If you have little ones in your home, you know the feelings of frustration when it comes to trying to get them to do something that they don’t want to do. And what do you do when your little one is crying inconsolably, and it seems like nothing works? If you’re like my guest today, you get creative.
My guest today is going to talk to us about how she got so creative. She ended up with over 300 stories that were effective at helping calm her little one down and have worked to calm down other children as well. How did she do that? She let him interrupt.
“Aleloop” aka Alejandra Leibovich, served as the senior art director for Nickelodeon, VH1, and MTV, and has won numerous awards for her work in the industry. She’s also the co-founder of How to Manage Enterprises, which has been listed as an Inc. 5000 fastest growing company for six years in a row. Through How to Manage Enterprises, Alejandra ensures that entrepreneurs get to grow and positively affect the lives of thousands of families. One of her most important roles is being mother to Taye, who is six years old and who is also the inspiration behind Stories Interrupted.
As a mother of three kids, it doesn’t take a lot to reach that moment of frustration, and you have taken that frustration and brought your creativity to bear with a story series called Stories Interrupted.
Watch the whole video or use the links below to jump to areas within the transcript below, which has been lightly edited for easier reading.
- What are Stories Interrupted?
- How did you take this moment with your son and develop a library of stories? And where can people find out more?
- How can parents access your app and learn from your examples?
- Where can people go to learn more about your community and about the stories?
- How did you juggle the demands of being a successful entrepreneur with motherhood?
- What helps you get through all the challenges in your life?
- In what way did having a child surprise you?
- Watching children grow, presents opportunities for parents to grow too
- Do you have a message of hope for parents about all the opportunities that parenting has to offer?
What are Stories Interrupted?
When my son was two, three, or four, he had been a happy-go-lucky kid—amazingly happy with zero issues and very little crying. But then, as he got older, I don’t know what happened. He would go into these crying sprees. I would say “No” to something, and he would start crying like any other kid. But he wouldn’t stop after a minute or two. He would keep crying, and I realized that he couldn’t stop. So, I gave him the language, which is something that I find very important to give our kids so they can express themselves and be less frustrated. I gave him the language to ask for help and to stop crying.
After that he began asking me to help him stop crying, and it was heart breaking. So, I tried everything I could. I asked teachers, friends, and a psychologist. I read books. Nothing worked consistently. The advice about breathing was the worst; that didn’t work at all.
One day he went into one of these crying sprees, and I thought: I’m going to use what I do with the TV networks. Let’s see if I can interrupt him and change the pattern. So, I asked him a simple question which was, “Have I ever told you the story about the frog with the one eye?” It was like magic. He stopped crying and looked at me, and I thought “Oh gosh, what do I do now?”
So, I had to start telling him a story that I didn’t know. I just invented it on the spot. Anything I saw in the room went into the story, and within seconds he stopped crying completely. Soon he was laughing, and then he was participating! I realized that by letting him interrupt his brain was engaged, and his crying sprees changed. He was able to participate and express himself.
How did you take this moment with your son and develop a library of stories? And where can people find out more?
I didn’t recognize the opportunity at first. It took a bunch of stories before I realized: this works every time!
But now that he’s six-and-a-half, it’s harder. I have to really be top of my game to tell him a story. When he was younger, I realized that it didn’t matter so much what I was telling him. The important thing was that it was interesting, right? I used lizards and frogs and peacocks and cats and dogs—anything that he was interested in at the moment. I have told parents that when their kids ask for a story, they should just tell the plot of the last movie they saw and adapt it. It doesn’t really matter exactly what you do with these stories.
For my son, the stories became a whole universe, and a universe has rules. The one-eyed frog was a scientist that was building a spaceship to go to the moon, but it was underground. And the spaceship was powered by rainbow power because my son was into rainbows for a while. So, then we would imagine the rainbow taking us places. And the stories developed by using what he’s interested in, and he adds things that happen.
