they should try to give vegetables. But one of the things that mentioned was how parents really encourage their kids to clear their plate, and there’s just no purpose to that, right? Like, we don’t know what they’re feeling, what they need, their developmental, needs and nutrition needs go up and down with growth spurts. So they may eat like a bird for a few days, and that’s totally normal. So it’s one of the things I try to take off the worry list, right? Really, like I said, it’s really about safety. Like wear a helmet, you know, when you’re biking. Sleep safety, no extra sheets and blankets, you know, all the things that have to do with SIDS. Food safety, you know, choking hazards, no honey before our age of one for the botulism. So it’s really, that’s kind of it. Other than that—even giving certain foods at a certain age, like baby-led weaning versus puree, versus getting fruit first or vegetable first. There’s no science behind that. You can do what you want, what works for your family.

Dr. Amy Moore: I like that freedom. So I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about this concept of conscious or gentle parenting. So, I know that you are an advocate for that. So talk to us about what that is and why parents might want to consider adopting that approach.

Dr. Elham Raker: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting because I think in the past it was very much, you know, do as I say or else, right? That’s, I feel like our generation was kind of brought up with that and we grew up thinking, well that worked, right? We’re good humans, we are working in our fields and doing well and successful and whatnot. And the problem with that is that you’re raising kids that don’t maybe really know who they are. They were told how to act and what to do, and they complied. We don’t really want kids that just comply, right? You can get that with punishment and discipline. You want kids to grow up to understand, to want to do the things that they’re supposed to do, to be self-motivated, to be resilient, you know, all those things. And I don’t think we did that with the parenting styles in the past. So, it’s either, you know, really permissive and a lot of people think that conscious parenting is permissive, but it’s not. You still have to set boundaries. You still have to have things that you are not okay with and be able to have some consequences for that. And then there’s the, you know, other end of it, which is just very strict and, and punitive. We’ve just, we now have enough research that just shows that neither of those work well. So conscious parenting—and I like the word “conscious” because it’s really about you being conscious that your child is a completely separate entity. They did not come into the world needing to be fixed or needing to be made into a certain way. They came into this world a hundred pure, perfect as they should be. And our job as parents is really to teach them and to guide them, and that’s it. Not to make them into something. So it’s really just going on that. And things like timeout or like punitive punishments are just not something that’s a part it. 

Sandy Zamalis: Is gentle parenting different from, like authoritative parenting? So when you were talking those spectrums, I had a whole psychology class in my head. Authoritarian versus that permissive. Is it the same or is it different?

Dr. Elham Raker: So, it’s a little bit different, but probably the most similar to authoritative, as opposed to authoritarian. Authoritative is more working with the child. Authoritative still has a little bit of that, consequences, you know, the reward and the punishment built into it, whereas conscious parenting still wants to get away from that. I think the idea is even we’re talking about rewards. You don’t want your child to think that they have to do something to get your love. And you know, your love is free flowing, right? It’s unconditional. So there’s no reward that’s going to make that you want to give them, that will make them feel like, “Okay, now I, I’m worthy. Now I deserve this.” So that’s a little bit different. And I know it’s hard, right? It’s hard for me to accept as well. Because listen, I did the sticker charts when my kids were little and to some extent that’s okay. You know, it works well. Like for potty training, it could work well. So there’s certain instances I could—I don’t want to tell everyone, “Hey, you can’t ever use a reward or a punishment.” You just have to be careful. You have to be conscious. You have to realize—what’s the message that you’re sending? What’s the ultimate goal, right? We want—we don’t want kids to just work towards a reward. We want them to do things because they want to, because it makes sense because they know—smore that internal motivation.

Dr. Amy Moore: Right. And I always say that we don’t want to reward kids for behavior that we automatically expect, right? That would be—you can reward them for going above and beyond, like something that they did that was reward-worthy rather than, “Okay. You brush your teeth. I’m not going to give you a sticker.” Right?

Dr. Elham Raker: Right.

