Tim McCarthy On How to Raise Children Who Feel Loved and Connected

An interview with Pirie Jones Grossman

Pirie Jones Grossman
Authority Magazine
16 min readJan 5, 2023


Limit screen time for preschoolers to 1 hour a day. Don’t just hand the child the device and walk away. There is evidence that the amount of screen time young children spend is associated with poorer executive functions and self-regulation.

Parenting is challenging. We all try so hard to give our all to our children. We desperately want them to feel loved and connected. But somehow there is often a disconnect. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, or that we don’t seem to speak the same language as our children, or just all of the “disconnection” that our kids are dealing with in today’s frenetic world. What are steps that parents can take to help their children feel loved and connected? As a part of our series about “How to Raise Children Who Feel Loved and Connected” we had the pleasure to interview Tim McCarthy.

Tim McCarthy has a Master’s Degree in Education and a Grand Master rank in the martial arts. He has combined his years of experience as a classroom teacher and administrator (in both public and private schools) with even more years of experience teaching and developing martial arts programs to create a simple plan for the education of children available at https://4d-2d.com. His unique perspective combining Eastern and Western educational philosophy creates a powerful road map for raising balanced children in an increasingly unbalanced world.

Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know a bit about you. Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

Like many children of my generation, I grew up outside. When I was young, I lived in a northern city where we played stick-ball in the street. My mother apparently felt we needed to get out of the city, so one day, when my father returned home from a business trip, she told him she bought a house in the mountains. He had a fairly long commute to work, but we enjoyed fishing, hiking in the woods, and skating on the lake. When we moved to Florida, I continued my love of outdoors and the water, playing and boating on the lakes and going to the beach whenever possible. As long as there was sunlight, I was probably outdoors, and after dinner, we sat down in front of the TV. There was no Internet, we had no cell phones, so all our relationships were with people we could actually reach out and touch.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

I am and have been an educator for over 40 years. I have personally taught thousands of students of all ages using both Eastern and Western philosophies of education. For 20 of those years I have also designed educational courses and curricula in the martial arts. I believe that human beings have 4 Dimensions: The Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual. It is an Eastern way of understanding the human experience that I learned in my martial arts studies and is very different from our current Western educational system. That was why I chose to leave the school system and focus on the martial arts: I was able to teach and develop students in all 4 Dimensions and have designed martial arts programs that have been used by hundreds of schools across the U.S. and Canada, and in some other countries as well. One of the things I am most proud of is my contribution to popularizing and developing the After School Martial Arts programs and Martial Arts Summer Camps . . . you probably have seen signs on the side of the road in your community.

Now I am making those same educational principles available to every parent.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you explain to us why it is so important to forge a strong connection with our children?

Lack of physical contact during infancy seems to lead to emotional problems later, so hold and hug your baby as often as you can.

All children have three emotional needs: Your attention, your affection, and your acknowledgment. When your child cries, she is reaching out to communicate her needs. When you respond, you teach her that she can count on people to help her in need. If you are nowhere to be found when she cries, or you provide the wrong response, she learns that she can’t trust that anyone will help her in need. This is how children learn to feel secure or insecure.

When you try to soothe her, and she continues to cry, and you don’t give up in frustration but continue to try different strategies, she learns that she is important and that her parents will care for her. While you are learning which cry means which need, she will also learn to soothe herself from the methods you use to soothe her.

As she grows older, the same principles apply, just with different circumstances. Older children may or may not express what is exactly bothering them, but your attention, affection, and acknowledgement will communicate the same messages to them even into their teen years and beyond.

What happens when children do not have that connection, or only have a weak connection?

When you don’t pay attention to your child, the message is: You’re not important. When you don’t show affection, the message is: You’re not lovable.

Your child is learning about his self-worth, and lack of connection with the most important people in his life basically creates an intense desire to become important. Unfortunately, someone who believes he is not lovable may try to become important in a negative way . . . as a criminal or even a mass shooter like we are seeing in the news far too often.

Even those who don’t act out in extreme ways seem to suffer silently. Younger teen and preteen girls today are 189% more likely to cut or harm themselves and 151% more likely to attempt suicide when compared to the same-aged girls from 2000 to 2010. We are obviously moving in the wrong direction.

