Chopped

A revised version of this post was featured on http://www.empoweringparents.com on February 11, 2010.

When we have visitors the kids like to get in the kitchen and play a game called Chopped. It’s based on a television cooking show where chefs create entrees and are judged on taste, presentation and originality.  The chef who doesn’t measure up is eliminated from the competition.

When they play at home, the eliminators (usually the moms) use a point system for each category and are instructed to never declare a tie.

They want a clear winner and they want the truth.  Just like in the show.

Now I’ve watched the program and I see how this works. When the professional chef gets the ax, the camera follows them out the door and down the hallway under the guise of getting an exit interview but mostly just to capture the emotion of losing.  It’s a vulnerable time where some chefs look tough, some are crying and some look as if they prefer to hit the camera man with a frying pan.

Chopped contestants in this weekend’s Woz family kitchen jockey for top honors by playing to their strengths and pointing out the other’s weaknesses. Usually on the show this is done by the commentator.  Evidently the game just isn’t as fun if it isn’t done without constant criticism. Harsh, but we know that kids can be tough on each other. Much tougher than parents will be.

As moms in the hot seat of judging, we try our best to ignore all the antics and concentrate on the duty at hand knowing we cannot get out of putting the creations in to our mouth even when the secret ingredient is say, clam sauce.

Moms are brave.

And we must also separate our desire to make everyone happy.  We steel ourselves to chop the offending dish and chef, and hope that good manners prevail and the losers are good sports.

Unlike every other time, the youngest in the group and also the one who cries foul when she doesn’t win,  has locked-in the presentation and originality category – best two out of three – and has avoided the chop!

Unfortunately, going against two older cousins hasn’t historically gone well and she is so sure she is going to lose,  that when it is announced she has won two out of three,  she stomps off at the indignity of not taking all honors! She shoves her brother in the hallway and shouts in an angry tone over her shoulder something about the other contestants influencing the judges, and then slams the door to her bedroom.

She was so sure she would not win, that even when she does, she cannot accept the honor.  She has self- sabotaged her own win with her excessive worry of failure.

The other judge, a social worker friend of mine, shares a summary of a recent workshop she attended.  It concluded that young men and women entering college are finding themselves paralyzed by the fear of failure and some are getting lower grades than they imagined for themselves and are avoiding degrees in known challenging studies such as the hard sciences.  College counselors are experiencing more anxious students engaging in more self-destructive behaviors who seek the easiest route to the most glory.

Unfortunately, they are finding there is no easy route.  And they are angry, depressed, and frozen.

I wonder if my daughter is going to spend more years in a therapist’s chair than she will in college and once in the workforce will she be left behind, in a mediocre job with limited creativity, a crabby and angry woman who slams doors and isn’t willing to put in the time to improve either?

Will she fall into the ranks of the many graduates who return home to the welcoming arms of parents without the job that school is supposed to prepare them to take and without the stable job that declares her a successful adult… And how angry will she be then?

We came to one conclusion as we sat sipping tea and tasting the creations from the cooking competition:  Kids learn best via honest feedback and less fake-fairness.

If she hasn’t made a chopped recipe worth eating, then spare her the niceties, no accommodations for her age, no adjusting for never winning the best tasting category, no sugar-coating the unpalatable truth.

As I roll the dessert she made around on my tongue, this strange combination of oyster sauce and brown sugar, I seek a way to say something nice.  But instead, with the strength of another caring parent to back me up,  the mom judges decide to follow the rules of the game,  just like the rest of the world will.

Spare no chef! Spare no truth! “This cookie tastes like a fish taco,” and we swallow hard and brace for the fit throwing,  “and,  you have been chopped!”

###

A.Woz for Childgrower Blog and EP

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Midnight Run by ChildGrower A. Woz.

Anyone who grew up watching Little House on the Prairie remembers when in a cold log cabin in Minnesoa, the Ingalls children find a tin cup, a peppermint stick and a shiny penny under the tree.

In flapping night dresses and sleep bonnets they dance merrily around the fire as Pa plays his fiddle. Laura and Mary don’t necessarily love the plain tin cups, but they feel special knowing the cups mean they don’t have to share anymore. The intrinsic value goes far beyond the cost of the tin.

Things have not changed all that much from those pioneer days.

No one is taking the wagon to town for midnight shopping but every mother is keenly aware of the traditions that make the holiday special for children and will work creatively, perhaps starting before the snow flies, to find the best deals and coordinate with Grandmas and relatives to get the gift under the tree that makes her child’s eyes sparkle. We give to let them know their wants are valid even if our child’s wants seem so trivial compared to an adult’s.