Dr. Amy Moore: Like, we expect you to brush your teeth because your teeth are going fall out if you don’t brush them. Right. Which is the natural consequence of not brushing your teeth. Which I think you’re a fan of natural consequences, right?

Dr. Elham Raker: I am. I am. I mean, certainly there’s certain ones that you don’t want to enforce, like running in the middle of the street because that could have a dire natural consequence.

Dr. Amy Moore: Sure.

Dr. Elham Raker: So there are certain situations that yes, you need to get their attention, you need to yell, you need to, you know, do certain things when it comes to safety. And obviously, none of us want our kids to have rotted teeth, but you try to get their cooperation in those things that you know they have to do. But the natural consequence may not be right away, right? Like, if they go out into the weather when it’s cold, not wearing a jacket, they’re going to be cold. That’s, that’s fine. But certain things you can’t let them just get away with. So with those things, you try to get their cooperation. So, generally I like to, depending on the age of the kid is making a game out of it or storytelling, right? So you can make a visit to the dentist. Their favorite character didn’t brush their teeth, so the dentist has to pull all their teeth. So maybe it makes that realization and connection for them and try to get their cooperation in a fun way. And I think for a lot of parents, the hard part is that it takes more time, right, than yelling at your kid to do it, especially in the morning. But in the long run, that cooperation will save you time. So it’s putting in that little invested time and effort connecting with them to then get their cooperation going. You know, eventually they’ll just start doing it and there’ll be a habit.

Sandy Zamalis: The first thing I always think about when, whenever this topic comes up, and this is a really popular topic on like social media right now. But I always think of like, you know, trying to get to church or trying to get out the door to go to school and You know, that’s that time crunch factor that you were just kind of talking about. Do you have tips for parents? Uh, that’s the one thing I think about. Like, “What if I just need you to get in the car?”

Dr. Elham Raker: Yep. Yep. I mean, there are, there are certain times where I’m like, we just need to go. Yeah. You know, we have a doctor appointment, we have a whatever. I think the biggest thing to realize is, maybe this is just for me personally, is that getting angry won’t change it. So it’s finding that calm and that inner peace before you interact with your kids, which isn’t always easy. A hundred percent, you know, the breathing, the whatever you need to do in the moment. Then it’s, you know, there might not be as much cooperation in that instant. It just isn’t, especially if we’re talking about like a one off, right? Like if it’s a doctor appointment or, well, church isn’t one off. But for school you can certainly come up with a program and a schedule and things. And I know that doesn’t always work, but the idea is that we are working together as a team against the problem. Not I am against my child who is the problem, right? So my child isn’t the problem. The problem is figuring out how to get ready for school. So how do I work with my child as a team to do that? And once—not in the morning, right? Not when you crunch for time, but when you have time when things are calm, you want to say, “This isn’t working, right? We’re having a problem in the mornings. What do you think we should do?” And depending on the age of the child, they may come up with things, they may not. And you can suggest things, but I always like to let them think about it. If they come up with something ridiculous, but you know, it’s doable, try it. Let them try it, with the caveat at the end of the conversation of, “If this doesn’t work, we’re gonna come back and talk about it and come up with a different plan.” So you would give it a day or two and it’s a disaster. I also think a natural consequence of being late to school, right?Like they get a tardy or they’re late to carpool, you know, whatever it is, those things tend to have more effect. Sometimes some kids don’t care. And obviously you can’t get like a zillion tardies, but I think if you tell the teacher like, “Hey, we’re working on this,” especially when they’re school age, elementary school, “They might be late, sorry, but this is something I need them to realize to work on” and whatnot. And then you go back and say, okay, well that didn’t work, , let’s try this. You know, how about this suggestion? And, and you try to kind of really look at it like, “It’s me and you against this problem. Let’s figure it out.”

Sandy Zamalis: So for your coaching, what I’m hearing you say is that it’s really more parent driven, getting the parent to be—

Dr. Elham Raker: One hundred percent.

Sandy Zamalis: Getting the parent to be honest about how to problem solve or include their child in the problem solving. And to come up with a solution. But as you mentioned earlier, you know, for those of us who are parented with that reward system, how do you unwire that? What’s the process?

