In this episode of the “Dads with Daughters” podcast, host Christopher Lewis welcomes author and parenting expert Michelle Icard. The podcast aims to provide resources and support to help fathers be the best they can be in raising strong, independent daughters.
Christopher introduces Michelle Icard, highlighting her extensive experience as a writer and her focus on parenting topics. Michelle is the author of several books, including “14 Talks by Age 14,” “Middle School Makeover,” and her newest book, “Eight Setbacks that can make a child a Success.” She’s also a parent herself, with two young adult children.
Michelle shares her journey into writing and parenting support. She mentions that her initial foray into writing was sparked by a teacher who recognized her writing skills when she was a 9th grader. This experience helped her identify herself as a writer, even though it wasn’t her primary focus at the time. She later developed a social leadership curriculum for middle schoolers, which became the basis for her first book.
The conversation transitions into discussing Michelle’s focus on middle school children and the challenges they face during that developmental stage. She explains that middle school is a critical time when kids are building their adult brains, bodies, and identities, which can lead to both internal and external struggles. She emphasizes the importance of understanding this transformative process.
The podcast delves into Michelle’s book “14 Talks by Age 14,” where she provides practical guidance for parents on how to approach essential conversations with their children, from topics like sex and sexuality to friendship and risk-taking. The book includes conversation scripts, conversation starters, and tips for initiating discussions with children who might not always be receptive.
The conversation evolves to discuss Michelle’s latest book, “Eight Setbacks that can make a child a Success.” Michelle explains that she identified eight archetypal setbacks that children commonly face during their development. These setbacks include the rebel, the daredevil, the misfit, the ego, the loner, the sensitive one, the black sheep, and the benchwarmer. She emphasizes that children may move through different archetypes at various stages of their lives. Michelle’s three-step approach to handling setbacks—contain, resolve, and evolve—is discussed in detail.
The podcast highlights that the book is not just for parents of middle schoolers; it’s relevant for parents with children aged 8 to 18. Christopher emphasizes the longevity of the lessons Michelle provides, which continue to be applicable as children grow into young adults.
Michelle expresses her desire for parents to feel relief after reading her book. She wants parents to understand that the challenges their children face are part of the normal developmental process. She emphasizes that mistakes and setbacks are opportunities for growth and learning.
Christopher encourages listeners to connect with Michelle through her website, michelleicard.com, and her Instagram profile. He also mentions her Facebook group, “Less Stressed Middle School Parents,” which is relevant for parents of middle school and high school children.
The episode concludes with a message of encouragement for parents to embrace the challenges and setbacks their children face, recognizing that these experiences contribute to their growth into capable, confident adults.
Christopher Lewis [00:00:06]:
Welcome to dads with daughters. In this show, we spotlight dads resources and more to help you be the best dad you can be. Welcome back to the Dads with Daughters podcast, where we bring you guests to be active participants in your daughter’s lives, raising them to be strong, independent women. Really excited to have you back again this week. As always, every week you and I are on a journey together and it’s a great opportunity for us to be able to talk one on one about the journey that you’re on and raising your daughters, it’s not always going to be easy. It’s not always going to be a simple journey. There’s going to be bumps in the road, but that’s why we’re here. We’re here to walk alongside you as you go through this and hopefully give you some tips, some hints, some resources, some things that you can draw on, some tools for that toolbox that you carry with you that will help you in that journey that you’re on.
Christopher Lewis [00:01:03]:
Every week I bring you different guests, different people from different walks of life, dads, moms, other resources that will help you to be able to do just that. And that’s what this show is all about. This show is all about helping you to walk this journey. And I am so happy that every week I get to have that opportunity with you. This week, we’ve got another great guest with us today. Michelle Eichert is with us today. And Michelle has written for the Today Show Parenting Team, NBC News, Learn, CNN Science and Wellness and The Washington Post. She’s the author of a few different books, one called 14 Talks by Age 14 and Middle School Makeover.