Most parents put every effort into making holiday wishes come true- if only for one morning- because we know that in the grand scheme of life, putting a special request under the tree is a lot easier than doing almost anything else for our children.

We cannot always protect them from illness and disease.

We cannot take away debilitating psychological or genetic challenges.

We cannot make other children accept them as they are, or fabricate a life-long friendship where there is none.

We cannot buy our way out of medical debt, sometimes we cannot pay the mortgage, and sometimes we have to move in with Uncle Ed.

We cannot hand over our confidence to our teenage daughters or grant passing grades to our hard working students.

We cannot guarantee safe passage through dangerous streets,  protect them from hateful words that they will hear or keep them safe from unpredictable circumstances.

But at the end of each year, parents can listen closely to a child’s material requests and commit to memory each list of wishes written in crooked but hopeful handwriting.  We are grateful for all the good things and hope that our efforts strike a bargain to keep things as good as they are; keenly aware that even if circumstances are bad, they can always be worse.

We creatively work to give our children good holiday memories, sometimes calling in favors, maybe working an extra job, trading our time for someone else’s talents, blatantly robbing Peter to pay Paul. We  making New Year’s resolutions all about balancing the checkbook and learning to simplify.

For now, we will live in the moment and try to buy some time for our children so they can remain innocent and unaware of the grown up stuff, all the unforeseen challenges that they will have to deal with all too soon.

Moms and Dads shelter them for a little while longer,  taking seriously the job of protecting the wonder of the season, this granting of tangible wishes,  this material miracle-making,  while hoping to never be asked to put in a pretty box the things parents cannot procure in a midnight run to Walmart.

### As featured on EmpoweringParents.com by A. Woz.,  December 18, 2009.

Busy 4 y.o. by Childgrower A. Woz.

momandjaedytoestouchAdapted from an October 2009 on-line forum discussion post from a frustrated mom on the EmpoweringParents.com website where Woz serves as a contributing blogger and frequents the EP forum to share ideas with other parents.

This mom was at her wits end because her boy was constantly going from one problem to another. If he wasn’t on top of the cupboard digging in the sugar bin, he was dilly dallying around when they had to get out of the door in the morning. Her little guy was touching everything at the stores they visited and was doing everything BUT getting ready for bed dragging the night time routine into long past bedtime and long past mom’s patience level.

Oh mom of a “busy” 4.y.o,

I have been there.

“Busy” is a nice way of saying, frustrating, unfocused, so time consuming, annoying!

Or some would say, “Sensory learners, Spirited, Curious, Fun.”

At age 4, kids are learning by exploring and they are learning how to do things to make you happy and how to do things that make them happy.

They have nothing else to do in a day except learn, while we are juggling parenting, cleaning, working, bills, and so much more. What should take five minutes (brushing teeth, getting PJs on, getting out the door) can take much longer since 4 year olds have no concept of time.

Lucky them! They don’t need to think about time- they have an entire lifetime to live and they dive in headfirst to the learning and the greatness of the world they live in…

It’s almost too bad that this natural curiosity, this giggly happy time, this zest for doing everything fun all the time has to be tamed at all….

But, even though they are fun and frustrating, cooperation is still important, limits are still important, sometimes the schedule has no flexibility and things have to get done.

For young kids the book, How to talk So Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk by Faber/Mazlish is Incredible! Not only is it in part cartoon form and part workbook form, but it has good practical ideas to try. Yes there is some theory, but most of the book is about teaching parents the skills to handle children with words.  One of its best lessons is the one word reminder. Try “Teeth!” instead of saying for the umpteenth time,  “Johnny, you have to get your teeth brushed, now, lets get-agoing.”

Repeat just one word. The word is a firm reminder, and focuses the kid instead of making them feel shame for not listening.

A pre-school teacher also used this idea for the situation where kids are running through stores touching- and sometimes breaking- various things.  The theory is that kids only hear the last part of what you say. So when you say, “Be careful you’ll break something, please stop running!” about all kids grasp is “running!”.

So they run. Mrs. T suggests tell them what you want them to do.

“No running,” becomes “Walk!” and “No touching!” becomes “Hands in your pockets.”  or “Look with your eyes. ”

At age four, kids don’t get the idea that other people are more important than they are. They are self-focused and the world is all about them, so the idea of respecting property is a little over their heads.  Kids probably think “Mr. Shopkeeper should WANT met to touch them because I love toys more than anyone!”

Nothing works all the time of course, but one of a kids’ jobs is to test the boundaries and learn from the limits. That is their entire purpose- to learn by doing, testing, touching, loving life.