Dr. Elham Raker: It takes time. Yeah, it takes time. It’s, it doesn’t come naturally, I think. So, you know—the course—I was certified through Jai Parenting and their course is step by step, right? And it goes through a little bit every week. And even then, it takes time to—I don’t even wanna say undo—just relearn, I guess. And it’s really about creating those new neural pathways for all of us. Which we can do, right? It’s like we all have that brain plasticity. So it’s doing that other thing so many times that that becomes the natural pathway. But in the beginning, you’re gonna make so many mistakes and you’re gonna, who am I kidding? You’re always gonna make so many mistakes. Like there is no, there’s never a time, we’re not gonna make mistakes. But it becomes, it’s kind of like, when you first start doing this, you realize afterwards, “Ooh, that was bad. I shouldn’t have said that. I shouldn’t have done that.” And one of the biggest things I like to talk about in parenting is our biggest tool is to repair the rupture. So apologizing a sincere apology is worth so much. And it’s not about, and I used to do this, which I’m so embarrassed about, but I’m gonna put it all out there. You know, my son, when he was about five, he said to me, “Mom, I don’t like when you yell at me.” And it was like, “Oh my God.” And, you know, of course I’m breaking down inside and it was awful. But I really … I grew up in a house that we all yelled, or my mom yelled and it just didn’t phase me. And it was a lot of soul searching, you know. But I’m trying to think what I was gonna say. Oh, but what I used to do is, when I apologize, it was like, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but …” “I’m sorry I yelled at you. But if you hadn’t done this or if you—” and that’s not an apology, right? An apology has nothing to do with the other person. An apology has to do with us and our actions and our reaction. So whatever he did, that’s not his—my reaction is not his responsibility. So I really learned all of that and had to relearn all of that. It took time. It took a lot of time to, to get there. So you go from realizing what you did wrong, right? And then you have the opportunity to repair. And then there’s times where in the moment I’m yelling or angry or whatever, and in the moment I’m like, “Why am I doing this? I know better,” but I couldn’t stop myself. And then you get to the point where you can stop it. So it’s this process. Right. And honestly, even if you’re at the point that you realize it wasn’t right afterwards, you’re, you’re doing good.

Dr. Amy Moore: So where does the motivation come from to parent differently? How do you approach a parent who is happy with being authoritarian or doesn’t think there’s a problem with continuing to parent their child the way that they’re working?

Dr. Elham Raker: Yeah. You know, it’s hard. I don’t think you can. I mean, if someone is really happy with where they’re at and what they’re doing, I don’t think I’m gonna convince them otherwise, to be honest. I think on a lot of those relationships you feel—you don’t feel a connection. I would have to say you just don’t, you know, going back to the 18 summers, our kids are free to leave after 18 years, but we don’t want them to, right? We want them to want to come back. We want them to call us with a problem when they’re in college or beyond. And the only way you can do that is to support them when they were living in your house. So I don’t know. You know, it’s very hard to convince someone of something they think is working and listen, some, it could be working, right?

If it’s really kid dependent, you have to parent the child that you have. And not all parenting books are gonna cover everything the same. So ultimately, I say if you are happy with the connection you have with your child, and you know, you’re not yelling at each other and screaming at each other to get kids done, then that’s great. You know, that’s the goal.

Dr. Amy Moore: So let’s talk a little bit about timeout. You mentioned it just in passing. But what are your thoughts on timeout and, um, especially with toddlers?