When he began to exercise his creativity, an interesting thing happened that I didn’t expect. Sometimes there is no conflict; there’s nothing problematic to solve. This is kind of like real life; we don’t have to solve conflicts all the time. The stories are kind of like that. The characters decide to do something that maybe doesn’t work, so they try something else or go somewhere else. Kind of like if you were playing for an afternoon with your kids and you keep zigzagging from place to place. The stories work like that. As a result of listening to these stories, my son learned the skill that if something doesn’t work, then we just need to try some other thing. And it created what I call the “What if?”
A typical conversation with my son after these stories goes like this. We are upstairs and he asks, “Where is papa?”
And I say, “He could be in the kitchen.”
“What if he’s not in the kitchen?”
“Well, he could be his office.”
“And what if he’s not in his office?”
And then we go with that “What If?” all the way up to the Andromeda galaxy! But that is a skill that, as an entrepreneur, you must have. If you don’t have “What If?” you can’t have a business. It’s a way to go through life. You’re going to get stuff thrown at you. It’s just going to happen. And success is in the “What If?” and how you keep zigzagging until you get to your destination—to where you want to be. I will say that that is the biggest thing that I found with the stories that are so valuable. And when I realized that I thought: Okay, let’s put them out into the world. So, I made an app for the phone.
I’m just going interrupt you before we talk about the platforms because I really want to emphasize what a valuable skill you’re giving your son. And I’m sitting here thinking of how often in that moment of frustration where, to distract or divert my child, maybe I just threw the iPad at them so they could go and amuse themselves with something else that was being given to them. And what you’re doing is igniting the distraction from within, to look at a world of possibilities. And that’s why the “What If?” question is so amazing and profound. And I think you’re right. As entrepreneurs we do have to live with the “What If?” As creators we have to live with the “What If?” and live in a world of possibilities. And I think that’s amazing, Allie. Thank you for sharing that.
How can parents access your app and learn from your examples?
Yeah, I have an app that is free. It’s called Calm Down Stories, and it has many of the spoken-word stories.
I started telling them to my son and, of course, I couldn’t write while I was telling him the story, so I recorded them on my cell phone. So, these are the recorded stories but edited with music and with sound effects, which the kids love. Every cat has their own “meow,” and every animal has their own thing. And they love that if a door closes then you hear the door closing.
It’s kind of like a spoken-word story, and those will calm the kids down, and then they fall asleep. They’re not your big studio, celebrity-voice stories. These are homemade. They’re “mom-made.” If you like that style, this is for you. If you like the perfect recording with the rehearsed actor that’s telling the story, this is not that. They’re very real because they’re the live recordings.
And then, because it’s my love to draw cartoons, I just released my first comic book with one of the stories. This is Comics Interrupted. And what I did with this one is to add the creativity and to put in the interruptions. The comic is actually full of interruptions. The character of my son appears breaking the page and then interrupting and changing the story, just like in the live stories. The effect is the same.
And then in the second part of the book, they get to write their own. So, this would be the page where they draw the title and then every scene is blank. They get to write their own thing and even their own interruptions. This just came out like, today. And I just got my first copy.
I decided to do it in comic because I love comics. I just think it’s such a great way for kids to learn concepts and read something that’s going to add to their lives, that is going to interest them and that is in their language. Right? A lot of parents are like, “Oh, comic books.” You know, like they are not going to teach you anything. And some of them don’t teach you anything. But I think that we can use them to teach something like this concept of “What If?” and spark their creativity. That’s why I left the whole second part of the comic—they do their own thing. And on the platform called Wattpad, I started publishing the stories.
Where can people go to learn more about your community and about the stories?
On my website: Aleloop.com
You and your husband worked together, and built multiple successful companies, and you did all that before your son was born. And then your son came into the world.
How did you juggle the demands of being a successful entrepreneur with motherhood?
Okay. It does take a lot of out of you. So, what I did is I chose, right? I chose to build the business and to dedicate time to that because you can’t do everything. So, I left a little bit of the art. I was kind of filled with that. I went ahead with building the different businesses.
