Archive for the ‘Family meetings’ category

Take time to cook and eat together

May 29, 2014

In the following interview from the Boston Globe, author/activist Michael Pollan talks about the importance of food in our lives. By taking time to cook with your kids, you’re spending time together, teaching them a life skill, and increasing the likelihood that they will eat what you prepare because they saw what went into it. Let go of the mess in the kitchen. It’s an investment on so many levels, including health. Remember to use family meetings to decide together on menus and meal plans.

Take it one step further and plant a few tomato and cucumber plants in a pot on the porch or in the garden.

  • 28 May 2014
  • The Boston Globe
  • By Michael Floreak GLOBE CORRESPONDENT Interview was condensed and edited. Michael Floreak can be reached at michael floreak@gmail.com.

Cooking is time well spent

 Author lauds the social and health benefits of preparing family meals

Michael Pollan’s 2006 book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” detailed the complex system of farms, feedlots, and food science laboratories that deliver food to the modern dinner table, and helped fuel a growing food movement. His newest work, “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” recently published in paperback, turns his attention to how plants and animals are transformed into meals and explores why cooking is important.

After “Omnivore,” Pollan focused on the human end of the food chain, looking at food choices and their impact on health. “I realized cooking was the answer to a lot of questions that I’ve been exploring in my work,” Pollan, 59, says. For “Cooked,” he apprenticed with a series of culinary experts— from a North Carolina barbecue pit master to a celebrated baker— to understand the ecological, nutritional, and cultural impacts of cooking from scratch.

“I got into this as someone who was very interested in the environment and how we engage with the natural world,” Pollan says. “I like to cook and I knew how to grill, make pasta, pretty basic stuff. But there was a lot for me to learn.”

Q. How did it happen that you turned your attention from agriculture to cooking?

A. I began to realize that if people insist on having their food cooked by fast food corporations or processed food corporations, we weren’t going to build this alternative agriculture system.

Q. Why is cooking important to one’s health?

A. The best marker of a healthy diet was whether the food was cooked by a human being. Even poor people who still cook have healthier diets than rich people who don’t.

Q. Explain how cooking and health are so closely linked.

A. If you cook, you’re not going to have french fries every day. Homemade french fries are delicious, but they’re such a pain to make. There are things built into the process of cooking that guard against those very tempting, but ultimately not very healthy, foods. You don’t even have to worry about what you’re cooking because you will naturally gravitate toward simple things. You will not make a lot of junk food.

Q. You also talk about the social benefits of cooking and eating together.

A. Cooking isn’t just about preparing the fuel for your body. Cooking is a social act and it has been since we started. Go back 2 million years, and we discover the power of fire to change food and make it more delicious, easier to digest, safer. But as soon as we do that, we have to learn how to share. Cooking gave us the meal and the meal gave us civilization. And that’s what we’re now blithely giving up. Forty-six percent of meals in America are now eaten alone. We have this centrifugal force that’s driving us away from the table. And a lot of that goes to food marketing. They make more money if we eat individually.

Q. While you were writing the book, your son suggested taking a night off from cooking to have “microwave night.” How did that work out?

A. What a surprise. To get four entrees on the table took 45 minutes, which is plenty of time to cook a very nice meal. We just never got to sit down at the table at the same time because we were each in a different stage of defrosting and eating. It was the most disjointed family meal we had in a long time and no time had been saved. We have to reexamine this assumption that convenience food is really convenient.

Q. What do you say to the argument that cooking is also expensive?

A. I dispute that. You have to pay those people to process food. It’s very labor intensive on their end, so therefore they charge. Cooking is economical. There’s still a lot of healthy food in regular markets as long as you shop the periphery and avoid the processed foods. It is more time-consuming. We have dropped the amount of time we spend on cooking by about a half an hour since 1965. I think it’s important to look at what you’re doing with that half-hour and whether it’s more valuable to you.

Q. Clearly you see that cooking is time well spent.

A. My contention is that as a way to spend a half-hour or an hour of your leisure time, cooking is a really good way to do it. It has all these benefits, but it’s actually intellectually very engaging. It’s sensually very pleasurable. It’s a great way to reset. But the key is not doing it alone, I think. Get your family involved. Get your kids and your partner in the kitchen. Make it a social event.