Dr. Elham Raker: You know, timeout was a big “aha” moment for me when I did my parent coaching. It’s something that pediatricians, we recommend pretty universally. You know, I think like we all know, hitting and spanking, even though it’s done, is still unfortunately is a big no. I, I just don’t feel like that’s— I know it’s still being done. I know it’s something we have to address, but for the most part, I feel like most people kind of understand that maybe that’s not acceptable. Whereas timeout was like universally accepted and it’s a thing to do. My era of my kids growing up, it was like, you know, a minute for age and, and the whole thing. The problem with timeout, and I love this example, like as an adult, it’s like you come home and you have an awful day and you see your spouse or significant other and you just say, “Hey, you know, I just, this happened and this happened in my job, and they yelled at me. I don’t know. I’m just really mad and I don’t really know what to do right now. But I don’t feel good. Right? And you just, you’re yelling at them or you’re, whatever it may be. And your husband says, “I think you need some time by yourself right now. Why don’t you just go to your room and when you’re calmed down, then you can come talk to me.” That wouldn’t feel good, right? Like, we all need that time to vent or talk or be listened to. And I think when our kids are at their worst, that’s the message that they’re sending to us. Like, “Hey, something’s wrong. I can’t handle my emotions right now, so I need your help.” Right? And what we’re doing with timeouts is saying, “You go handle your emotions by yourself and when you’re calm you can come to me.” And it’s like they’re not ready to do that. I mean, most adults aren’t ready to do that, honestly. So we just have these expectations of them that just aren’t realistic. So instead, I really like to talk about a time in. When your kid’s at their worst, that’s when they need you the most. And if they’re hitting and take, you know, it’s out of control, you can put yourself in a safe place and just say, “I’m gonna stand right here. I’m not gonna let you hit me, but I’m here for you. And I’m whenever you’re ready, I’m here for you.” Or some kids really need a hug when they’re kind of thrashing, and that’s something you need to either know your child or sometimes, if they’re old enough, you can discuss it. You could say, “Hey, when you’re going through this. Does it feel good for me to hug you and hold you? Does it feel good for you to just be alone for a second?” Um, so maybe you can come up with a plan for those instances. There’s also like a—like not a timeout corner in the normal sense, but a timeout corner where they have a spot in their room or a safe place where it’s like all their favorite things and if they need that alone time, it’s not punishment, it’s just comforting. So that, you know, is an option. It’s just really knowing your child. But the idea is that they need you to get through that moment, whatever is going on. They don’t need—they can’t process that by themselves. They’re not able to. They don’t have the ability. So the time out is not really, it’s not the appropriate message that we wanna send our kids.

Dr. Amy Moore: Right. I mean, they’re not going to learn how to fix their own problem by sitting in a chair.

Dr. Elham Raker: Right. Right. And if, you know, if it’s like they got a timeout for throwing, yelling or whatever it was that you didn’t want them to do. That’s something you can address later in the moment. They’re not gonna understand or hear how to change that behavior, right? So again, that’s something you can address later when things are calm and, you know, and you start to make guesses, right? First, it’s always empathy. You always wanna show your child empathy. “You must have been really upset to do that. I wonder what upset you, or you must have been really tired.” So you’re trying to give them words to their feelings, even if they’re not verbal yet. I really think it’s important to do that and make a habit of it, and you’ll be surprised how quickly they’ll pick up on their emotions and start using words like, frustrated, upset, sad, you know, whatever it may be. And then you talk about like, what are other things we can do in those moments? So it’s a process and a 2-year-old’s not gonna learn that in a week. It’s gonna take time, but you, you gotta start somewhere. 

Sandy Zamalis: I see in, you know, just in social media and in news, stories that there’s really been an uptick in just emotional, you know, behavior kinds of issues with kids today. Do you you seem to get a lot more calls now? Especially I think—I mean, COVID I think was a catalyst for some of it—but just that emotional regulation work that we’re needing to do more and more with our kids. Are you seeing that more in your practice?

Dr. Elham Raker: You know, it’s interesting. I don’t think there’s an uptick. I think people are just more aware of it. And we’re maybe talking about it more. There is certainly more depression and anxiety since Covid started, but it wasn’t nonexistent before, you know. It was a problem. I think it’s just made it so that we’re more aware of it and more conscientious of it. What I do feel like with parents and where I hope I can intervene is, I do feel like most parents are very open to having their children see someone. Right? We know that the mental health system is overburdened right now, and it’s hard to even find someone. So I think most parents are very open to that, and I think that’s fantastic. I think parents have a hard time understanding their role in it. And, you know, one hour a week of therapy is not going to be enough if we as parents are not also doing something at home. But I think that’s the part that, it’s a little bit of a missing link sometimes, right? Like parents will say, “Oh, my child has depression, anxiety, so I’m sending them to—they’re seeing someone and, you know, that should fix it.”