Do you think children in this generation are less likely to feel loved and connected? Why do you feel the way you do?

Probably. Children crave and actually need attention. Unfortunately, there are just more distractions nowadays to divert parents away from their children and to distract children from their parents.

For example, according to the Huffington Post, in one study 50% of parents in Arizona believed their children learn as much watching television as being with their parents. How is a child going to feel loved and connected by watching a television? Research doesn’t even support that the child will LEARN as much from the TV as from the parents, much less feel loved and connected, yet 50% of those parents feel justified just plopping the child in front of the screen and ignoring him.

The statistics on self-harm and suicide I just mentioned in the previous question seem to be connected to the rise in social media participation by those same young girls. We need to connect with each other, live and in-person, rather than spend so much of our valuable time with a cold screen of artificial of images.

We live in a world with incessant demands for our time and attention. There is so much distraction and disconnection. Can you share with our readers 5 steps that parents can take to help their children feel loved and connected? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.

  1. Hug your baby and respond to her needs. Long before your baby can talk, she will communicate with a sound, a facial expression, or a movement. Learn your baby’s language before she learns yours, and respond the best way you know how. Think of it like playing tennis: Your baby will serve up a clue, and you return with your response. For example, if she starts crying, you may pick her up and comfort her. If she wasn’t crying because she’s lonely, she’ll continue to cry, maybe louder. You then return with a different response. Is she hungry? Provide a nipple. If she wasn’t hungry, she’ll refuse to eat and continue to cry, maybe louder. At that point you may realize there is a certain hint in the air . . . she has a dirty diaper. When you change it and clean her up, she stops crying. She serves up a need, you respond, pay attention to her response, and respond again until you both win. It’s a match made in heaven.
  2. Help your toddler identify what he’s feeling. During the second year, your child will start to experience a range of new emotions that he has never felt before, so he doesn’t know how to handle them. Start by helping him identify what he is feeling, “Are you feeling angry?” Name it to tame it. Notice that the word “feel” is used to separate the emotion from the identity. “You are feeling angry,” teaches him about an emotion. “You are angry” labels him. When your child can identify whether he feels happy or sad, calm or angry, you start to develop the tools to deal with those feelings. One of those tools is a game I call “I’m gonna be” where you start out by learning to name opposite emotions. You say, “I feel sad, but I’m gonna be ______?” and wait for your child to say, “Happy!” Say, “I feel angry, but I’m gonna be ______?” and wait for him to say, “Calm!” Then, when you notice your child feeling something negative, you ask, “How do you feel?” When he says, “Angry!” you respond with, “but I’m gonna be _____?” and wait for him to say, “Calm.” This little game teaches him how to change his emotional state when he is upset.
  3. Communicate. Your child’s receptive vocabulary is much larger than her productive vocabulary (she understands more than she can speak.) Constantly talk to your child. Narrate your walks in the park. Read books together and ask questions about what you are reading. When your child begins talking, listen and respond. Play games together. Help with homework. Talk about feelings and relationships. As your child grows, introduce the idea of self-talk. If you are not familiar with the term, it is the voice inside your head that talks about yourself, saying things like, “I’m smart,” or, “I’m dumb.” Help her understand the difference between positive and negative self-talk, and make her comfortable sharing her self-talk with you so you know what she’s thinking. You can also plant positive or negative self-talk in her mind with the things you say, so make lots of deposits into her emotional bank account with compliments and positive affirmations. These deposits will pay you a lifetime of dividends in self-confidence and self-motivation.
  4. Develop a Growth Mindset. As your child grows, switch your compliments away from praising talents (“You’re so smart!”) into praising effort (“Good job!”) because your child can control his effort but not the result. Help your child develop grit by learning to overcome challenges and persevere when faced with failure. Teach by example that ability is not solely inborn, but can be learned and developed with effort. Instill the attitude that when he tries, sometimes he will fail, but failure isn’t a judgment on him as a person; it is merely a step on the path to success. Don’t be a helicopter parent who is always hovering above, ready to swoop down and solve any problem for the child. Instead, stay back and let your child try to figure out the solution. If he has trouble, don’t offer the solution, but offer hints as to how to find the solution if you want your child to be able to solve problems later in life when you are not around.
  5. Develop an Internal Locus of Control. Help your preteen or teenager expand on the idea of self-talk by understanding that she has control over her self-esteem. She can develop her own moral compass by learning to like herself and providing her own guidelines for self-approval, instead of comparing herself to others and trying to meet their conflicting expectations. She should compare herself only to herself in the past, and meet her own expectations by continuing to be better today than she was yesterday. Also, help her understand the difference between sex and love, so that she doesn’t easily confuse the two desires in her own heart, or allow someone else to intentionally try to confuse her. By teaching her to have a healthy dose of skepticism, you teach her to think more deeply about her feelings, beliefs, and decisions, so that she becomes the queen of her own life instead of a pawn in someone else’s.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

