How Neil Patrick Harris Tackles Bullying as a Parent

Neil Patrick Harris’s family really likes peanut butter.

Perhaps that’s not the opening statement you expected to read, but it absolutely applies to the actor’s day-to-day life as he and husband David Burtka raise their 7-year-old twins, Gideon and Harper. It’s also part of the reason InStyle sat down with him at a comedy event celebrating Jif Power Ups. Harris grew up in New Mexico with Jif peanut butter in the house, so naturally, he was pretty psyched about it.

Before any comedy took place though, Harris got candid about snack time with kids, how he addresses bullying as a parent, and what it was really like watching his twins act on a TV show.

Kids love peanut butter, so I see why you like it, too.

Jif fits our world, and seemed like a nice fun thing to discuss in a world where fun things to discuss are few and far between, at times. I end up eating on-the-go a ton, kids or no kids, and so snacks have been an important part of my actual dietary life. Our kids have remarkably deep and adventurous palettes though.

That’s rare.

It is rare. They have opinions about what it is they like, we don’t just give them the same chicken nuggets all the time. They’ll eat oysters and sushi, escargot. They like crazy stuff.

What kind of snack time struggles have you encountered with your kids then, if they aren’t picky eaters?

I guess I’ve found that kids so badly want to do the same thing that their friends are doing. They’ll be in the second grade when school starts up again, so they all want to be doing the same things. It’s been a conversation with them a lot about being proud of their independence. In food speak, that means appreciating their own palettes and not needing to only eat pasta with butter sauce because that’s what their friends eat, but instead to try and encourage their friends to be impressed with the fact that they eat different stuff.

On holiday with the family. #ouioui @dbelicious

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How else do you teach your kids independence in general?

I think to communicate as much as possible. To have the space and freedom to know that whatever they say will be OK. It may be challenged, but it will still be honored, and to take most everything with a potential grain of comedic salt. It’s wild—and it’s understandable, I think it’s human nature—for kids to point out differences in each other at school, but it can lead toward a bullying direction. And so our kids will come home and say, “So and so said that my haircut is ugly,” or “My haircut’s too short,” and I can see that it would affect them. I just tell them you have the power here to process that information however you choose. Do you like your hair length? They’ll say yeah. Then I say, “Well, if someone says they don’t like your haircut, then say, ‘Oh Pete, you so crazy.’” It’s up to you to decide how affected you are by what people say if they’re going to say things about you. I think communication is the key. Talking it out, and not being so affected by it all.

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What a lesson to teach them. What’s something that your kids have recently taught you?

The day rips by so fast and there are not enough hours to get everything done, so I realize I have to be more conscientious about how much I can commit to. Because if they ask me if they want to play this board game, of course I want to play the board game, but then we end up doing something else, and then we go to bed and they say, “Papa, we never played the board game.” And I feel terrible, because I did say we would play the board game, we just ended up doing something else instead. So I have to mark how I communicate and the words I use to them, because I don’t want to overcommit.

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That makes sense. You juggle so many projects like Genius Junior and A Series of Unfortunate Events, on top of being a dad. How do you avoid taking on too much while managing what you have on your plate?

It has been a lot. But as actors, we work hard to work a lot, so you have to make decisions and factor in what’s important to you. Time with my family is super important, and the quality of our lives, of their lives and future, are super important. So it’s figuring out how to balance it. I can sleep when they’re in college.

The loveliest of travel compagnons. Merci, @dbelicious & @eltonjohn & @davidfurnish & our four amazing kids for such fond memories. #families #grateful

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Gideon and Harper were in a scene in A Series of Unfortunate Events. What was it like having them on set?

It was super fun; they were part of that family. They know the cast, we’ve spent New Year’s with Barry Sonnenfeld and his wife, and so it was fun for them, for a minute, to be part of the DNA of the show. We found a very simple scene where they were each given a couple lines, and David was their parent as well in it. It was fun for me in more of a time capsule way, in an Alfred Hitchcock way, not in an “I want you to start doing this all the time” way. That’s their decision to make.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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