Rethinking Family Meetings

I have a lot of respect for the folks at Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life at Berkeley. As you would expect they often report on the positive aspects of parenting. Summer can be a chaotic time without the school schedule. One way to help everyone feel grounded is to have a family meeting once a week. I’m a big fan of family meetings. If you are new to the concept check out the FAMILY MEETINGS PDF I give to my clients to help them get started.

Here’s a recent Greater Good article promoting family meetings by Christine Carter, Ph.D., Rethinking Family Meetings:

Every year I rethink our family meetings at the beginning of the summer, when all of our routines are changing anyway, and this June has been no different—except that I recently read Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families, which puts a big emphasis on family meetings. (read more here)

And a short video:  Rethinking Family Meetings.

Nurture Shock: Chapter 9 – Plays Well With Others

Welcome to chapter 9 – don’t forget to scroll down for This Week’s Recipe: “Grate” Zucchini Bread. This chapter jumps around a lot but there are some interesting tidbits especially around aggression. If I were to ask parents, “What causes children’s aggression?” most would likely respond, “Violent TV and video games.”  Surprise, surprise – researchers have found that the more educational media preschool  children watched, the more relationally aggressive they were i.e. more bossy, controlling and manipulative. In fact, the effect was stronger than the connection between violent media and physical aggression.

I haven’t watched kid’s TV shows recently, but apparently there is a huge amount of relational and verbal aggression in kid’s television. According the authors, 96% of all children’s programming includes verbal insults and put-downs, averaging 7.7 put-downs per half-hour. And rarely are these insults and put-downs dealt with on screen – 84% of the time there was either only laughter or no response at all. It may be called educational media, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is responsible media!

Other research cited by the authors points to the value of having an argument and resolving the argument in front of the children. I grew up in a home where I hardly never saw my parents argue or resolve an argument, so conflict resolution was not a skill I came by naturally. Witnessing conflict resolution, according to the research, helps kids learn how to compromise and reconcile.

There’s some interesting information about aggression, but generally I thought this section was very weak – anyone else have trouble with this chapter? The authors tell us that we have totally changed the peer dynamic by orchestrating play dates and after school activities – to the point that now our children are learning their aggressive socialization from their peers instead of adults. Continue reading

Nurture Shock: Chapter 8 – Can Self-Control Be Taught?

Thanks for joining me for the next chapter of Nurture Shock. Don’t forget to scroll down for this week’s recipe: Orange and Honey Chicken. Can self-control be taught? The authors begin by talking about the effectiveness of Driver’s Ed and the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. I have experience with both as a parent. Driver’s Ed is both necessary and beneficial, but not nearly as effective as the graduated driver’s license that delays the age at which teens can drive at night or with friends in the car. The D.A.R.E. program, however, was considered a joke among most of the kids. It did nothing to reduce drinking and drug use in our community so I wasn’t surprised when the funding was pulled. The authors are quick to point out that D.A.R.E. should not be singled out – of the 718 drug prevention programs receiving federal grants only 41 had a positive effect.

The remainder of this chapter is devoted to exploring the success of an emerging preschool and kindergarten program called Tools of the Mind. Aside from some additional training for teachers, this program does not cost a penny more than a traditional curriculum. After reading this chapter I think every parent should demand this program be implemented in their school. Here is a description of the program from the Tools of the Mind website:

Tools of the Mind is a research-based early childhood program that builds strong foundations for school success in preschool and kindergarten children by promoting their intentional and self-regulated learning. In a series of rigorous experimental trials, Tools of the Mind has been shown to have a significant impact on self-regulation of preschool children. The study also found these gains in self-regulation to be related to scores in child achievement in early literacy and mathematics.

If we could help children with self-control in preschool and kindergarten imagine how much better drivers they would be as teenagers! The part about this program that spoke to me was the fact that the students in the Tools of the Mind classrooms weren’t just better behaved –  they also were more self-directed and more self-organized. These are executive function skills, usually considered to be adult attributes. But executive function begins in preschool and the Tools program builds and strengthens those executive function skills. In one study the more a computer test demanded executive function skills the bigger the gap between the students in the Tools program versus those in a traditional classroom.

Another glowing benefit is motivation. Children who get to choose their own work as they do in the Tools program are more motivated and when children are more motivated they learn more. I wondered how this would work for my child with learning challenges. He was always very motivated when he was doing what he wanted to do, especially in preschool. His challenges came in Kindergarten when he was forced to sit and comply in a traditional classroom. We eventually moved him to a school that embraced the whole learner and he thrived. Not a specific Tools curriculum but one that accommodated for different learners. I am very grateful we had that option.

I’m curious – has anyone had direct experience with the Tools curriculum or been in a school that uses something similar? What about your child with learning differences? What kind of curriculum seems to work best with her learning strengths?

Next Week – Plays Well With Others

This Week’s RecipeORANGE AND HONEY CHICKEN

My sister sent this to me with rave reviews so I’m sharing it with the world – she’s a fabulous cook. Enjoy!