What I did when my son was born—I had planned to replace myself. So, I did. I replaced myself. I would just kind of work when I needed to or when I wanted to, but I did it wrong. I didn’t put in certain checkpoints. So, then I had to come back in, and fix a ton of stuff for about two years while I was looking to replace myself again, but this time with the right people.
Now I’m basically semi-retired. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a title. I’m co-founder of the business. I don’t have responsibilities other than being a shareholder. The second time, I took my time and did it right.
The business is actually growing and is doing way better than I could have imagined. The stories with my son happened during that time when I was replacing myself. And they’re beautiful. I love them. So, I’m doing that project too, but that’s how you have to choose. You can’t do everything.
It’s true. You really can’t. And you have a choice. I think when we’re conscious and aware that we have a choice, so often people feel like the circumstances are just dictating the direction that their life is going. But when you peel back and you stop and you look at the circumstances, we always have a choice of how we’re going to respond to them and how we can show up.
I believe that. And it’s in the story. I believe that I can create the world around me. I always believed that, even when I was in Argentina.
It’s not explicit. I’m not teaching, “Oh, you can create the world around you.” But with all the interruptions and letting the kids interrupt, they get to learn to create the world in the stories. It’s kind of like a practice run.
I think that as adults, if we take a hundred percent responsibility for our life—how we think, what we feel, how we act—we realize that we have that power within us. Sometimes it’s not that easy to see it, but for every problem, there is a solution. It’s the same as there is up and down, there is the outside and there is inside. There is a problem, and there is a solution.
There is always a solution, even if, sometimes it’s really hard to see. Sometimes it takes months, or sometimes it can take years to solve a specific problem. But the solution always exists. And it’s important that as parents we also teach that to our kids. Things can happen, but we choose how we are going to act about it and how we’re going to feel about it. The feeling is the learning experience for the kids. My son still doesn’t get that. But I think at one point when he grows up a little bit more, he will.
I love that. You know, you just shared a little bit about growing up in Argentina in a dictatorship. And I think it’s so easy for people to look at somebody like you, who’s so accomplished and has had such an amazing career as co-founder of the businesses and say, well, you know, it was easy for her. You’ve certainly had challenges to overcome. What do you think it is that has brought you to this place where you’re really getting to enjoy the fruits of your labor—especially the time with your son?
What helps you get through all the challenges in your life?
I think it’s called grit. I always wanted more. I always wanted to try things. I’m a very curious person, and some things, when I see them, inspire me. And I want to do that. I want to investigate that. When I was a kid, I don’t remember what age I was, but I went to a house—I think it was an apartment—of somebody that I had just met. We had just become friends, and I had never been to this person’s house. There were very few apartments. I was living in a small town, so going to an apartment building was kind of like a new thing. And when I got into her room, the room was all pink. I shared my room with my older brother, so my room had old brown furniture, the walls were light blue. It was mainly toys. Boy’s toys, but nothing was gender specific.
When I went to this girl’s room, everything was pink. There was little kid’s furniture, which I didn’t even know existed. And she had pink curtains. I’d never seen pink curtains! Pink furniture. Pink bed. It was like a new world. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the design of the things, but that made me think: if this exists, and I didn’t know that it existed, what else exists that I don’t know? And I think that curiosity of “what exists, that I don’t know about?” always kept me going.
I knew that if I’m here, there is a place for me in the world, right? There is something unique to me, and if I cannot develop that, why would I be here? Everything that we see has a purpose. Everything in nature. It didn’t just happen; it’s there for a reason. The same as each of us. And to not be able to develop that is kind of like, what’s the point?
So, I left Argentina by myself when I was 22, when my mom passed away and never went back. I knew one person in the states. And it was just amazing. Like the whole trip, I always said “yes” to every opportunity. And I was always very focused on where I wanted to go, so I could get the jobs that I wanted. Why? Because I wanted to have fun.
I love that. I think that’s such a powerful example of what happens when you have a focus, and you have curiosity, and you live in a world of “What Ifs?”