Sandy Zamalis: So just taking the parent out of the equation. There’s something wrong with the child. There’s a problem.

Dr. Elham Raker: Right, right. Right. Exactly. And like, “I did my part, I raised them, I fed them. I, you know, it’s not me.” Okay. So I think we have to, yeah, like you said, I definitely focus more on parent centric when it comes to behavior.

Dr. Amy Moore: So you briefly mentioned spanking. And that we still see that, right? There’s still a subset of parents who think that that’s okay. Talk a little bit about that and any listeners that are still thinking it’s okay.

Dr. Elham Raker: Yeah. You know, there is a lot of data, a lot of research, on spanking and how it’s not beneficial in the long run. It’s very much equal to anything that we do with our kids. Whatever we do to them, they will think that it’s okay to do. So, you know, one of the biggest ironies is spanking your child for hitting another child. Right? Children, like I said, they’re not—they weren’t brought to us and now we have to shape them into something and make them human and make them respectful. They are who they are, and they’re perfect as they are. We’re here to teach them. So showing them disrespect, showing them things that are hurtful, it doesn’t make sense. Children are going to look for relationships that they had when they were young as adults. So if they grow up in fear, they’re gonna attract the person that makes them fearful. If they grow up feeling like they had to be respectful and they couldn’t talk back, they’re gonna end up in jobs where they can’t ever advocate for themselves. Right?

Dr. Amy Moore: Or relationships.

Dr. Elham Raker: Right. So it just goes against everything we’re trying to achieve in them. And I think it just comes from this idea that back in the day, right, we had to discipline our children because if not, they would go run wild and never respect anyone or anything and become criminals. And it’s simply just not true. You know, the conscious parenting style raises responsible, kind, caring adults that seek relationships that they were brought up with, which were responsible—or which were respectful and caring and loving.

Dr. Amy Moore: Right. And it’s a method that we’re not inflicting physical pain upon a child.

Dr. Elham Raker: Exactly. And emotional pain, right? I mean, I’m a recovering yelling mom and I have guilt about that all the time. But I also have to look forward and not look back and realize that hopefully, the changes I make, even if it was later in my children’s lives, that it’ll affect their children and their children and ongoing. So, you know, it’s “when you know better, you do better” Right? We don’t always know, right? Timeout was the thing to do when my kids were little. So it’s not about feeling guilty. And I say that with a grain of salt because I know we do. It’s about looking forward and saying, “Okay, well now I know this isn’t helping my child, so how can I move forward in a healthier, better way and have a better relationship?”

Sandy Zamalis: So it’s really more about, you know, like you said, “when you know better, you do better.” So that empathy for yourself, for who you were yesterday, and how all you wanna change for tomorrow.

Dr. Elham Raker: Yeah. Yeah. And I love that you said that empathy, because I think why it’s so hard for us to give empathy to our children is that we were never given empathy as children. You know, and I talk about this in a blog post that I wrote recently that hasn’t been published yet. But I think the anger piece for me as a child, no one ever really understood that I was angry. They just wanted me to stop being angry. So that empathy piece is so important, and until we do give ourselves, we won’t be able to give it to our children. So, I actually have like parents practice self-empathy throughout the day or do a journal of self-empathy because I feel like it’s one of the biggest barriers that we have.

Sandy Zamalis: It’s generational too.

Dr. Elham Raker: Yeah. Yep. Yep.

Dr. Amy Moore: So, you mentioned anger. We know that many behaviors push buttons, right? And so our children can do things that annoy us and make us mad. And so, what is your advice to moms or dads for kind of controlling our own response to those behaviors so that then we can parent gently?

