Exclusive: Neil Patrick Harris on Dad Hacks & Getting His Kids to Eat Sea Urchin

Haaave you met Neil Patrick Harris? Because we have (yes, that was a shameless brag, but c’mon, it’s NPH!), and hanging out with him felt legen…wait for it…dary.

Whether he’s playing Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother or Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events, Neil Patrick Harris is animated, quick-witted, and funny as hell in the characters he portrays. Which is why it was no surprise that in real life, the 46-year-old actor is as enthusiastic about parenting his twins as Barney is about suits and Count Olaf is about capturing the Baudelaires.

In a series of (not so) unfortunate events, SheKnows sat down with the dad-of-two to discuss all things parenting at an event held in New York City by Quaker Chewy to promote their delicious, wholesome Chewy granola bars (perfect for an after-school snack) and corresponding initiative with AdoptAClassroom.org. From the benefits and challenges of traveling with young kids to the one thing he does to make his 8-year-old twins, Harper and Gideon, laugh, Harris’ parenting stories made us want to be his parent BFF ASAP.

Harris admits his life has changed quite a bit since becoming a father (late-night Sleep No More performances aren’t always an option), but Harris is all about that #DadLife, which comes through in the thoughtful and loving way he speaks about his kids.

If you’re like us and stalk his fabulous life on Instagram, it’s evident that Harris and his husband David Burtka, an actor and chef, teach their kids through experiences — whether it be an unusual meal or a foreign place. “I want them to know the world,” Harris tells SheKnows. “How do we gain perspective as people if we’re around the same things over and over?”

And with those experiences, comes some pretty darn interesting parenting expertise we can all aspire to. Read on for our conversation with our new dad friend (Maybe if we say it out loud, it’ll happen?).

SheKnows: What are some hacks you and David have when it comes to co-parenting?

Neil Patrick Harris: We’re pretty good with…If one parent calls it, then the other parent sticks with it.

If David says, “There’s going to be no watching of this movie” because something happened, then I can’t go beyond him and say, “Forget that, we’re going to watch the movie.” I say, you know, “That’s what your father said, so that’s what’s going to happen. Let’s talk about it so that it doesn’t happen again.”

SK: So you always try to be on the same team.

NPH: We try to be on the same team, and yet within that, I want to make sure that I’m behaving to the kids as if I’ve always got their back. So, I won’t just take his side always. I might have to take his guidelines, but I’ll often do it with a wink and an eyeroll.

I also think humor’s important, even when you’re disciplining. David’s more fiery and emotional, but I’m sort of the judge. I come from a family of lawyers and judges, so I’m the one who will hear both sides, and I’ll have to be stern, sometimes.

But I’ll try, within my reprimand, to say, “I wish their heads weren’t made of knuckles,” or something so that they know, as serious as I am, I’m not just utterly disappointed and angry and shaming them, but that there’s a modicum of humor within it. Because I think humor goes a long way in connection.

SK: Definitely. Outside of reprimands, is there something in particular that you do that makes your kids laugh?

NPH: We laugh a lot. I do all kinds of voices and impressions and dancing…

SK: What’s your best impression?

NPH: They laugh at all my Count Olaf-isms that I do because I’ve just been doing that for so long. And I think they get a kick out having me perform for their friends.

That’s not embarrassing to them right now, and so I’m happy to behave like a total dork around them because they’re laughing now. And I’m pretty sure it’s only a matter of years, nay months, before they really don’t want me to do it. So, I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

SK: What about your kids are you most proud of?

NPH: Harper has an impressive level of compassion and empathy. She speaks in emotional terms a lot and recognizes when someone’s down.

So when her brother’s upset, she knows how to help and not hurt. She’s got a real good sense of reading the room and providing emotional support, which I find surprising at an 8-year-old level.

Gideon’s strength has impressed me recently. The kid’s got like an eight-pack. I don’t know where it came from…His sister was always a little bit taller than he was, and so, because of that, she would always show off on the monkey bars, show off on handstands and cartwheels and things, but now he’s coming into his own physically with strength and parkour and acrobatics. They’re both relatively fearless.