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Homework hassles, headaches and happiness

February 18, 2013

Homework is the source of great angst between parents and children. Take the example of John, 8, and Mom (names changed to protect the real people).

John, 8, is highly intelligent with many behavioral issues and learning disabilities. “When he wants to, John can do his homework in a snap,” says Mom. “When he’s at school, under supervision, he can do it in a snap.”

Well, then, what happens at home? We parents get snared in the complex web of parent-child emotions, power sharing, and time management.

Here are suggestions to give your children the opportunity to learn responsibility through trial and error, free parents from this onerous task, and free up time and energy for positive parent-child time.

Q: Whose problem is homework?

A: The child is responsible for homework. The hare-brained schools that assign homework to children younger than third grade assign parents homework, setting up the bad habit of making homework a parent’s problem.

Unfortunately, until your child is in third grade, parents must share the responsibility. From third grade and up, schools have excellent structures in place for miscreants and parents can step back.

Q: How do parents encourage children to do homework?

A: Put “homework” on a family meeting agenda. At a quiet, neutral time when everyone is in the problem-solving mode, say, “Let’s talk about homework. When is the best time for you to do homework? Where would you like to do homework? What role do you want mom/dad to take in homework? I will expect you to ask for help if needed.”

You get the idea. Talk about it. LISTEN to their suggestions. Decide on a plan. Implement the plan for at least a week, to show you respect them, take them seriously and expect them to take on homework as their problem. Expect three weeks to learn the new habit.

At the family meeting, say, “I’m going to let you [kids] take on this responsibility. I will support you however you need it. Let’s follow your suggestions for this week and we’ll meet again to talk about how things are going.”

You are now promoted to “consultant,” not a parent, homework cop or nag.

Q: How to follow through?

A: You must allow time for children to learn new habits, for them to realize that you are serious, not just “trying” something new.

YOU MUST BE PREPARED to allow them to fail. To ignore their decisions that might cause them to miss a homework assignment. 

Schools have built-in structures for students who do not complete homework assignments. Allow your child to make decisions about when and where to do homework, or not, and allow him/her to feel the cause and effect of his/her decisions.

Q: How can I allow my child to fail to turn in homework?

A: Perhaps you’re reading this blog in desperation, exhausted from struggling with homework every day. Let it go. Think of the valuable lessons you have learned through mistakes and failure. Do not deny your child this opportunity to learn cause and effect.

Keep reading, unless you want to continue to go crazy by forcing kids to do homework on your terms.

Q: How do I motivate my children to do homework, without nagging?

A: Daniel Pink, author of “Drive: the surprising truth behind what motivates us,” says humans are motivated by three things: Mastery, autonomy and purpose. Notice what’s not in the top three: money, recess, good grades, or pleasing parents. Money, according to Pink, is the lowest form of motivation.

Mastery means to feel good about doing something. Autonomy translates to freedom. Purpose means that there’s a reason to do something, which could be to avoid punishment. True motivation comes from within. It’s your job to nurture it through mastery, autonomy and purpose.

Q: What will other parents and teachers think and feel about me?

A: Most other parents will be jealous that you’re no longer going crazy over homework every day, and that you can use the time and energy to connect with your child in a positive way. Teachers will understand, especially if you privately mention your new stance. Ask him/her for support for a few weeks until your child learns the new habit of taking responsibility and choosing when and where to do homework.

Teachers and parents can recognize school projects completed by parents, not children. Your kids’ efforts will be more realistic and rough around the edges. They can feel the mastery, autonomy and purpose from doing projects independently.

Q: Am I totally absolved from my kids’ homework?

A: No. You are a consultant. You will ask questions, provide encouragement, and guide them to make good decisions. If your child does not complete a homework assignment and gets punished at school, do not inflict additional punishment at home. Let him/her handle school, where experts know what children are capable of.

I like to share with parents a list of famous high school dropouts. School isn’t for everyone. There are alternatives, like the General Equivalency Diploma, home schooling, charter schools and community college for older teens. Academic success is a child’s choice, not a parents’ demand. Unless you want them to work for your praise.

Remember that childhood is a process of letting go, of transferring power and responsibility from your side of the seesaw, when you do everything, to the child’s side of the seesaw, when they take over responsibility and power for their lives. Homework is an excellent example of a safe place they can experiment with power, success, failure, mastery, autonomy and purpose. They can take on this responsibility.