I’m sure it didn’t exactly go as you had planned it, if you were going to lay it all out, but what an amazing adventure you’ve had.
Yeah. I was actually the only one from my family that did that. One of my faraway cousins also left Argentina, and we met in New York a couple of weeks ago, and we’re the only ones. And we have offered, you know. “Yeah. I can help you come. Like, it’s not that hard.” I mean, it is hard, but you can do it. And… no.
I think there has to be belief. I see with our members at How to Manage Enterprises and with all the business owners we work with. If they believe it’s possible, we can help them grow their business, start their business, whatever it is. But if the person doesn’t believe that it’s possible, we cannot help them. There is something about belief.
I have an example of this. One day, a few years ago, my wrist was hurting a lot. When I was a kid, I had a bad fall in gymnastics. These ligaments broke. So, I went to the doctor, and they put a cast on my arm, and the moment that cast was put on my arm, I said, “Oh no, this is terrible; I’m not gonna be able to stay three weeks in a sling.” And then I thought, you know, if we were, on the Starship Enterprise the doctor would do something, and it would be cured. And that would be the end of it. So that got me thinking, why don’t we have that? Because some things from that show, we have. We have the iPad, we have the cell phone, we had a flip phone like their communications. We have all of that, but we don’t have certain things. We don’t have a transporter like in the show. And I think that we don’t have it because there has not been somebody that believes that it’s possible to actually invent it.
Some things are here, and some things are not, and it’s that belief that something is possible that makes that person go for it. Even if they don’t know how in the world it’s going to happen, they believe that it’s possible.
In what way did having a child surprise you?
I want to go back just for a moment to you and your husband. You all figured out how to run a successful enterprise and all the success that you had in your life. And then you have a child.
What ways did that take you by surprise? Because I can remember back in my own world thinking bringing a baby home wasn’t going to be such a big deal. When I’m on maternity leave, I’ll have six weeks to sit around and do nothing, and we’ll clean out closets. And, of course, then the baby shows up, and it’s a whole game changer. You cannot turn them off. Whatever you thought it was going to be like, it’s going to be different. So, I’m just, I’m curious for you, Allie, what did you find surprising? What caught you by surprise?
I did not believe that it was going to be so much work. I had made movies. I had been in businesses. I had launched TV channels, right? Worldwide. I had worked my butt off. I knew how hard it could be, but this is a different level of work. Like it’s a completely different level of tiredness. It’s a depth that you just cannot imagine.
I was 42 when I had him, so that was different. That took me by surprise. I didn’t know that it was going to be so much harder after 40 than like a 30 or 20-something. After 40 it is freaking hard. I didn’t expect that it would be fun. I don’t know. The tiredness was most surprising.
And I’ll say one of the great things along the parenting journey is you’re never done, right? It’s always a new stage that comes. And you’re always just as ill-equipped to deal with the new stage as you were when that baby first showed up. So, you know, it’ll be fun to watch you as you kind of grow up with Taya through all of the adolescent years and the teenage years.
But I will say my experience is very similar in that in each of those moments there is just such opportunity to grow as a parent and to grow as a person. Right? You’re watching them grow. We know that so much of this is about them growing up, but it also presents opportunities for us to grow too.
Watching children grow, presents opportunities for parents to grow too
Yeah, this the same as I do with the stories. When I had the problem of the crying sprees: I can choose to make this fun or can I make this painful. And I choose fun because I can choose. I get to, right?
So, it might be uncomfortable, especially at the beginning, to feel it out. Okay…what do I do here? They have new things like the iPad, the video games, watching things on YouTube. Like, they add challenges every day that I have to figure out. Okay. How am I gonna deal with these? And what is my criteria? What am I going to tell him? Is this okay? What if it’s not okay? And then what do other parents do? And what I realized is that I stopped judging parents. I don’t know what is good for your kid or not.
