Parents seem to be putting pressure on themselves to be ideal parents now more than ever. According leading child psychiatrist Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, that pressure is often serving neither the parent nor the child. Dr. Hallowell has been invited to speak at a free community event hosted by Forty Carrots Family Center in Sarasota in October. He will be discussing the five-step approach described in his best-selling book, The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness. In an interview recently, SRQ Publisher Wes Roberts and Dr. Hallowell discussed finding joy in parenting, overcoming dyslexia and ADHD, and the increasing loss of the human connection in both everyday life and in the practice of medicine.


Dr. Hallowell: The topic of developing happiness seems to be timely. [Parents] sort of buy in blindly to what I call “The Pyramid Model.”The idea that the  kids that do best in adult life are those who do best in childhood. It’s simply not true. The truth is that, in fact, if you raise your child well then every child can have access to an ideal adulthood, not just the ones who are at the top of the pyramid.

How does this tie into the idea of  "necessary and unnecessary suffering”that you address in your writings? Necessary suffering is going to the weight room or practicing the piano or editing the paper you wrote. Unnecessary suffering is depression, paranoia, being bullied, teased, watching your parents fight with each other—that sort of thing. Studies show that with adults, there is a baseline satisfaction level-meaning that if something tragic happens to an adult, they will mourn the loss but with time they will return to the same level of happiness– a set point. So what you want to do is get your kids through childhood so that their set point is pretty high. You know, you can look at people that win the lottery or you can look at people become quadriplegic and visit them a year later and [they report their happiness level to be] right where they were before their life changed.

You talk about Attention Deficity Hyperativity Disorder (ADHD) being primarily genetic in origin and your books discuss the importance of good parenting. Is there a conflict between which issues are learned and which are innate? Nature and nurture both matter. Genetics matter. But you can’t control that. What you can control is the nurture part, and nurture also matters. It matters a lot and the good news is you don’t have to have a high I.Q., you don’t have to be wealthy, you don’t have to be top of the heap, in order to lay claim to a fantastic life. And that’s a fact that most parents are not aware of. They worry way too much. The method that I present is quite eye- opening and really quite relieving. Every child can grow up to be happy, confident, fulfilled.

Are you concerned about the peer influence of other children that may not have been raised in a healthful way? Well you can’t do much to control that and you can guide them in terms of what friends they select, whose house they go to to have a play group, particularly when they are young. Most parents in my experience do a pretty darn good job. The press will tell you that there is danger lurking around every tree but it’s just not true. I have three kids and they are now 25, 22 and 19 and I can’t remember ever encountering a parent that I felt they had to avoid or a house they couldn’t go to.

You are open about having dyslexia and ADHD yourself. Might that make you more likely to think of these as positives rather than negatives? I have treated more people with ADD and dyslexia than anyone in the world so I can say with great confidence that if you manage these conditions properly then they become assets in your life. If you don’t then they can ruin your life. The prisons are full of people with undiagnosed ADD-also among the addicted and the unemployed and the multiply-divorced. It can be a curse. It can be a horrible thing and it can ruin your life. On the other hand I can name to you Nobel Prize-winners and self-made billionaires and entrepreneurs, CEOs, Academy Award-winners, Pulitzer Prize-winners who have ADD and dyslexia. They are very interesting traits and the key is not to so stigmatize them such that people acquire the disabilities of shame, fear and a belief that they are unable to excel. I have dyslexia and majored in English at Harvard while doing pre-med. I graduated with high honors. It does not have to hold you back. Yes those conditions, both ADD and dyslexia come with certain challenges but they also come with major assetts. 