Christopher Lewis [00:01:46]:
And we’re also going to be talking about a brand new book that she has written called Eight Setbacks that can make a child a Success. And I’m really excited to be able to talk to her because she is a parent herself. She has two young adult children, and also all these topics are definitely relevant to the journey that thank you so much for having me. I’m really happy to chat our parenting experience. So Michelle, thanks so much for being here today. I’m really excited to be able to have you on and to talk about not only the new book, but some of these other books too, because I think all of these topics are ones that we probably could have multiple podcast episodes on because they’re definitely issues and things that we deal with as parents. I guess first and foremost, I’d love to go back. I said that you have a brand new book that you have called Eight Setbacks that can make a child a success.
Christopher Lewis [00:02:48]:
But before we jump into that, you’ve had three different books that you have written and I would love to kind of go back in time because all of these are talking about kids, they’re talking about parents, they’re talking about working with kids. Talk to me a little bit about your background that led you to wanting to be a writer. Because I’ve written books, I know how much time and effort it takes, and it is definitely a passion project to get these things done. So talk to me about the journey and what made you decide you wanted to be an author. T
Michelle Icard [00:03:55]:
The first book came out in 2015. Prior to that book, I had been working in this field with young adolescents and their parents and their schools because I had developed a curriculum, which I called a social leadership curriculum, and it was for middle schoolers, and it started in 2004. So my kids were two and four at the time. My kids are now 21 and 23, so they have really grown up through all of this and have been wonderful guinea pigs for me personally and professionally to help me figure things out. But I started not thinking that I would write a book. I always knew that I loved writing. And I will say that there was a moment in my life when I was a 9th grader and I felt like most 9th graders probably do, which is I had a big question mark as to who I was. And I didn’t really know who to be friends with or how I wanted to present myself or what I thought about things. I was really floundering. And we were given an assignment in 9th grade English to write a short biography, a two page story from our life, and I did it. And I was a nervous kid. I was a very anxious, nervous kid, as probably many writers were.
Michelle Icard [00:04:33]:
And so I handed in my paper, and it came back with all these red marks on it. And I panicked because this happened to be a teacher at our school who was known for being very loud and very aggressive, and he might throw a book across the room. The teachers could do that kind of thing. And so I saw the red marks, and I thought, oh, please let me just be swallowed up by the earth. I can’t take it. And at the top of the paper, he had written a minus you are a writer, period. And everything changed for me in that moment. I thought, oh, my gosh, this is who I am.
Michelle Icard [00:05:08]:
Thank goodness someone told me who I am, because often we’re afraid of giving kids labels, but I tell you, sometimes it’s wonderful to be told. I think you’re a blank. I think you’re a diplomat, I think you’re a writer, I think you’re a musician, I think you’re an artist, I think you’re an attorney. I think whatever. That felt so good for me. But in any event, I tucked that away as just sort of a pleasure practice. I liked to write kind of for fun. I did this curriculum, so it was more businessy writing than anything, and then I was giving a lot of talks about the program and the effect it was having on kids.
Michelle Icard [00:05:45]:
And parents were saying, we love that you have this for our kids, but what do you have for us? We need something. So the first book was really born out of that request, and that was middle school. Makeover that’s a primer for parents, just sort of how to get through middle school easier. And from there, things kind of started to snowball. Talk to me about middle school because I’ve talked to teachers before about being a middle school teacher. Middle school age is an interesting age. It’s definitely a can be a challenging age for parents. It can be challenging age for teachers as well as kids.
Christopher Lewis [00:06:18]:
And as you said, you started to do your curriculum and your writing when your kids were very young, but you were focusing on the middle school age. What was it about the middle school age that really drew you in and kept you in that space as you wanted to not only help the kids, but help then parents of that age of child?
I have always loved coming of age as a concept. I love it in pop culture, I love it in movies, I love Ya books. I’ve always been fascinated by that. What happened that sort of spawned this curriculum. As I was out to lunch with some girlfriends and we were all talking about how hard middle school was for us, and each of us had a successful private business that we were running, and we were happy and we were in great relationships, but we said you couldn’t pay us to go back to middle school. It was so hard. And I thought, that’s unfortunate, and I want to learn more about why that is.