See more in my book, “Raising Able: How chores empower families”  [available on Amazon in print and Kindle] on family meetings and encouragement, the most potent ways to foster everything you want your child to do and become in life, and establish a positive lifelong connection.

It takes a team to raise a child

June 15, 2012
Father's  Day is to honor fathers and the chores they do for us. the commitment they make for us. this is the father of my children, who is willing to be silly

The best father I know, Reliable Bob at the annual Country Fair selling trash and treasures.

Jane, the lead female character in “Lie Down with Lions,” a 1986 Ken Follet book,  is torn between two men. In a dramatic chase scene through the Afghan mountains with one of the men and her baby, Jane is contemplates who to choose: the good man or the evil spy. She has only two diapers for the baby for the arduous journey.

At the end of the day of the man she camped out with in the mountains washed out the diaper at the end of the day. This simple gesture, when she was mentally and physically exhausted, meant a lot to her.That scene illustrates the demands of parenthood, how one person can’t fulfill a child’s every need, and the value of partnership. I loved that scene because his willingness to wash out the diaper said something about his character and commitment.

It’s always easier to face a challenge together. I remember one night when Bob and I had one of our famous “in-house dates.” I fed the four kids early with one of their favorites — chicken nuggets, and put them in front of a movie while we shared a special dinner with candlelight and wine. Then we put the kids to bed and watched an adult movie. Voila, dinner and movie, without going out.

When we went upstairs at 11 pm to check on the kids, both boys had vomited in their beds. The only thing worse than one boy vomiting in their bed is two boys vomiting in their beds. It was disgusting. We cleaned up two beds and bathed two boys when all we wanted to do was to fall into bed. Teamwork made it tolerable, and a shared memory that strengthened our long-term bond.

Happy Fathers Day to all you guys out there. Plant the seeds of your love to grow as the tree commitment, to stay rooted when the hurricanes and tornadoes threaten to uproot a marriage.

Power-sharing can defuse conflict in families

March 26, 2012
tweens, teens, school age, toddlers and preschoolers all need the experience of feeling powerful. Parents must learn to share power through "family meetings" "encouragement' and "mutual respect" as well as natural and  logical consequences. Power balance is important. Use chores for positive power. Avoid power struggles. there are no winners or losers, only competetitors.

Giving kids a little leeway can go a long way to make peace at home. Instead of scolding my kids for being on top of our van, I got out the camera. Children develop personal power when they can take risks, have fun and occasionally break the rules in life.

Here are some excerpts from a letter from a mother in Ireland who read my book and implemented many of the practices and an attitude of mutual respect. I added emphasis.

“Eating was a particular problem for my daughter. She is 9 years old and tiny. I, too, was a small child. Some days she did not eat enough and was hungry and angry. This was a huge worry because she is really into fashion and her paternal grandmother is depressed.

“I realize now that I was bullying my daughter and not eating my food was the only way she had of showing me her power. …She is enjoying her food without need for any further intervention. …

“I asked her early on after reading your book “Which is better, to be loved, or to be loved and needed?”

“She answered that it is better to be loved and needed. She enjoys the chores and we have bonded in a new way while cleaning the bathroom. I do the toilet and she does the bath and sink. I admire her work and she enjoys working with me.

“If I had been thinking about it until doomsday, it would never have occurred to me that this is how my daughter wanted to spend time with me. Your book gave me the idea of helping and my husband has used this stunt since then to get the kids working. They have clean bath and sink on their chore list from the meeting and when we work with them it makes it into a prestige job.

“I don’t know why it works, but it does. Prestige jobs and doing something unique to you are some of the best points in your book, I think.”

This letter blew me away because it connects the lack of personal power — a core issue around anorexia, and how to create personal power through chores. We are such flock animals, that we seek prestige any way possible, including by cleaning the toilet.

I hated sharing power with my kids. I wanted to do it MY WAY!  I didn’t like backing down from power struggles and feeling like I lost. I learned to quit showing up on the battlefield and occasionally let kids climb on the van with the hose. Some parents go to the opposite extreme and kids live on top of the van with the hose. This is too much power.

Find a happy medium to share power through mutual respect, trust a child to make decisions, listen to them during family meetings, do family chores together, and use encouragement.

Investing the time and attention in this will bring results. Parenting is not cheap or easy. It is worth the effort because it’s good for everyone.