4 boneless chicken breasts
1 small onion  chopped
1-2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 cup chicken broth (reduced sodium)
1/2 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
1/2 cup orange juice
3 tbs. honey
4 tsp. cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce or Worcestershire
small pieces of fresh orange (up to 2 oranges)
low fat sour cream  1/2 cup (more or less)
fresh parsley – optional

Rinse and pat dry chicken
In a baking dish, add all ingredients – blend cornstarch in well to avoid lumps
Add chicken and cover
Cook 350 – 375 for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours (if too liquidy, remove cover)

Note: Recipe calls for cooking in a skillet – but it is easier baked in the oven.

Serve over rice with a veggie

Nurture Shock: Chapter 3 – Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race

I grew up in a homogeneous town on the east coast in the 50’s and 60’s. No one talked about race in my family. A lot of assumptions were made and my sisters and I were left to form our own opinions. I have fought stereotypes my entire adult life, but as a parent I think I fell into the same ‘assumption’ trap the authors report about. Not wanting to make race a big deal, we wanted our children and our family to be all inclusive. But according to the research cited in this chapter we might have missed an important developmental window when it is important to talk about race. Talking with first graders seems to make a difference, but ‘by third grade when most parents believe it’s safe to start talking a little about race, the developmental window has already closed.’

Another interesting conclusion is about the Diverse Environment Theory where the assumption is that desegregating schools works. Researchers have found that diverse schools don’t necessarily lead to more cross-race friendships – just the opposite. Duke University’s Dr. James Moody found that the more diverse the school, the more the kids self-segregate by race and ethnicity within the school. In junior high and high school the researchers found that many students have a friend of another race, but that far more kids just like to hang with their own.

How difficult is it to talk with children about race when they are very young? Researchers have found that to be effective, conversations about race have to be explicit, in unmistakable terms that children understand. And when those conversations can be incorporated into their school curriculum and take place around the dinner table it will seem more normal. When I was growing up race was the elephant in the living room. And I though I would like to think that has changed for my children’s generation I recognize we still have a long way to go in this country.

Since the day Obama announced his candidacy I have believed that he is a gift for our country at a time when we desperately need to heal deep wounds around racial discrimination. I don’t expect change to happen in just four years, but I am grateful and a little bit hopeful that his presence has raised the level of conversation about a difficult topic. Please don’t wait – seize this window of opportunity and begin those explicit conversations about race with your young children.

Next week: Chapter 4 – Why Kids Lie

This week’s recipe – Marvelous Marinade for Chicken Kabobs

I have my sister to thank for the original version of this recipe which I adapted for a marinade for chicken kabobs just in time for the summer barbecue.

1 cup yogurt (I prefer non-fat but any type will do)
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp worchestershire sauce
2 tsp celery salt
1 tsp paprika
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 chicken breasts
Cut up veggies (cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, red and green bell peppers, onions
kabob sticks soaked in water prior to building the kabob

Mix first 8 ingredients. Cut chicken into kabob-size pieces and add to the marinade. I prefer to put it all in a gallon-sized ziplock bag, but for the energy conscious any non-reactive bowl will do as long as the chicken pieces are completely covered.  Marinate overnight.  An hour before building the kabobs marinate the cut up veggies in your favorite italian salad dressing. Build the kabobs – put them on the grill and enjoy.

Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children


It’s 7:15 on a Saturday morning and my youngest child has just gone off to take the SAT for the first time. The house is quiet and I’m wide awake so I decided to pick up the book Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children that I started two weeks ago. I admit to buying it out of curiosity after hearing a couple of colleagues say they didn’t completely agree with the authors. I also admit that I’m a parenting book snob – I have my favorites which I tend to recommend over and over again. So for me to read a new book and possibly make room for that book in my sacred circle is a bit of a stretch!!

I read the first three chapters quickly, highlighting practically every page. I was so charged up about what I read I wanted to share my thoughts with someone else who had read it, but since I hadn’t read the whole book I thought I should wait. Then I had the idea to blog about each chapter – kind of like ‘Julie and Julia’. Each chapter stands alone and thus far each one has spoken to me both as a parent and as a Parent Coach.

I hope you will join me in this conversation. My children are now young adults – like many of our peers we read all the popular books, watched all the parenting videos, attended parenting classes and yet, we still questioned our parenting daily. This was the one job we were the least qualified for – all of our training was in real time on the job!! It was like getting on a roller coaster for the first time and having absolutely no idea where you’re going or how you’re going to get there!

There is no one perfect way to parent your child. Each one of us brings something unique to the process. The combination of nature, nurture and popular culture all contribute to who they will become. What’s fascinating to me is that in the process of raising this wonderful human being you find that you’ve changed as well. You’re not the same person you were when you started this parenting journey. Like it or not raising children changes us – I definitely wouldn’t have felt qualified to be a parent coach or an advocate for children who learn differently if I hadn’t had this experience. For all I know I might have gone into politics or taken up golf (neither interest me right now, but stay tuned, my life expectancy is 109!)