Dr. Elham Raker: Yep. I just have to start by saying it’s not easy, right? I mean, we are human and we have feelings, and again, parenting—like you think you’re the most calm and patient person in the world, right? And then you have little versions of you running around and they drive you crazy. So it’s just a whole other level. But I think the first thing is finding that peace in the moment. You know, there’s a phrase we use in our parent coaching; it’s “anchor to harbor.” So you really need to anchor yourself. You need to have a strong connection with your own calm in order to have that harbor for your safe harbor for your kids. Because if they’re out in the middle of the ocean storming somewhere, you don’t—you going out there with them isn’t gonna help anyone. Right? You really need to kind of bring them in. So that’s an analogy that we use a lot. And you know, we talk about—there’s probably at least a week that we talk about just calming tools for you and your child. Whether it’s breathing, which is my go-to or,  actually for me in the moment, it’s turning on my frontal lobe. So we, you know, as soon as we go into our emergency state, our frontal lobe disappears and then we have the amygdala and like the crazy parts of our brain that just work on emotion. So for me it’s really, stopping and asking myself questions maybe that’s, I’m more analytical. Maybe, I don’t know. In the moment breathing doesn’t even help me. I get—I’m off. But if I stop for a second, like there was a day that my son was late and I was in a rush and he just took forever getting out of school, you know, whatever it was. And I just, I could feel myself getting angry, right? Then I had to just say, “He had no idea I was in a rush.” He didn’t know I had to be somewhere. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. Like I literally had to talk myself out of it. So that’s my personal thing. And that gets—once you’re asking questions and trying to be sensible—that gets your front brain working again, your prefrontal cortex. But for some people it’s breathing, it’s dancing, it’s moving, it’s pushing on something, you know, like a wall. So that’s number one. You have to find your calm, whatever that may be in the moment. And then you have to—you are literally sharing your calm with your child, right? You cannot expect them to have their own. So yes, you can talk about their calming tools, in the moment, but that’s gonna take time. They’re not gonna be able to access that. So it may be you hugging them. It may just be you sitting next to them. It may be just sitting together, not saying a word. You’ll have to kind of figure that out. But it’s you being there for them in that moment.

Sandy Zamalis: Mine is my late-night DJ voice. So, what I do—I got it from a book whose author I cannot remember right at this moment—but it was, yeah, it was a book on just negotiating. And he had talked about, you know, channeling your late-night DJ voice.

Dr. Elham Raker: I love it.

Sandy Zamalis: That calm, smooth tone.  

Dr. Elham Raker: Yeah. Yeah.

Sandy Zamalis: I do, that’s my—I don’t go through the thought process that you do, but I just go, “All right, I gotta bring my voice down.” Because I can match energy pretty easily, so, yeah.

Dr. Elham Raker: Yeah. I gotta, no, that’s great. Right, right. Because yeah, like I said, like I think breathing is great and accessible, but I found it not helpful when I’m already triggered. It’s great when I’m just, you know, throughout the day, take a deep breath. Fantastic. But when I’m like at, you know, level 10, that’s not doing anything. So I think it’s finding your own thing, honestly. You know, it’s, nobody can really tell you what’s that’s gonna be, but it’s important to have that in the moment. And, and you know what? I think it’s okay depending on the age of your child to give yourself a timeout, right? You can literally say to your child, “I need a second. You’re safe.” Even if they’re in there crying, right? Like, as long as they’re safe, whether it’s in their crib, whether it’s in their bedroom, somewhere that you know they’re not gonna get into anything. “I’ll be right outside the door. I’m gonna take a minute. I just need to calm myself down.” Because you’re showing them that, “Hey, I need to calm down so that I can be there for you.” So I’m taking this moment for myself, so hopefully they’ll do the same. Right? So we’re human. Like I said, we’re not machines. We’re not mother and father machines that do it all right all the time. And that’s okay. It’s important for your children to see that, that you are l you are regulating yourself and you can say, “I’m gonna take a drink of water because I need to calm down and this helps me. Or I need to move my body. You can move it with me if it helps you.” Whatever it is, you can explain to them that that’s what you’re doing.