What are the challenges you face looking for provable science for psychology? I know what you are getting at. Evidence-based stuff has been taken way too far and people are following protocols and rule books and the art of medicine is being thrown out to the window. Sure, you don’t want to just try any old things, you want to have some science behind it, but at the same time goodness knows in my field there is so much more we don’t know than we do know. We really hamstring ourselves if we only use proven interventions. I think the most powerful tool to make people feel better is love. There is no double-blind study that proves that, but I am not going to wait for the double-blind prospective study on the power of love because I know it works. So I think that is where you have to have a sudden attack of common sense and not be intimidated by this evidence-based thing. Which arose for good reason! Especially in psychology people were just doing anything they wanted and then psychoanalysis had a strangle hold on the field but now we have gone way the other way. Now we are prescribing too many medications, and why do we prescribe them? There is evidence. And why is there evidence? Because the drug companies can pay for the studies. And that’s great. I don’t bemoan the studies, but they get done because the funding is there to study medication. The funding is not there to study love or acupuncture or taking a bath in a creek. And yet all of those things an be tremendously helpful. Yeah, I suppose it would ruffle some feathers, but I have come up and I have stood the test of time and it’s so clear that this is what people need to hear and nobody with an I.Q. above 20 would disagree with what I have just said. I think people are starved for human connection in medicine these days. They are being given tons of technology, which is fine, but it needs to be buttressed and supplemented with human connection and people aren’t getting that. Not just in psychiatry.

What are actionable ways our readers can stem the tide of depersonalization?  Have family dinner. Read aloud at bedtime. Sit on the grass in the park and have a picnic. Visit Grandma. Go to the fire station and get on the fire engine. Go with Dad to work. Go with mom to work. Visit a homeless shelter. Go to church or synagogue. Walk down Main Street and walk into every shop and find out what they do. Have a pet. Go outside and play.

I don’t think you are able to do all those things effectively and play Angry Birds at the same time.  That’s correct. With my family we did all of the above. We took the whole month of August off and went to a little lake where there was no TV and swam and played tennis and had friends over. I shut down my practice. Not everyone can afford to do that but we made a point. My first rule of parenting is "Have fun with your kids.”

Is the state-run education system doing well?  It’s doing horribly. Horribly. I mean I am not a wealthy man because we sent all three kids to private school. It’s a huge sacrifice to do that, but thank God we did because the public school system is all about numbers and memorize then forget. The way kids should be taught is through questions, all Socratic learn by doing. The teacher comes in and asks a question. That should begin the class, not a lecture. What’s happening in public schools is, I feel, very bad. It’s a travesty. 

One last question: are kids born happy? Yeah. I think they are. That can be dismantled or bolstered. Some rare few are born very unhappy and that can be improved upon, they will probably never be robustly happy but if you are born with the genetic predisposition to major depression or even worse you will probably never be tremendously happy but that’s a distinct few. I think most kids come out of the womb happy.



Edward Hallowell, M.D., Ed.D. (Honorary), is a child and adult psychiatrist, New York Times bestselling author, world-renowned speaker and leading authority in the field of ADHD. He was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School from 1983 to 2004, graduated from Harvard College and Tulane School of Medicine, and is the founder of The Hallowell Centers for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Sudbury, MA, New York City and San Francisco. These Centers offer comprehensive mental health diagnostic and treatment services to patients and their families. Dr. Hallowell is best known for the ground-breaking books he co-authored with Dr. John Ratey, Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction, which have sold millions of copies. With decades of experience working with people who have ADHD, Dr. Hallowell has long argued that ADHD is too often misunderstood, mistreated and mislabeled as a “disability” and that the gifts of this condition are easily lost amid negative comments.He is also a revered authority on lifelong personal betterment and fulfillment. He has authored eighteen books on various psychological topics including the power of the human connection, the childhood roots of happiness, methods of forgiving others, dealing with worry, and managing excessive busyness. Dr. Hallowell is a highly recognized public figure, appearing on numerous national television programs including Oprah, Dr. Oz, 20/20 Dr. Phil, 60 Minutes, CNN, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and The View. He has been interviewed for The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, Time Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, the Los Angeles Times, and many other leading publications. Dr. Hallowell lives in the Boston area with his wife, Sue, a social worker, and their three children. His greatest love is doing whatever they want to do and spending one summer month at the aptly-named Lake Doolittle, where they connect and slow down.


Learn more at or You can hear Dr. Hallowell speak this October 9 at the Forty Carrots Speaker Series at The Hyatt. Go to for details and tickets.