Difficult children respond to encouragement

March 19, 2012
Difficult children are often more intelligent. LEarning encouragement and positive psychology saved my relationship with ian. he is creative. Difficult children are often more creative and intuitive. Parenting is about learning to love children even when they are difficult.

Ian, 3, with his favorite dinosaur. Today at age 27, Ian teaches kite-boarding, is an organic farmer, and can play five instruments, including the fiddle, which he taught himself to play.

My son Ian was the third of our four children, born in just under seven years. At age 2, he was difficult: stubborn, vocal and committed to get what he wanted. I didn’t like him much.At seminars today, I describe Impossible Ian, how encouragement transformed our relationship, and how you, too, can learn the art of encouragement.

Another term for encouragement is “positive psychology,” pioneered by authors Martin E.P. Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

This book is about how to have a positive outlook on life without drugs and therapy. It will help you with parenting and work and love. I'm listening to it on cd, and love his approach. It's all about love and logic, adlerian, parenting tips, parenting advice."Martin E.P. Seligman" "Mihaly-Csikszentmihalyi" optimal experiences, flow, positive psychology, encouragement, family meetings, power of language, discipline, parenting: about,

"Flourish" by Martin E.P. Seligman is worth reading. I'm listening to it as a recorded book.

In “Flourish” Seligman presents research that shows positive comments must outnumber negative remarks by 3-to-1 for a company to succeed. For a marriage to succeed, the ratio must be a mind-boggling 5-to-1.If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it!

I teach parents to say something nice that will get kids to learn good judgment, the cause-and-effect of behavior choices, and nurture the parent-child connection.

The first task is to give up praise. I know this is heresy because Americans  give everyone a trophy for breathing so their precious self-esteem won’t suffer. This leads to what I call self-excess-teem, and young people with no work ethic because they want a standing ovation for showing up.

Here’s a comparison between praise and encouragement devised by parents in a workshop last week. You can see which one wins.

Encouragement might feel awkward at first. Practice self-encouragement — notice what you’re doing well — to get past the awkward stage. Remember it takes three weeks to establish a habit. This is a fun habit to learn that is useful for everyone in your life.

Praise                                             Encouragement

Similar to candy                                Similar to an apple

General                                               Specific

Given after success only                  Given anytime, including after failure

About how adults think/do/feel    About how children think/do/feel

Creates external motivation           Creates internal motivation

Hollow, insincere                              Authentic, descriptive

Promotes unrealistic self-beliefs   Nurtures genuine self-esteem

Obedience is the goal                       Questions actions/beliefs/authority

Patronizing                                         Respectful

High energy, excited                         Low-key, balanced

Exaggerated                                        True

Celebrates accomplishment only   Notices efforts made and progress

Highly verbal                                      Can be silent

What’s your encouragement score today with your kids and your spouse? Have authentic positive statements outweighed the negative? You can do it 🙂 And enjoy using encouragement. Start with yourself.

Barbie Dolls, toy guns and the cocoon

March 12, 2012
The writing on this poster made by the Body Shop to raise money to eradicate violence against women reads, "There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only 8 who do." Mattel sued The Body Shop and forced them to stop selling this poster.

The writing says, "There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only 8 who do." Mattel sued The Body Shop and forced them to stop selling this poster intended to raise money to end violence against women.

My pledge to ban Barbies lasted until my oldest, Casey was 2.5 years old and the landlady of a vacation rental gave her Barbie doll abandoned by a previous tenant. Casey fell in love with the plastic icon of everything I didn’t want her to be: a sparkly, skinny-to-a-fault, sex object. It launched a sickening decade-long investment in all things Barbie.

Had I snatched the toy from Casey’s little hands or banned toy guns from our toy chest, I would’ve created forbidden fruits. Instead, I put up the poster at left, in our family room over where Casey and her sister Kristen played Barbies for hours. We talked about gun control and weapons and kept no real guns. I helped gussy-up the girls like Barbie dolls for prom nights, even though that racket contradicted my principles.

Sometimes moms have to go with the flow and relinquish control. Our protective cocoon starts breaking apart from birth on, when land-ladies, relatives, friends and society start giving gifts of Barbies and toy guns. Ban guns and your kids will make guns out of sticks and Legos and grab every gun at their friends’ houses.