Sandy Zamalis: Dr. Amy, do you have one? What’s your go-to?

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah, I do. So I was a stress management facilitator for the military and my instructor taught us—and this has been a couple of decades—that how powerful self-talk is. And so the phrase he taught us was that “few things in life are terrible, horrible, or awful.” Most are just uncomfortable or mildly inconvenient. And so super easy for me to say, “This is uncomfortable and that’s okay.” You can learn to live with discomfort. It is not terrible, horrible or awful. This milk is spilled, right? It’s inconvenient that I’ve gotta clean it up. And so when you can learn to live with discomfort, I think that, it sure does make things not—it brings the temperature way down.

Dr. Elham Raker: Yep. Yep. Yeah, exactly. And it’s that finding that safety in your body, you know, for a lot of people, that trigger is like that P T S D, so whatever, maybe when they spilled milk in their home, they were yelled at and they were really shamed and punished, right? So it’s that triggering like PTSD response. So first you have to say, okay, I’m safe. I’m not being chased by a lion. Right? That’s, that’s what our body thinks is happening. Nothing’s wrong. My child just spilled milk. So sometimes it’s just like, okay, just number one: find that safety in your body depending on what’s been triggered.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah, absolutely. And I find, I mean, I teach in counseling. I teach a lot of somatic exercises and a lot of grounding and breathing. But I do know that when you’re in the heat at the moment, when you’re in that fight, flight or freeze response, right, that your amygdala has hijacked your prefrontal cortex and you are not able to just go, “Okay, I’m going to sit here and breathe.” Right? But you know, if you have chosen your favorite way to recenter or to ground yourself or, you know, to calm down, you’ve practiced it so many times that it can become automatic.

Dr. Elham Raker: Yep. Yep. For sure.

Sandy Zamalis: I’ll be the first today. Breathing really doesn’t work for me. I’m with you, Dr. El. Like it actually heightens it up. It gets my—it makes me feel like I’m gonna like pass out .

Dr. Elham Raker: I’m like, okay, I’m breathing, I’m breathing. I’m still mad. I’m breathing. Not work—, you know. But I do love breathing in this sense of either like a meditation or just to take a moment during the day to breathe. That helps. Right? But in the moment, I gotta like, like you guys are saying, it’s like conscious, right? I think feel like something has to consciously pop me out of it.

Dr. Amy Moore: So we need to take a break and let Sandy read a word from our sponsor and when we come back, we want you to tell us how our listeners can work with you, if they want to do that.

Dr. Elham Raker: Sounds good.

Sandy Zamalis: Are you concerned about your child’s reading or spelling? Are you worried your child’s reading curriculum isn’t thorough enough? Well, most learning struggles aren’t the result of poor curriculum or instruction. They’re typically caused by having cognitive skills that need to be strengthened. Skills like auditory processing, memory and processing speed. LearningRx one-on-one brain training programs are designed to target and strengthen the skills that we rely on for reading, spelling, writing, and learning. LearningRx can help you identify which skills may be keeping your child for performing their best. In fact, we’ve worked with more than 100,000 children and adults who wanted to think and perform. We’d like to help you get your child on the path to a brighter and more competent future. Give LearningRx a call at 866-BRAIN-01 or visit That’s

Dr. Amy Moore: We’re back, talking with our guest, Dr. Elham Raker, pediatrician and parent coach. So, Dr. El, talk to us and our listeners about your coaching program, how they can work with you if they want to do that and how that works.

Dr. Elham Raker: Yeah. So, as I mentioned, it’s a 12-week program and it’s nice because it takes you through each phase. So, like we talked about, it can be overwhelming, right? And having to change something quickly is not going to be long-lasting. So, it really takes you through different steps, really makes you think about everything. We do a lot of re-parenting in an indirect way, right? You go back because you have to think about how you were parented and how it affected you, and that really affects how you show up for your kids. So it’s one of those things that we don’t always want to explore, but it’s important and it allows the time and the space for you to do that. So it’s one of my favorite things to see people’s transformations and how they are with their kids after they go through it. It’s amazing. So that’s a 12-week course and telemedicine is available for California residents, which is where I reside and I’m available most days and weekends. And yeah, you can find me at my website, or Instagram at Ask Dr. Mom underscore and reach out to me there. Happy to connect.

