Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why French parents are superior - Mindful eating and SDT- self determination theory

Pamela Druckerman , the author of ' Why French Parents are superior',

says that unlike American parents who insist on their kids ' finishing' their food and 'cleaning their plates ' before they get desert , French parents tell their kids – you don't have to finish your food , you just have to taste everything.

American parents are concerned with the results- the product whereas French parents focus on the ' process' of eating and the culture around food. The French menu has lots of variety and this promotes ' tasting' rather than filling yourself up. Why does this resonate with me ?  The reason is that ' tasting ' food is the basis of ' mindful eating.'

It is hard to think of one experiencing ' self determination ' – endorsing one's actions at the highest levels of reflection when we are involved with food and eating. Eating is often a reflexive experience where one is not aware of what one is eating, just being an ' object ' who is being filled with food and who will stop eating when one  cannot eat any more.

 Parents and kids may have healthy eating goals and are able to express their 'autonomy 'and 'relatedness ' by participating in family decisions concerning what is served for meals. Kids who are not given some control over their eating are likely to suffer from obesity. 

But we need to ask if ' eating' for them is something intrinsically valuable beyond meeting the basic animal needs of survival or not.

People behave like objects when they merely react to the external stimuli that food provides. How does focusing on ' tasting' make people 'subjects ' rather than objects. ?

By being mindful about eating, we are being subjects , eating slowly, being  very aware of the present, attentive to how the food looks, smells, tastes, feels – texture and sounds. It is about being ' reflective ' rather than 'reflexive.'

Here are 2 links to the classic mindful-eating practice '  eating a raisin made famous by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

Mindful eating promotes good health. People are often ' mindless' about food and are multitasking while eating. This creates a mind-body disconnect so that critical brain signals that regulate food intake may not be received by the brain and instead the brain continues to send out additional signals of hunger , increasing the risk of overeating.

So during the meal , we should not hold conversations while eating but engage in ' mindful eating' and then stop eating and be attentive to the conversation and other people at the table.

According to my religious tradition the ' taste of food ' , is its spirituality. The snake in the biblical story of Adam and Eve was the symbol of materialism and natural drives used in a negative way. The snake was cursed that he would have to eat dust – something that lacks taste.

Family meals promote ' relatedness' among family members and are very empowering for kids development. Mindful eating can help us transcend beyond addressing the basic animals needs of hunger and make eating an experience which is intrinsically valuable.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Praising kids - Alfie Kohn, Carol Dweck , Social Conservatives

In recent years the self esteem movement has come under fire especially in relation to verbal rewards – ' Praise'. Alfie Kohn has just written a summary of his approach to praise and how it differs from both that of social conservatives and Carol Dweck.

He takes issue with the idea that one should praise ' effort ' rather than ability . Carol Dweck showed how helping kids to acquire a growth mindset,  - that by making an effort we can succeed - rather than praising their ability, we can help them be successful.

'Praising kids' efforts may be counterproductive as it may signal that they have to try very hard because they are not very good at what they are doing. It may communicate that they are not really capable and therefore unlikely to succeed at future tasks. For this reason others have suggested praising ' ability' which is supposed to enhance one's feeling of competence. This is also problematic. As Carol Dweck has shown ,that when kids attribute success or failure to something that is outside their control, such as a ' fixed' level of ability,  they are discouraged from taking responsibility for working to improve their performance. It may be most sensible to avoid casting praise as a comment on either effort or ability.' -AK

What should we do instead of praise. ? To answer this we must revisit our parenting goals. We want our kids to be self directed and act in an autonomous way, self assess and evaluate the impact they have on others and the environment, find meaning and enjoyment in what they are doing, focus more on the process and less on achievement, focus on their feelings – the intrinsic reward rather than achievement and pleasing others. We also want them to be supportive of others and not to manipulate them with praise to get what they want or show approval to others who jump through their hoops.

The way to go is to use ' declarative language '  just describing what we saw and then pausing. This gives the kid time to reflect on what you have noticed and  also experience some inner pride or other feelings for eg.  satisfaction. We can then ask open ended questions – how did you feel about what you did ?  what were you thinking about when you drew the dog? What made you decide to end the essay that way ?

'These comments and questions help a kid focus his attention on his feelings and thoughts rather than on his accomplishments. He is talking about what he did and self assessing. By emphasizing the process rather than the product, the kid will realize that it's the trying that counts.'  Myrna Shure 

By focusing more on achievement parents put a full stop on life, when we focus on the process we focus on life and the new challenges it presents us.