Good parents realize that although they are responsible for their children, they do not own them, and they cannot control them. Children are unique beings who are not here to re-live your life as you would have liked it. They are here to live their own lives, make their own mistakes, and create their own futures. Good parents are the cheerleaders, not the star players in their child’s life.

Good parents give their children the attention they deserve. However, remember that children want your attention more than anything, so if they get more attention by being bad than by being good, then you literally encourage them to be bad.

A good parent puts connection before control. When your child disobeys or acts out emotionally, ask yourself, “What is he trying to express?” Is he tired? Hungry? Frightened? What is the underlying cause of the surface behavior? Listen first before you react. Show you are on his side.

While I am talking about reacting, an important concept is Minimum Consequences: You want to use the minimum consequences to get the job done. You don’t want to use a bazooka to kill flies when a fly swatter will do the job just as well without the collateral damage. Any discipline you use should be just enough to stop the unwanted behavior. Excessive punishment has collateral emotional damage, so do your best to get the best behavior with the minimum consequences.

Please remember: Even good parents get it right only 50% of the time, but they repair and restore. Not-so-good parents are ones that react inappropriately or create emotional discomfort, which causes a lack of attachment for their children.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

First, let me start with the wrong way: Don’t be one of those parents who “NO” too much. On one hand, a loud, “No!” may save your baby from burning herself on something hot. On the other hand, children who are told, “No!” too often tend to grow up focused more on what they can’t do, as opposed to what they can do. Once your child learns the meaning of, “No!” use it judiciously.

On a more positive note, remember the Pygmalion effect: Children will live up to your expectations. If you expect them to be a strong, smart, loving, and good, they will try to live up to your expectations.

One activity that sets the stage for dreaming big is called One Up. It starts as an imagination game with a young child by saying something like, “I love you.” The child then One-ups you by saying, “I love you more.” You then respond with something like, “I love you as big as this house.” He then replies, “I love you as big as this city.” Once the child gets the idea, you can use it as a reference when talking about goals. Your child might say, “I want to learn to play soccer.” You might respond with, “I want to join the YMCA soccer team.” You can continue to One Up each other to get practice on dreaming big.

How would you define “success” when it comes to raising children?

I like the following story that describes two ways of parenting: The Carpenter and the Gardener.

The Carpenter begins with the end in mind. He takes a piece of wood, cuts it, shapes it, and assembles it into something useful. If he is a good carpenter, his creation is both functional and beautiful. His work is consistent, so that if he makes a set of four chairs, they all look exactly alike.

The Gardener creates an environment that helps his garden grow. He provides the seeds, the fertilizer, and the water, but the plants must grow on their own according to their nature. He prevents interference from weeds and insects, and occasionally needs to trim the plants, but each plant grows differently and is beautiful in its own way.

Although both parenting styles might be considered successful, I believe the carpenter focuses on himself and his own desires, while the gardener focuses on the child and his needs.

This is a huge topic in itself, but it would be worthwhile to touch upon it here. What are some ideal social media and digital habits that you think parents should teach to their children?