I guess that makes a parent’s purpose to teach by asking, limiting, hugging and loving the teaching process. Remember discipline is teaching, not punishment.

Hang in there- lots of teaching is going on with 4 y.o.s and sometimes, we are the ones learning the most!

Good luck! A. Woz.

GenYers by A. Woz

Have you heard anything like this lately?

  • A co-worker tells his boss that the young man sitting out in the lobby waiting for an interview has brought his mother along and wants mom to go on the tour of the facility.
  • Just this week someone is fired because after two years, her work product still has too many errors.  Six months prior in a performance review where the manager spells out very clearly the accuracy and attention to detail needed to dramatically improve,  she seems unfazed, unconcerned and proves unable to train herself to double check her work before she passes it to the next party.
  • A neighbor calls to say she is worried about her son who works part-time and then spends the rest of his time playing video games and going to the gym.  When chided by dad to turn off the game station and pitch in with laundry and dishes, the son gently reassures his father that he probably wouldn’t have time for that as he knows he will soon be hired at a new place where management will treat him with respect and pay him what he is worth.
  • The new hire at your brother’s office is always late. Even though there is a big project due mid-day, the new guy leaves for a kick-boxing class over lunch hour and then looks surprised when HR requested that future forward he is to shower and change out of sweaty clothes before returning to his desk.

Does this seem hard to believe?

Prepare yourself for these and more incredulous moments if you are hiring a Generation Y worker.

And brace yourself if you are a parent shouldering the blame for creating this generation of why-should-I-work-hard-for-you workers.

Since when has putting child-rearing as a top priority been a bad thing?

Since Generation X grew up I guess.

Relax,  it isn’t just the endless activities, the effort to build confidence, the willingness to adapt to umpteen scheduled activities that has caused the uproar.

Its all of that plus the incredible intelligence and worldliness of Generation Y’s experience with global technical and constant need for communication that has taught them to focus largely on short term rewards and to look out for themselves above all others.

After all,  isn’t “short-term” exactly how we treat the environment, the market, the entertainment that we consume on a daily basis?

Bruce Tulgan, author of Not Everyone Gets a Trophy believes globalization and technology has shaped Gen Y’ers into young adults who seek to maximize the tangible benefits and the connections to people in power from the short time they are working in unstable institutions with uncertain futures.

Knowing industry is ever-changing, outpaced, out-dated and aware that today’s cutting edge is likely tomorrow’s old Facebook look, Gen Yers question authority, command an ever-present access to accurate research via technology and have mastered the short term goal of focusing their brilliant ideas and earning their trophies.

Generation Y children are born between 1978 and 1990. In Tulgan’s words, “Generation Y is like Generation X on-fast-forward-with-self-esteem-on-steroids….parents have guided, directed, supported, coached, and protected…and structured.”

Not surprisingly, most Gen Y employees report that they love their parents, trust them, and will continue to seek advice from them even from the workplace cubicle via the ever present cell-phone and- if you are willing- they will bring them in to work or have their parents call you to clarify your needs, without any of that debilitating embarrassment factor!

Yes, bosses report more and more that mom and dad are calling to inform employers of the gifts of Susie Q and sometimes chide them for expecting too many hours at the workplace.

But, be aware that Gen Yers are loyal to mom but will not transfer that goodwill to a boss unless the boss earns it.

Weak managers, managers who don’t make time to oversee every detail of training and cheerleading, managers who aren’t seeking new ideas, and supervisors who are unable to reward workers with flexibility or monetary reward tied to competition driven projects will not get any of the loyalty or the work output they want from Gen Y.

It is expected that this group of Generation Y workers is very capable of carrying traditional companies -kicking and screaming-  into the highly volatile but profitable marketplace of the millennium- and presumably they can do this without having mom or dad in the break room cheering sonny boy on.

How?

Tulgen calls it “in loco parentis management ” where supervisors provide strong management in the workplace to fill a void where the parent has always been.

Ironically, managers report, “If you hire a Generation Y worker who is not close to (her) parents, you may be sorry. Among today’s young workers, those who are closest to their parents will probably turn out to be the most able, most achievement oriented, and the hardest working.”

Ideally, the best place for a Gen Y worker is at a company that can offer flexible reward system that includes monetary incentives, time off, varying start times, and has a supervisory staff willing to teach the basic skills of good manners, critical thinking, and the consequences of their actions.

Sigh. I thought that was what I have been doing? Haven’t I?

###

A. Woz for EP, December 4, 2009.

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