Michelle Icard [00:07:17]:
So I’m very curious, and I just did a deep dive into what makes coming of age and early adolescence so hard when it looks so fun on TV and in books, such a pleasure to consume at this age, but was so miserable to go through at that age. So I just am fascinated by what I call the middle school construction project. So it’s a time when a kid is building the three things they need to become an adult an adult brain, an adult body, and an adult identity. And that is what drives most of my work. That’s really interesting. I’ve had middle schoolers. Mine are now either in high school or college. Yours are past this age, too, but parents aren’t always told that.
Christopher Lewis [00:08:06]:
And that is something that once you say it, I can’t unhear it. But it is definitely something that I think that parents do need to hear. And I’m sure that in that first book that you wrote, you delved deeper into that to be able to help parents to kind of flip that switch for themselves, to reconceptualize those middle school years.
Yeah, there’s something beautiful about the chaos, I think. So you have these early years of adolescence where your body is going through tremendous change, where your brain is restructuring and rewiring in preparation to become an adult brain, and where you are trying to figure out your own sense of self and your own sense of identity. And what that means is really figuring out who you are apart from your parents. So to a parent, that can look contrarian or rebellious or rude or disrespectful, but to a kid it’s a really important and clunky clumsy practice of trying to say who am I by myself. Because really what kids need to do is become independent.
Michelle Icard [00:09:15]:
That’s our hope for them. And yet we’re also incredibly uncomfortable with the how of that process because it just doesn’t feel good when a kid doesn’t do it gracefully. And they mostly don’t do it gracefully because they’re very new to it. How could they do it gracefully for the first time? So they’re going to be rude and they’re going to be forgetful and they’re going to be self centered. And that’s all just critical to figuring out who they are separate from the people who raised them. They come back around, though. That’s the nice part. They do come back around.
Christopher Lewis [00:09:48]:
Now, you started with that first book. You moved into the 14 Talks by age 14. And I guess let’s talk a little bit about that book because you moved from helping parents to better understand those years to then something a bit, I’m going to say, very tangible in regard to specific things that you should be talking to your kids about. And I know that not everyone has read this book. Can you talk to me about what led you to this and how you identified those 14 Talks? Was it because of the conversations you had with your own kids or was it something different?
The 14 Talks came out of a desire to help parents with what I think is one of the hardest parts of parenting. They were saying to me over and over again, yeah, I get it. I get that I’m supposed to talk to my kid about X, Y or Z, but tell me the words. I don’t know what to say.
Michelle Icard [00:10:42]:
And also my kid won’t listen. So I don’t know how to get my kid to pause and listen to what I’m saying about sex and sexuality or friends and when friendships don’t go the way they’re planned or risk taking or any of that stuff. So I wanted it to be super practical in the sense that there are scripts in the book and you can read them and at least be inspired by them and then make them your own. But it gets you over that sort of stage fright of how do I begin? It also contains things I call conversation Crashers and Conversation starters. So things that if you take this approach, your kid’s going to roll their eyes and walk out of the room. So don’t. And other ways that you can successfully begin a conversation with a kid when they’re at an age when they’re pulling apart and they don’t really want to listen. So that’s sort of the crux of the book.
Michelle Icard [00:11:31]:
And the way I came up with the 14 is I have a parenting group on Facebook and there are 12,000 members. They’re from all over the country. It’s a private group, but anyone can join. It’s called less stressed middle school parents. If anyone listening, wants to pop over there, come hang out with us. I’m working really hard to make it a very supportive corner of Facebook. I asked them, what are the things that, you know, you need to talk about but are struggling with with your child? Created a massive list, rented an airbnb, put each thing on an index card, and covered the floor of the airbnb and walked around like I was solving a crime, actually, until I saw trends where things should be clunked together. And that’s how I did it.
Christopher Lewis [00:12:12]:
So very practical. I love the fact that you used your group as your sounding board, and I can just see you in my mind’s eye walking around that airbnb trying to find and being like, AHA, I found it. Exactly. I can link Deodorant with whatever over here, and we can make it work. I know we can get that into one conversation. Yeah. So you left that book and you now have a brand new book called Aid Setbacks that can make a child a success. And I think one of the things that I think is challenging also in these years is the fact that, like you said, little things can become very big things very quickly, and something that for us would be like, not a big deal is a huge deal for kids during these years.