I would say together, they’re love of food and their interest in their palates are quite remarkable for 8. David’s an amazing guy in countless ways, but one of them is that he knows how to prepare foods for anyone. He can take a roasted beet and make it the most delicious thing ever.

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SK: So I take it you never stuck to “kids foods”?

NPH: We never even did baby food. I mean, [David] would just go get vegetables from the farmer’s market and then add herbs de provence, and he’d just make his own. So yeah, they’ve always been adventurous eaters. And they like the weirdest things, which is hilarious.

SK: Like what?

NPH: Escargot, sea urchin…

SK: That’s impressive. I don’t know if I could do sea urchin…

NPH: Oh, they are all about it. Octopus, oysters, sushi…They’re into the raw proteins, apparently. But I like that. It allows us to go to very experiential places around New York, around the country, the world, and not have to just be beholden to them only being able to eat chicken nuggets.

SK: I actually wanted to ask you about your travels. I’ve seen from your Instagram that you travel as a family a lot. What do you think are some of the benefits and challenges of traveling with young kids?

NPH: Well, I guess the challenge of taking kids on adventures is that you have to temper the adventures. You can’t put kids in potentially dangerous situations and they need to go to bed at a certain time, so your nightlife is limited. But I think the benefits far outweigh that.

I’m a massive proponent of experiential education. I think traveling and being immersed in experiences unfamiliar to you, regardless of your age, provides a whole lot of knowledge, overt and subtle.

So the more we can be on boats that we don’t know how they work, the more we can swim in waters that may test our skills, the more that we can swing on vines that may break, I think that’s what it’s all about.

I want them to know the world. How do we gain perspective as people if we’re around the same things over and over? But I, you know, want to go to Sleep No More every day.

SK: Absolutely. I like the way you put that. I was also fortunate enough to travel growing up, and now I think I’m able to look back and think, ‘Wow, I’m so lucky,’ and recognize how much it’s shaped who I am as an adult.

NPH: We spend a lot of time in gratitude as well. When we’re in a new environment, we spend a lot of time making toasts and the kids say what they’re grateful for, and we go around the table and say, ”I recognize that you’re fighting with each other and that you’re hungry, but let’s not forget where we are and what we’re doing right now and remember it because it might be helpful later.”

SK: Definitely. And now switching gears from summer vacations to back to school, what is your usual school morning routine with your kids?

NPH: School morning routine…We’ll get up about a half an hour before them, 20 minutes before them, have a cup of coffee, caffeinate ourselves a bit, and then get the kids up at…6:45? And then Dad will usually make breakfast.

SK: With a chef for a dad, how extravagant is breakfast?

NPH: Well, it’s short-order-cook style. I don’t know that it’s extravagant necessarily, unless that’s what they ask for.

I will just present them with two options, right? I would say, “cereal or oatmeal?” And I could throw a yogurt in there, I’m not afraid of it. I’ll cut up a berry, that’s fine. But he’ll say, “What do you want for breakfast?” And when they say, “Poached eggs and avocado toast and diced chives,” he’ll make that for them, which is kind of remarkable to me.

So, they’ll eat a good breakfast and then they’ll have done their morning routine, which is making their bed, and putting their clothes away, and brushing their own teeth, and putting clothes on.

SK: Do they tend to pick out their own outfits or do you and David help them still?

NPH: Kind of half and half. We empower them to do it on their own, but then in the middle of winter they’ll come down in shorts and a tank top, and you can’t have that. And likewise, it’s a playdate and Harper will don a ballgown, and you can’t wear a ballgown to the park, as awesome as you’d look.

But we want them to have individuality and the school that they go to doesn’t have uniforms, and so they get to express themselves through clothes.

Go to ChooseChewy.com until 9/30 and enter the UPC code from a box of Quaker® Chewy Granola Bars to donate to AdoptAClassroom.org teachers nationwide.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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