Why? Because guns, like Barbies, epitomize power in our culture. Our kids need to play around with that power so they’re comfortable with it, whether they reject or accept what goes with it. Barbies don’t cause anorexia Families ought to pay more attention to how they handle power and beauty instead of a plastic toy doll.

Have a family meeting, give your kids the opportunity to run them regularly, encourage them to speak up. Listen to what they say and implement their ideas. This will empower them more than shooting a gun or showing their cleavage to the world. Give girls the gift of being seen, heard and respected for who they are, not how they look.

The owner of this ankle LOVED to play with barbies and still loves to get dressed up. She does not suffer from anorexia and has a very positive body image.

The owner of this ankle damaged by playing floor hockey LOVED to play with Barbies and still loves to get dressed up.

Instead of perpetuating an artificial cocoon without sexist toys, weapons, knives, scissors and fire, it’s far better to allow our kids to experience them and make their own decisions. They will eventually do that — no matter what we say, and more importantly, what we do.

Casey is the unicorn -- a costume she made. Visit her blog at http://smazzle.blogspot.com/

They need venues and toys to act out what they observe in the adult world — full of warfare, highly sexualized women and men in a consumer culture. Their only crime is reflecting us and the world we inhabit and perpetuate, and we don’t like it.

Kristen became an artist. Some of her work contradicts the image of woman in society. I love that she’s comfortable enough with Barbie images to use them in her work.

That’s a hammer Kristen is swinging in this performance art.

The anti-drug abuse: Family connection

February 13, 2012
Drug abuse is the biggest fears for parents who want to do the best for teens, tweens, adolescents, teenagers and young people. Good parenting is all about connection and setting up a positive parent-child relationship from early childhood on. Drug addition for teens and tweens and teenagers is one of the most dreaded outcomes of childhood. Discipline doesn't always work nor does punishment. Family dinner, family meetings, encouragement, mutual respect and cause and effect are the best ways for children to learn to mature and develop good judgment.

The cause of death for Whitney Houston is unknown. Drug abuse and addiction were among her demons, a tragic by-product of success and fame.

Did Whitney Houston feel like anyone loved her for being HER? Would they still love her if she was penniless and unknown? Who could she turn to for unconditional love, when she felt alone, scared and inadequate?

Drug abuse and suicide ranked high on my list of fears for my children. Kids with depression sometimes self-medicate with drug and alcohol abuse. Some carry the burden of depression alone, weighed down in shame, loneliness and lack of connection to an adult.

The best defense against drug/alcohol abuse is a good offense: Prevention. This takes time and attention over decades. YES decades. Parenting is not for the weak or faint-hearted. We hold a vision for what we want our kids to become for a long time. We must follow up with diligence and vigilance.

The actions to stay connected to kids are simple, and you probably already know them. They bear repeating because parenting is about repetition, day after day.

  • TIME. Do you spend time regularly with your kids, one-on-one and as a family? Having fun together will connect your family forever. Fun can be as simple as playing Candyland, ping-pong or Wii followed by a dish of ice cream from your freezer. Or a candy bar. Simple, cheap, readily available fun.
  • LOVE. This means accepting your children as they are. For example, my daughter Kristen is an art major. “Mom, you’re a good art parent because you don’t ask I’m going to get a real major to make money,” she says. I accept her vision for her life, even if I disagree.
  • LIMITS. We are the guard rails on our kids’ bridge of life. The guard rails have to be reasonable, related and respectful (Three Rs-Jane Nelsen, Ph.D.). If a child acts up in a restaurant, instead of “No video games for a week!” (totally unrelated), offer a quiet warning, “Your actions are showing you might not be able to stay in the restaurant. It’s up to you. We can leave now if that’s what you need.” The second might “punish” parents who have to open a can of soup at home. Do it anyway because such a response is respectful, related and reasonable. The kids will either straighten up or choose to behave better next time.

Parents can regularly dispense time, love and limits like a good habit. Family meetings, family dinner, family chores and the language of encouragement provide structure to connect positively with your children.

Studies show that regular family meals and family connection are the best prevention to drug/alcohol abuse and to promote good judgment. Use the first decade to establish a strong connection and maintain it through adolescence, even under protest.

If you have tweens and teens, you can set up structures to spend time together. Start with a family meeting and ask them how and when they want to spend time together as a family and one-on-one. Make sure kids have a turn at conducting the family meeting. See my