  1. Start early: No screen time for Infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time before the age of 18 months.
  2. Limit screen time for preschoolers to 1 hour a day. Don’t just hand the child the device and walk away. There is evidence that the amount of screen time young children spend is associated with poorer executive functions and self-regulation.
  3. Hold off on giving your child a phone. Why does a 6 year old need a phone? Childhood is a precious time and does not last long. Please encourage your child to run and play in the four dimensional world and postpone the two dimensional world for later.
  4. No Social Media Accounts until high school. Cite the rules of the social media companies and blame them. Be sure to install password protected parental controls on all devices, including the phone you will eventually give to your child. Set up these rules as a condition of getting the phone, tablet, or computer. It’s easier to live with rules you don’t like than to suddenly have privileges taken away that you thought were your rights.
  5. Limit screen time, but separate work time from play time. School work done on a tablet or computer is necessary. Encourage it (but also monitor it.) Set limits of play time that includes watching TV, gaming, social media, and texting or talking on the phone. Establish screen free zones like the kitchen, dining room, bedrooms at night, and the car while driving. Now here’s the really hard part: You have to follow the rules yourself.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

I’ve been fortunate to be involved with several podcasts recently, including The NeuroDiverse Teacher, SoloMoms, and The Champion Stepdad, which all focus on becoming a better parent. I can recommend each for the different audiences they serve.

As far as resources, I have to choose my book Raising 4 Dimensional Children in a 2 Dimensional World because it’s the only one I know of that not only gives you theory based on the results of the latest research in developmental child psychology, it also gives you practice in the form of hundreds of activities like the ones I have mentioned in this article. It is the only resource I am aware of that approaches parenting through all 4 dimensions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Happiness isn’t getting what you want, but wanting what you get.

Long ago I decided I would have a career, rather than a job: I would spend my time doing what I enjoyed, which is teaching. Teaching does not pay well, so I learned to live on a budget. The simple rule of personal economics is to spend less that you make, and you’ll never suffer financial pressure. That rule works whether you make $10,000 a year or $1,000,000 a year.

I avoided a lot of late-life regrets by starting with the end in mind: A life I could not only be proud of because I did something meaningful, but a life I enjoyed along the way.

Did I suffer trials and tribulations? Of course, but although what happens is important, much more important is how you deal with it. There are things you can control and things you can’t. You can control some future circumstances by the choices you make, but there are other circumstances that are just beyond your control.

One thing you can definitely control is your attitude. I’m not saying you shouldn’t work for the things you want, but working toward a goal is different than feeling sorry for yourself because you don’t have something. Develop an attitude of gratitude to appreciate all you have, instead of wasting your life wishing for something you don’t.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would love to start a national conversation about 4 Dimensional Parenting and inspire research to validate what I say.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

About The Interviewer: Pirie is a TedX speaker, author and a Life Empowerment Coach. She is a co-host of Own your Throne podcast, inspiring women in the 2nd chapter of their lives. With over 20 years in front of the camera, Pirie Grossman understands the power of storytelling. After success in commercials and acting. She spent 10 years reporting for E! Entertainment Television, Entertainment Tonight, also hosted ABC’s “Every Woman”. Her work off-camera capitalizes on her strength, producing, bringing people together for unique experiences. She produced a Children’s Day of Compassion during the Dalai Lama’s visit here in 2005. 10,000 children attended, sharing ideas about compassion with His Holiness. From 2006–2009, Pirie Co-chaired the Special Olympics World Winter Games, in Idaho, welcoming 3,000 athletes from over 150 countries. She founded Destiny Productions to create Wellness Festivals and is an Advisory Board member of the Sun Valley Wellness Board.In February 2017, Pirie produced, “Love is Louder”, a Brain Health Summit, bringing in Kevin Hines, noted suicide survivor to Sun Valley who spoke to school kids about suicide. Sun Valley is in the top 5% highest suicide rate per capita in the Northwest, prompting a community initiative with St. Luke’s and other stake holders, to begin healing. She lives in Sun Valley with her two children, serves on the Board of Community School. She has her Master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica and is an Executive Life Empowerment Coach, where she helps people meet their dreams and goals! The difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal is a dream with a date on it!



Pirie Jones Grossman
Authority Magazine

TedX Speaker, Influencer, Bestselling Author and former TV host for E! Entertainment Television, Fox Television, NBC, CBS and ABC.