Like Julie in ‘Julie and Julia’ I suspect I will look at parenting differently after reading this book. I have already changed how I talk about praise with my clients and that’s just the first chapter! And like Julia I love to try new recipes so I thought I would also include a recipe with each chapter (may be an old favorite or a new one – depending on how I feel about the chapter!). To start us off I’ll share the delicious Life’s a Poodle Poodletini Recipe. Be warned they are strong (we also have a non-alcohol version) so please slurp responsibly!

My next entry will be my reaction/impressions to chapter one: The Inverse Power of Praise.

Till next time,

Sally


Study Shows a Mother’s Voice Can Reduce Stress Levels in Young Girls

By Bill Hendrick, WebMD – Thursday, May 13, 2010

A kind word from mom by phone may be as good as a hug in calming the frayed nerves of frazzled daughters, a new study indicates.

In the study, which involved 61 girls aged 7 to 12, researchers say a mere phone call from their moms helped reduce the stress levels of the youngsters.

Led by biological anthropologist Leslie Seltzer, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the research team set out to measure fluctuations of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as of the “comfort” or “cuddle” hormone oxytocin.

The girls, all volunteers, were suddenly placed in stressful situations. They were asked without warning to deliver a speech in front of a group of strangers, an exercise that can create stress in people of any age.

Then they were drilled with difficult math questions — also in front of an audience. As expected, cortisol levels, known to increase with stress, skyrocketed when measured in saliva soon after the stressful situation.

Seltzer and Seth Pollak, PhD, a psychology professor at University of Wisconsin, Madison, then divided the girls into three groups.

The mothers of one group were on hand to hug and offer physical comfort to their daughters. Other girls were handed a telephone, with mom on the line. A third group watched an emotionally neutral film called March of the Penguins.

Researchers say the calming effect on the girls who were comforted by a hug or physical touch was more immediate, but that the stress hormone levels also quickly dropped in those who received soothing words from their mothers by phone.

For the girls who watched the film, cortisol levels were still considerably above normal an hour after their stressful experiences. Similarly, levels of the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin went up in girls who were hugged as well as those who received comforting phone calls, though not quite as fast in those whose mothers were not physically present.

Oxytocin levels were flat or low in the girls who watched the movie. The hormone levels were tested in samples of urine collected at various times during the course of the experiment.

“It was [previously] understood that oxytocin release in the context of social bonding usually required physical contact,” Seltzer says in a news release. “But it’s clear from these results that a mother’s voice can have the same effect as a hug, even if she’s not standing there.”

The relief from anxiety lasts, Pollak says. “By the time the children go home, they’re still enjoying the benefits of this relief and their cortisol levels are still low,” he says in the news release.

Gender Differences in Reacting to Stress

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and they square with a “tend and befriend” theory, explaining how stress regulation may differ between females and males.

Males, when confronted with a threat, may be more likely to choose between fight or flight. But females with offspring in tow, or slowed by pregnancy, may have evolved to make different choices.

“You might not be able to run with a child or defend yourself without endangering both of you,” Seltzer says. She adds that it might make more sense for a female to create or use a social bond to deal with a stressor, either through touch or soothing communication.

“Apparently, this hormone oxytocin reduces stress in females after both types of contact, and in doing so may strengthen bonds between individuals,” Seltzer says.

Seltzer tells WebMD in an email that stress effects on boys were not addressed in this study, but experiments on young guys are under way. “The results aren’t all in, but yes, boys do look different. So do girls who interact with dad instead of mom.”

So would a hug from a dad, or a soothing phone call, do any good for children of either gender? “We just don’t know,” Pollak tells WebMD in an email. “But hormone systems between males and females may also be different. This was the very first study of its kind using the voice.”

Seltzer says her team “chose to focus on girls for this particular study because the hormone oxytocin, which we think helps regulate social behavior, is typically studied in females because of its role in maternal-infant attachment.”

She adds that “male children are equally interesting in their own right and will be the subjects of future work.”

In addition to reducing stress, oxytocin also may strengthen bonds between people, Seltzer says.

“For years,” Pollak says, “I’ve seen students leaving exams and the first thing they do is pull out their cell phone and make a call. I used to think, ‘How could those over-attentive, helicopter parents encourage that?’ But now? Maybe it’s a quick and dirty way to feel better.”

The fact that “a simple telephone call” could raise oxytocin levels “is really exciting,” he adds.

Seltzer is testing whether other methods of communication, such as text messaging, could have the same calming effect as a phone call or hug.

“On the one hand, we’re curious to see if this effect is unique to humans,” she says in the news release. “On the other, we’re hoping researchers who study vocal communication will consider looking at oxytocin release in other animals and applying it to broader questions of social behavior and evolutionary biology.”