Dr. Amy Moore: Is the coaching program available nationwide?

Dr. Elham Raker: Yes, nationwide. Internationally actually. Yeah. Yeah. The medicine is just the licensing prohibits that, but coaching is available everywhere.

Dr. Amy Moore: And is that one-on-one or is it a group program? How often do you do it?

Dr. Elham Raker: I’m currently mostly doing one-on-one and thinking about adding group programs as well. If anyone is interested in that, I’m definitely open to it. But, It just depends what you’re, you know, what you’re looking for. But yeah, mostly one-on-one at the moment.

Dr. Amy Moore: Okay. And then how often do you meet? Like once a week?

Dr. Elham Raker: We try to do once a week. Yeah. Yeah. And there’s like workbooks and homework, so I always tell people, don’t worry about the time commitment. Don’t worry about everything else going on. Like I know how busy everyone is. I think as long as you just show up and you want to, you know, make a difference, that’s all you need is the intention.

Dr. Amy Moore: Right. And you write a blog too?

Dr. Elham Raker: I do. I haven’t been as active in it, but I write for, like you said, the Tiny Beans or other posts and Jai Parenting has one that they’re gonna publish soon, specifically on anger. I’ll share it with you guys when it’s out, but, yeah, yeah. I do a little bit in medical. Um, I’ve been in Kevin, MD and mostly just parenting in my experiences and honestly, mostly just helping parents to calm down and enjoy the process, not the whole process.

Dr. Amy Moore: Are you saying Jai?

Dr. Elham Raker: Yeah. G-A-I.

Dr. Amy Moore: G-A-I. I thought, I’m sorry—

Dr. Elham Raker: J-A-I. Sorry. J-A-I Parent. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s the program I went to. That’s a program they use and that I use and it’s very research based and you know, that bodes well for someone from the medical field as well. And it’s great. So happy to share that.

Sandy Zamalis: All right. My takeaway for today is anchor to harbor. I have that like underscored five times.

Dr. Elham Raker: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a great, right. It’s a great analogy, and it’s just, if you just kind of remember that without going into all the details, it’s actually an acronym that stands for all these different letters, but that’s really all it is. It’s just anchor to provide that safe harbor for your kids. And honestly, that’s at any age. I mean, I’m 47, actually, I think I just turned 48. I forget how old I am sometimes. And I need that. You know, there’s times where I’m all over the place and I really just need that person either physically or virtually or emotionally. So I think we have to understand that it’s not an age thing, you know? And we talk about this very much, but developmentally, I think we often think like, “Oh my kid’s, five, they should be able to do all these things by themselves, and we have to like go over that because it’s not really age. And sometimes they did—maybe they did that thing by themselves a week ago, but now they need your help and that’s okay. You know? That’s okay. They’re not—they’re gonna graduate from high school learning to tie their shoes. It’ll be fine.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. I love that. So, we are out of time, but thank you so much Dr. El for being with us today. You’ve just been a wealth of wisdom with some great tips on some hot topics, for sure.

Dr. Elham Raker: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Dr. Amy Moore: Absolutely. So listeners, if you would like more information about Dr. El, like she said, you can visit her website at I think it’s doctor dash mom. You can connect with her on Instagram at Ask Doctor Mom, on Facebook at Ask Doctor Mom and a Blog,  and on her YouTube channel, Elham Raker, M.D. So, thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, I would love it if you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. If you would rather watch us, we are on YouTube and you can find us on every social media channel at The Brainy Moms. Be sure to check out Sandy’s TikTok at the Brain Trainer Lady. Did I get it right this time, Sandy?

Sandy Zamalis: You did. You got it.

Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. Sandy’s got fun stuff on TikTok, so. All right, look, until next time, we know that you’re busy moms, and we’re busy moms, so we’re out.

Sandy Zamalis: Have a great week.