Friday, January 31, 2014

Five steps to becoming a better cook

I was reading an article about cooking (a hobby of mine) when I realized the recommendations for becoming a better cook were a great analogy to those that I would make to becoming a better parent. If you want to have more successful interactions with your children, either playing, giving instructions or disciplining them, read these recommendations carefully.

1.  Pay attention                                                      
This is the first and most important rule. Put away your cellphone and don’t answer the other phone. Turn off the TV. Facebook will wait. Focus on what you are doing. Be aware. What does the food look like? What does it smell like? How does it sound? These are important hints the dish (child) is giving you (i.e. body language, facial expressions, changes in breathing, etc.). Yes, I’m talking about your interactions with your children. Pay attention to what you are doing. Yelling directions from another room while you are on the phone is not going to be effective. In addition this will lead to frustration because you’ll have to yell louder and repeat the directions countless times. Be present and enjoy parenting. Believe me, it can be wonderful.

2.  Keep it simple
You don’t learn to cook by starting with complex, multi-element dishes. Begin by learning the basics. Repeat them until you are satisfied with the results. Move to another dish only after you’ve mastered the first one. Only by this kind of repetition will you come to understand what is going on during cooking. As a parent, don’t expect to defuse every tantrum and have compliant children 100% of the time. Don’t assume that they know how to behave, or that they understand when you say “Be a good boy.” Don’t give them complex directions that they won’t understand or remember. You might feel good with your long speeches, but they are ineffective. Your kids tune out, it’s too much for them. Keep it simple, one step at the time. Break down complex tasks (clean up your room could be a complex and overwhelming task) into small steps and assist your child to achieve one at the time before moving to the next one. In that way both you and your child will feel successful.

3. Organize
Read the recipe. Then read it again. Figure out what utensils you’re going to need and which ingredients. Cooking at home is different than in a restaurant. It is more efficient to slot in some tasks during the down time when you’d otherwise be standing around. Do as much as you can when your kids are at school. Be ready for when they are back. Learn. Knowledge and information are powerful tools. Not only doesn’t anyone teach us how to be a good parent, but kids don’t come with instructions. Seek professional help, attend parenting classes, read parenting books (and these blogs religiously). Spend some time and energy eliminating clutter in your home and your mind. For more info, read our blog “Stress Management”:    

4.  Make a commitment
Learning is a process, not a single step. Becoming a good cook is going to take a little time. There is more to it than reading a recipe and following a set of instructions. Don’t become discouraged if your first effort isn’t perfect. Figure out what went wrong, remember it and move along. It will be better the next time.
This is for parenting also. Don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes. Be consistent and persistent. It will take some time, especially if you are changing your parenting strategies. Make it a priority. It will be more than worth it, I promise.

5. Shop carefully
You can always spot good cooks because they take their time choosing ingredients. Beginners rush through, thinking that cooking begins in the kitchen. It really starts in the market: choose the ripest pieces of fruit, the most colored vegetables, even if you have to sort one piece at the time. Spend extra time choosing the best ingredients and it will save you hours of time cooking. Hurry through and you’ll have to work some kind of crazy kitchen magic just to make something decent enough to eat.
Mindful parents take time to choose the best environment for their children. They get involved in their education. They look for the right books, toys and activities  (including video games). Kids need to spend time outside and burn energy. They benefit enormously from practicing sports. Not only do they get exercise, they learn discipline and friendship. It’s very important that they eat healthy food and they sleep enough. Finding a good pediatrician and pediatric dentist also takes time, research and effort. Everything matters. Think about parenting as a puzzle you need to carefully piece together.

I hope this is helpful to enhance your parenting skills and if not, at least it will make you a better cook.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA



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