Christopher Lewis [00:13:10]:
Whether it’s friendships, whether it’s a grade, whether it’s somebody just says something the wrong way and it’s internalized. They can really derail not only a day, but a month, a year. It can really lead kids down that rabbit hole very quickly. And as parents, I know I’ve had those situations where you’re trying to reel them back out and when they’ve hunkered down and shut that door, sometimes it’s very difficult. However, you do need to still be able to provide them with the skills to build that armor for themselves in many ways to help them to be resilient for the future. So talk to me about what led you into this now next book that has built on the work that you’ve done previously and how it’s different from the first two books.
So this has really been an evolution with these three books, from very foundational, practical information you need to understand what your kid is going through to very practical, communication based writing on how to talk to your kid about these very tricky topics that they will encounter to a broader, almost more academic look. At? What does it mean to come of age back to that concept that I love so much? And how do you usher your child across the threshold from being a kid to becoming a responsible, happy, young adult? And I think many of us culturally, societally, are just getting it wrong.
Michelle Icard [00:14:53]:
And it’s because we don’t have a manual or directions that say, this is the way kids become adults. And we so often just think, I guess they pass their classes or they get a driver’s license or a job, and that makes them an adult. And those are all good things that we want for our kids, but they are not the recipe. And so this book is really introducing what I believe to be based on a ton of research that other people have done and that I’ve sort of aggregated what I believe to be the recipe for how kids become. Successful, happy, competent, confident adults and what we need to do to make that possible for them and not to stymie them in their challenges.
I know that one of the things that you introduce in the book is your three step approach for any kind of failure. Can you talk to me about that and how you came up with that, but also maybe how you use that with your own kids and how you’ve seen it kind of play out in real life.
Michelle Icard [00:15:59]:
So, yeah, I’d love to talk about that. The three steps are contain, resolve, and evolve. And I came to this process after interviewing families all across the country about experiences of failure that their kids had gone through. So they ranged from sort of subtle, like my kid had a loss of confidence and that was scary to watch for a while to dramatic or shocking or dangerous. My kid ended up in the hospital because they drank too much alcohol, or my kid got suspended from school because they broke rules or these kinds of things. So a wide variety. I looked at all of those and then I thought about, well, how do each of these families get through it? I asked them things that worked for me, for people I know, and did more research, which I love to do. So I came up with this process that I think fits all of them. And the first step is contain.
Michelle Icard [00:16:50]:
And that means you’ve got to just sort of put a tourniquet on the problem. You’ve got to stop the bleeding. So if something is coming at your child that’s problematic, maybe there’s a bully in the school. Maybe your child is using technology in a way that’s not appropriate. Then you may have to contain what’s coming at them. Or if your child is making decisions that are dangerous for them, you may have to contain the child. And that means, look, you’re going to stay home this weekend. We got to figure some things out because it feels like the world’s getting a little too big and dangerous right now.
Michelle Icard [00:17:21]:
So that’s the first step. A lot of times parents will go, good, I’m done, I’ve contained the problem. That’s probably all I need to do. That’s putting a band Aid on. But you really need to fix the wound underneath there. So that’s the next step. And that’s resolve. And in the book there’s a big menu of items that parents can look at and talk with their kids about and then based on whatever challenge they’re facing, they can pick one or two and that’s taking action to fix the problem.
Michelle Icard [00:17:49]:
So that might mean that an apology is necessary. It might mean that the kid has a misunderstanding about how something works in the world and they need more education or they might need professional consult or they might need an opportunity to negotiate for something that they want. So there’s a big list that they can choose from. This is important because taking action is what keeps kids from feeling helpless when they’re experiencing a challenge. We don’t want that. And the third step is evolve. And I think it’s the most important. And that’s where we put this in the rear view mirror and don’t keep revisiting it so that this doesn’t become the headline of a kid’s childhood.
Michelle Icard [00:18:26]:
It just becomes something they experienced and learned from and then they can move on. So important because as I said earlier, I mean the fact that some of these things can become that headline and kids at this age, at least in my experience, will hyper focus. And like I said, sometimes the small things become so big that they don’t know how to make them small again. And as parents, I know there’s been many times where I’ve had to reframe and I’ve had to work with my own kids to be able to help them to, as you said, contain and then resolve and to evolve. I didn’t have those words, but I was doing that in my own way.
