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Posts Tagged ‘cooking with kids’

A colleague of mine had a former life in community organizing and development. In that role, he spent much of his time running meetings and getting organizations with various agendas to cooperate for the greater good of the community. He is an expert facilitator and one of the best people I know at working an idea through an organization.

One of the things I’ve learned from him is to pre-wire my meetings. He’s taught me when I need to get buy-in for an idea from a management team, I should make sure that all the players are on board with the message before we meet about it. 

Typically, if you have an idea you gather the group that needs to hear it to discuss it. But I’m sure you’ve all been in meetings where new ideas are met with resistance, fear, territoriality, and suspicion. All of which can be great responses to strengthen the idea and push it forward. But if all those issues come up in a public setting, the idea is more likely to get killed than adopted.

Pre-wiring the meeting involves meeting with stakeholders as individuals before you meet with them as a group, to hear and respond to objections in private. With those conversations out of the way, the idea has a chance of succeeding in the meeting. Instead of a heated debate, the meeting can provide an opportunity for consensus, collaboration, and moving forward.

It’s true that the presentation of insights loses some of it’s ‘wow’ factor if many people in the room have heard the findings before. But in exchange for drama, you’re more likely to walk out of the room with action and implementation. A worthwhile trade-off, I assure you.

I also use my colleague’s advice to manage the monkey’s expectations. Toddlers respond well to routine, so we use consistency of routine to do a lot of our expectation setting. They know what’s going to happen next, because it always happens next, and I don’t have to say anything. But there are, of course, times when we can’t or don’t follow the routine. Special activities or holidays come up or I get completely bored and we do something out of the ordinary.

When I know we’re going to break the monkeys’ routine, I ‘pre-wire’ them, setting expectations about what’s going to happen long before it happens.

A few weeks ago, my parent’s came in town for Passover. I was thrilled about hosting a Seder, but a little anxious about how the under 3 crowd would handle the long ceremonial meal. I started talking it up about two weeks before the night. ‘Nana and Far Far are coming and we’re going to have a special meal. We’ll sit around the table together and read and sing songs and tell stories’. Getting them excited about some of their favorite activities really worked. In addition to talking about it, we started singing some traditional Seder songs together. And they were into it. Between setting their expectations and incorporating some toddler friendly activities into the Seder, we got the monkeys and a friend to sit through about 1/2 an hour of ceremony at 6 PM. A major triumph.

I also pre-wire them to get them excited about things I’m excited about, so that an activity is actually likely to be fun for all of us. Tonight we made pizzas for dinner. The monkeys love to help me cook, so I knew that they would be into the activity. But I wanted to make sure we had a whine-free evening, with lots of participation. So I started talking it up early this morning, singing Louis Prima songs and telling the monkeys we would turn the house into a Pizzariea for dinner. Their excitement helped get them motivated to come with me to buy a new rolling pin and helped me get them to leave the park to come home to make dinner. And not only did they help me cook, they ate their pizza and salad.

I’m always a little bit surprised when I see such similarities between my toddlers and adults in the business world. But it shouldn’t be that surprising. At our core, we’re all creatures of habit. Breaks from the routine can be scary and intimidating to two-year-olds. And trying a new idea, or agreeing to a new way of doing things, can be scary and intimidating to adults. Giving everyone a chance to respond to an idea in private, and time to get used to it, can go a long ways towards reassuring this anxiety. And that can turn Seder, pizza night, or an imporant meeting from a whine-fest into a successful event.

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I was reading last week’s Business Week and came across an article on Richard Sapper. Apart from an inane argument about how to design, the article is a nice profile piece. I especially liked this quote from Sapper: “The most important thing for me is to give everything I do a form that expresses something. It’s not neutral. It has a point of view and a personality.”

So what’s the link outside of the world of design? Well, expressing a point of view and personality in everything that you do. When we’re with our kids, especially little kids, much of the day is taken up by routine tasks. Diaper changes, feeding, bathing, dressing, laundry, feeding, diaper changes, undressing, etc. Its easy for me to get into a rut where I’m doing these things quickly, without expression just to get them done. But when those tasks take up the majority of your time – which they do any time you have multiple young kids in the house – you can miss a lot of opportunities for fun, play, learning and development.

One way that we imbue cooking and eating with personality and point of view in our house is making it a collaborative process. And yes, making calazones with two 2.5 year-olds is a messy and potentially aggravating process. But it can also be a lot of fun. More importantly, it gives me a chance to start teaching my kids real skills and gets them excited about eating. When they were smaller I used laundry folding time to teach them about colors and the names of different articles of clothing. Now, we’re potty training. We combine bum-wiping with yoga practice. Downward dog is fun for the boys and particularly useful for me in that context.

I know, this is getting kind of gross,  but it is true. On days when I have the energy and creativity to bring personality and point of view to routine child care activities, me and my boys have a better day. And when I don’t, I not only bore them, but I kind of bore myself.

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