Saturday, July 5, 2008

Quick Rant on Leaving Comments

I know at least two people have mentioned that they tried to leave a comment and weren't able to because the protocol for leaving it is not all that intuitive. Though I'm grateful for the Blogger software, which overall is very well-designed, especially considering the price (free), I have to agree with the critique for comments.

At the bottom of each post, you see a envelope icon. Kind of looks like where you'd leave a comment doesn't it? Especially given the context that it's at the bottom of the post. It's not the place. That's where you email the link to the post to your friend. The word "comments" is down there too, but there is no icon to click on. By now, some readers newer to blogs have already given up on leaving a comment. Now you blog savvy folks would have no problem, but let's not come down with a case of expert-itis. Keep in mind that at one time all of us were figuring out how this stuff worked.

Here's How
Turns out that you leave the comment by clicking on the word "comments" itself. The actual word is the link, though there is no underlining before you run your mouse over it to indicate that. So those of you who have tried to leave comments without success, give it another go. For those of you who haven't left any, go ahead and press the comment link. Say whatever is on your mind. Leave your mark. It'll do ya good.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What You're Not Saying That Says So Much

Early in my teaching career I learned about a concept that first got me thinking seriously about just how important our use of language can be when talking to kids. I overheard a skilled, veteran teacher making a mistake with a kid. I remember clearly that it was a group of first graders walking down the hallway. One of the kids was messing around in line. His teacher walked up to him, took him by the arm and escorted him to the back of the line. While she was walking him, she said something along the lines of "Since you can't behave yourself, you can go to the end of the line." Even as inexperienced as I was at the time, it occurred to me, "You know, I think she just told that kid that he can't behave himself. I'm not sure that's really a message that is in her interest to give to him, much less in his interest." As I reflect on this, I think just hearing that interaction and realizing its importance was probably a major influence to my deciding to change my career to working more closely with children, families and adults as a parent coach and therapist.

Now like all of us, at some of my, shall we say, less than stellar moments, I make this exact sort of mistakes. Lots of times I'll even be aware that I'm doing it and still not be able to pull it together in the moment. What is going on in these interactions, often below the level of what is actually said, is that there is an implicit message. The gist of that message generally says one of two things. It says either, "You're a capable kid," or "You're not capable." Now any single sentence said to a child is not likely to harm her over the long term. The problem would seem to come from repeatedly hearing You're Not Capable messages, and hearing relatively few of the other sort.

To get more of a handle on this principle lets look at an example with a younger child. You could say, "If you don't start eating politely, you're going to be heading to your room." You could even add "Mr." to the end for emphasis. Not quite as bad as the one in the teacher example above, but still not in the You're Capable camp. An alternative way of saying something like this might be, "We'd love to have you eating here with us as long as you're using your manners." Notice that both ways of stating this are getting at setting the exact same limit with the child, about eating at the table. But the second not only sounds more inviting, it implies that the child has good manners and has an option of whether to use them or not. On a side note, it also sounds like the adult wants to be with him. Most importantly it implies that he's capable and in control of his behavior, a message we want him to hear again and again.

Another variation on the example above is to use the Up and Out of the Kid principle that I originally heard described by Betsy Geddes, a former Portland Elementary School principal and a colleague of Jim Fay's. I'd heard other use the strategy, but no one seemed to call it anything or have a name for it. I've used that phrase ever since to describe the idea to clients.

Up and Out means rather than simply telling a child something (which often tends to slide into unhelpful lectures filled with inadvertent You're Not Capable messages) asking a key question that brings the answer up and out of the child's nervous system. This might sound like, "Geoff, if the goofing around at the table continues, what's your best guess about what might happen?" said in a friendly, confident voice. This not only invites the child to think through likely results of his behavior giving a chance to change course, it also sends a subtle and powerful message, "Geoff, I think you are a responsible and smart enough kid that you can figure this out with just a brief prompt. I don't need to spell it out for a sharp kid like you."

A big way that you can incorporate this into your parenting or work with kids is to start out by just listening to how you and others talk. When you have a sense that a You're Not Capable message was imbedded in what was said, try to imagine what the alternative way of phrasing it might be. If you can't think of it in the moment, write it down and post it as a question in the comments section and we can brainstorm You're Capable alternatives right here at Awareness * Connection.

And don't get down on yourself when you find yourself giving your child You're Not Capable messages. The most highly trained of us still do it. We all do from time to time. The first and most important step is simply increasing awareness (note the name of the blog). If you give yourself credit for that first step of just awareness, you'll likely move on to become increasingly effective in communicating with children in ways that invite long term responsible behavior.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Joys of Ziti

I have only recently discovered the joys of baked ziti. I think I actually first became aware of the dish when watching the Sopranos. I made my first one based on this recipe by Mario Batali with a balsamella sauce: Baked Ziti al Telefono. The name refers to the cheese being nice and stringy and apparently reminding some Italian folks of telephone wires. With this nice little allusion, combined with a passing resemblance to some sort of fancy macaroni and cheese, lots of kids will enjoy this one too.

The balsamella sauce itself isn't included in the recipe above. I'm not sure why. Luckily it is pretty straight forward and happens to be posted here. This version of baked ziti is delicious, but very rich. I cut down on some of the mozerella and substituted some meatballs that I cut up into smaller bite sized bits. Lots of Italian dishes I don't mind eating for a few nights in a row, but this one, due to the richness is a once in a while kind of thing. Luckily Ziti freezes very well. A half batch of this one might be a nice size to start with. Perfect for those smaller square casserole pans.

If you try this, let us know how it turned out, any substitutions you made and any of your other adventures in the Land of Ziti.

Tomorrow I am putting one together that is simplier and a few notches less rich. I'm just using a meat sauce I made today and am combining it with some chopped, grilled chicken that I have left over from the quesadillas we're having tonight, and some cubed mozerella, all topped off with some bread crumbs and a bit of romano cheese. The grilled chicken and the ground beef (in my sauce) combo might not work for purists, but with gas prices as they are and the way they in turn are pushing up the cost of everything, food included, I'm enjoying getting creative with ways to make sure no good food gets wasted. And ziti saves the day in this department, being endlessly alterable and able accommodate a wide range of leftover ingredients that might otherwise get tossed. Also the combo of beef and chicken could be a nice excuse to have a glass of red wine and a glass of white as well.

Soon I'll post a recent iteration of my meat sauce. It has been fun improvising with them. By the way, the book that got me started with Italian sauces back when Erin was pregnant with Hannah (going on 9 years ago now) is appropriately enough Pasta Sauces by Charles Bellissino. I got a lot of the ideas for variations on sauces from him.

Buon Appetito!

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Be the Trend Setter

I've been very encouraged by the traffic this blog has been getting. It is fascinating to see people reading from everywhere from South Africa to Texas to Stockholm. This Internet stuff is amazing. And to think that it wasn't even around a couple decades ago. As encouraging the traffic is and as grateful as I am for the readership, I'd love to see folks weigh in with comments.

All it is going to take to make this more of a community affair that can be even more useful and fun for readers is for a couple folks to weigh with comments. You can be the one who got it all started.