Christopher Lewis [00:19:25]:
So it’s interesting that you frame it in that way. Now, you can tell you’ve done a lot of research, you’ve talked to a lot of people that have led you to putting this together. And you talk about eight setbacks. Define a setback and what does that mean for the child and what does that mean for the parent?
So whatever you call these setbacks or failures or challenges, I tend to think of them as experiences with failure. So that word failure makes some people really uncomfortable, therefore didn’t make it on the title because I didn’t. And also I didn’t want a kid to see the book in their parents possession and think, oh, you think I’m a failure? So I was cautious about leading with that. But throughout the book, I describe ways in which kids fail. And there are these eight archetypes that I came up with after interviewing all of these families and they are the rebel. So that’s failure to follow the rules. The daredevil that’s failure to take care of your body. The misfit is really the academic misfit.
Michelle Icard [00:20:18]:
So that’s failure to perform in school the way that people expect you to. The ego is failure to show concern for others. The loner is failure to connect with your peers. The sensitive one is failure to handle your feelings. You’re easily overwhelmed, maybe anxious. The black sheep is similar to the loner, but the black sheep fails to connect with their family so oftentimes the black sheep will have a robust peer group socially who they like and hang out with. But they feel like the odd person out among their family members and the loner feels like the odd one out among their peers. And often their parents will substitute in as their friends.
Michelle Icard [00:20:56]:
And then the final one is the benchwarmer. And they have a failure to believe in themselves. So they are like you guys play, I’ll sit here and watch. I’m not really good at that. You guys are better at it than I am. So from all of those, you may recognize your kid as one of these sometimes and then they become another one a little bit later. I can tell you from my own youth, I was sometimes the bench warmer, I was sometimes the rebel and I was always the sensitive one. Really anxious little kid.
Michelle Icard [00:21:27]:
So kids will pass through these at different times. There’ll be one and then there’ll be another. They may be a couple at the same time, but this contain, evolve or resolve. Evolve is a way of keeping them from identifying as that forever and learning that they can be more than that and that you see them as more than that. It’s interesting is that while this has been written for a middle school age child, the way that you define and that you’re talking about these phases or these archetypes, I could say that I see it in high schoolers too. And I think that it seems like that even if your child is not in middle school, that the things that you’re teaching here are things that will only continue as they continue through high school, maybe even into some years of college as they get older. Absolutely. And I’ll tell you, I’ve done this work for 20 years and I’ve been in the middle school realm very squarely for almost all of it.
Michelle Icard [00:22:33]:
But this book is actually for parents of kids through high school. So your instincts are right and it is for parents, really of kids ages eight to 18. So that’s my setback to overcome, I guess. People see me squarely as middle school because I’ve been doing it for so long, but now I’m really bringing in some high school topics. So you’ll find some topics that are elementary age appropriate and some that are very high school and beyond, as you say. So you have built building blocks in regards to the books that you’ve been writing, you’ve been researching this for many years and working with parents for many years on all of these different topics. As you have been looking at all of these different aspects, you’re at this point in your life with your own kids and in the research that you’ve done, what gaps still exist for you and what do you want to look at next? Well, this is real fantasy world stuff, but I am really interested in kind of a memoir. I know that that’s a departure from everything I’ve done so far, but that 9th grade writer who had to write that family story, I think about that a lot.
Michelle Icard [00:23:46]:
And my mother passed away last year and my birth father passed away last year. I have a stepfather alive who I have considered my father for most of my life. And you go through these phases of parenting your younger kids and for a while then you’re sort of parenting your parent, especially if there’s an illness or they need more help from you. And all of that arc of parenting my own kids to parenting my parents, it’s brought up a lot of stuff that I’m like, oh, this is kind of an interesting new way to explore concepts of parenting through personal stories and memoir. But that really is the stuff of fantasy at this point. That would be five or ten years off, I could imagine. But I do think it would be a really fun thing and creative thing to explore.
So as people pick up this book in your mind, what is the one or two things that you’re hoping that every person takes out of reading this?