For example, there are these two parents, and both of them had three kids. And one of them, they are really big on screen time, right? Like, one parent puts timers on YouTube and on devices, which I don’t even know how to do, but he sets timers so the kids can only watch for five minutes. And then, you know, it stops it right in the middle of that session. And I’m like, what the heck? And then the other one lets them have 30 minutes of screen time per week. And before I would have said, that’s wrong. They’re crazy. And now, no. Now I ask. I ask, “Okay, how have you come to that conclusion?”
And yeah, the 30-minute kid is older, like in third grade. He has a ton of homework, and the screens distract his mind, and their house is not that big. So, they have 30 minutes per week on the weekends, and that’s the end of it. Because the rest of the time they have to have family time. They have to go to church. They have to do all these things. And that’s kind of what the kids have ended up with.
You know, I think in these days we’re in such unexplored territory with the devices, right? People do have such a gamut. There’s such a spectrum of “what’s the right thing to do, and what’s not the right thing to do?” And I don’t know that there’s a right answer. There may be some wrong answers out there, but, you know, I’m kind of suspending that judgement.
Yeah. There was a birthday party during the pandemic. It was outside in a park, and I got a call from the headmaster of the school asking me about what had happened in that birthday party. And one of the things that had happened with these brothers and sisters was that there was a little girl that was crying for like an hour, and the mom wasn’t anywhere. She has three kids, and there were new parents that had complained about it. They complained badly. And I told him, “Yes, I did see the girl crying, but I didn’t think anything of it.” Why? Because if I tell my son no, to his fourth slice of cake, he’s going to cry for 45 minutes. It’s just going to happen. And I’m going to let him cry. That’s how it is. So, I don’t know what happened or why the girl was crying. It could have been that after the third cupcake the mom said, “No.”
I don’t judge anymore.
I think before I had children, I had all these rules and ideas about how my children would behave out in restaurants, and in public and you know. What homework would look like. And all of it just goes right out the window when they come home. So, I always say, “Well, what a feast of eating my words it was.”
Totally. I think that we parents have the responsibility to see what works for our kid. For example, my son loves sweets, and that’s the only thing that I set an amount that he can eat per week. And he’s obsessed with it. I don’t have screen time because he doesn’t really abuse it. There could be days where he doesn’t even want to watch his iPad. Or watch TV. He prefers to play with people. It’s not an issue. But the candy is an issue. So, I’ve been thinking, should I just let it be, so then it’s not a big deal? Then he stops being obsessed about it? And, I don’t know, I haven’t made a decision yet.
It’s such a good question, and you will find just more and more of those questions as they come become teenagers and are wanting to go to parties. Like, do I make this an issue or do I not make it an issue? I’m right there with you.
As we bring our time to close today, and I’ve so enjoyed this—you’ve been so generous with your experiences—I would just like to know what message of hope do you have for parents who are in the midst of transitioning with new ones coming into their homes and all the opportunities that parenting has to offer?
Do you have a message of hope for parents about all the opportunities that parenting has to offer?
I think that we have to be conscious of our energy. If we have bad energy and are nasty about something, judgemental, anything negative, kids pick it up immediately. And we have to be very careful with that. I think it’s part of the work of being conscious. So, whatever is happening, they feel safe because I think that kids suffer the most is when they feel unsafe for different reasons. Why? Because we are uptight about something; we are on edge. We have a bad attitude or energy about something, a person, a situation.
We have to be very aware. I think that the calmer that we can be, by doing simple things such as five minutes of meditation or even listening to the meditation radio on Pandora or Spotify. I hope that other parents can do that. It’s so simple. Listening to a meditation station before going to bed, when we wake up or sometime during the day, it actually works. The music that you hear when you go and get a massage? That music really makes a difference.
I love that. And I think what you’re doing is really helping parents to find ways to build that connection with their children through the use of creative storytelling. And it’s something that as adults we often forget. Creativity is really a source of building connection. And, of course, when we’re connected with our children, we feel safer, they feel safer, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Thank you, Allie, for sharing your stories and your passion. I can’t wait to check out the comic book, and we hope our visotrs take a look at everything that you have to offer.