Michelle Icard [00:24:56]:
I’m so happy you asked that because with all of my work and with this book especially, I want you to feel relief. I think you’re going to feel relief. I think if you are worried because your child is one of those archetypes that I mentioned, and you’re so scared that your kid is never going to have confidence and they’re not going to make friends with people who treat them well. Or you’re scared your kid’s never going to care about somebody else. They’re so selfish. Or they’re never going to take care of themselves and they’re going to get hurt. Whatever it may be, I want you. To pick up this book and start reading and take a deep breath and sigh a sigh of relief knowing that every single family is going through something similar to what you’re going through. And we all have these same struggles and emotions, and if we can lift the veil on that sort of nervousness and embarrassment around the very normal, natural things that happen to kids when they’re growing up, I think we will all be much happier and more comfortable and more satisfied as parents.
Christopher Lewis [00:25:48]:
I appreciate you saying that because I think that the word that you just used at the end, I think is important. Being satisfied as parents, because I think we walk through life as parents many times, and we do our best to raise good kids, kids that are making a difference in society, that are helping others. We try to give them the values that are important to our family and do all these other things. But then, I don’t know that we always ask or think about are we satisfied with the work that we do and satisfied with how our kids are turning up? We definitely get worried about whether the kids are turning out the way that we hope that they are, but I don’t know that we always think about that.
My plug is that if you’re worried about raising good kids, I think good kids screw up a lot, and I think that makes them really great adults. I mean, I have an example in the book, and I’m not going to get into it right now, but a story about my coming of age and the decision I made that was disastrous, that taught me one of the biggest lessons of my life. That fills me still with regret and embarrassment. But I am so happy I screwed up in that way because I learned so much about myself.
Michelle Icard [00:27:16]:
If you are constantly living in the world of ease and perfection, you really don’t grow and you don’t learn about yourself. So unburden yourself of the worry that you’re raising a good kid. If you see them screwing up, you’re probably raising a great kid. They’re probably learning a ton along the way. So I want to leave parents with that sense of and
Michelle, if people want to find out more about you, about the book, about your community, where should they go?
Michelle Icard [00:27:56]:
I’d love for people to find me on Instagram. If you’re on Instagram, it’s just my full name, michelleicard. It’s two L’s, and it’s spelled like Icard I-C-A-R-D. So I’m on Instagram. My Facebook group is less stressed middle school parents, but we have tons of high school parents there now, too. So you can find me there and then connect on my website, which is just my name, Michelleikerd.com. I will put a link in the notes today for these different sites. But then also we’ll make sure that we have a link to the books so that you can check them out for yourself and find them, because I know they’re all out there. And these books will definitely help you whether you have middle schoolers or not. In this new one, like Michelle just said, even if you have up through age 18, it’s definitely going to be a book that you’re going to want to check out. And even if you have little kids, prepare now because there’s going to be times when you’re going to need some resources at your fingertips.
Christopher Lewis [00:28:48]:
So, Michelle, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for your time today, for being here, for doing all of this. Work and making parenting easier because we all need it. And I truly appreciate that you have done it and I wish you all the best.
Thank you, Christopher, and thanks for this podcast.
If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode of the Dads with Daughters podcast, we invite you to check out The Fatherhood Insider. The Fatherhood Insider is the essential resource for any dad that wants to be the best dad that he can be. We know that no child comes with an instruction manual and most dads are figuring it out as they go along. And The Fatherhood Insider is full of resources and information that will up your game on Fatherhood.
Christopher Lewis [00:29:28]:
Through our extensive course library, interactive forum, step by step, roadmaps and more, you will engage and learn with experts, but more importantly, dads like you. So check it [email protected]. If you are a father of a daughter and have not yet joined the Dads with Daughters Facebook community, there’s a link in the notes. Today Dads with Daughters is a program of fathering together. We look forward to having you back for another great guest next week, all geared to helping you raise strong, empowered daughters and be the best dad that you can be.
We’re all in the same boat and it’s full of tiny screaming passengers. We spend the time we give the lessons we make the meals we buy them present. Bring your A game because those kids are growing fast. The time goes by just like a dynamite blast calling astronauts and firemen, carpenters and muscle men get out and be the one to now be the best die you can be. You’re the best dad you can be.