Category Archives: Psychology

“She has a knife!” or how to involve a kid in your everyday household chores

“She has a knife!!!” – my friend was shouting with fear in her voice. In the first second my muscles tightened ready to neutralize the obviously imminent threat to everybody’s life. And then I heard a soft voice of my daughter saying “Mom, I want to cut my banana”. My muscles relaxed again. Nothing major – it’s just my 3-year old daughter with a chef’s knife cutting her banana because she likes to eat it piece-by-piece with a fork, instead of just biting it.

No, I am not a total reckless idiot (at least I want to believe that): she knows how to do it, as she’s been doing it for a year already, besides I am next to her anyway. My daughter helps me to cook, she knows how to use a potato peeler, she knows how to use a knife, how to use a kitchen scale (and what do those numbers mean). In that way it was more fun to learn the numbers after all. Also counting down she learned with the help of a kitchen appliance – the microwave. She knows how to make coffee with my coffee maker and with my percolator. And yes, she knows what a percolator is! For those who don’t, it’s a type of special pot for making coffee – I am a coffee addict and I have a lot of that special stuff. She also knows how to sort laundry and is currently successfully teaching that to her 1,9-year old brother, who is simply trembling to pour in the washing liquid and finally push “Start”, shouting “yeeeeeeeah!”. She is closing the buttons of her father’s shirts (those non-iron ones that I am hanging to dry). She helps me fold dry laundry and put everything in the rightful spots. Yes, sometimes I have to refold but it happens less and less nowadays, and we do have some issues with “the rightful spots” from time to time. Also, she wipes the floor with a “Swiffer”; well, now not anymore as this has been delegated to her little brother. They both love to use a vacuum-cleaner and a steam-mop. She knows how to use a screw-driver and scissors… I could probably continue boasting (LOL) but I guess you are more interested in the “how the hell do you achieve that?”

It could be that I just pulled a lucky ticket with both of them, but since I hear the stories of successfully involving kids in household chores from some other mothers as well, I would like to believe that I did something right in my approach.

First and the most important is that my kids are allowed to make mistakes. Like – truly allowed. Actually I cannot stress it hard enough – not being afraid of making mistakes is according to me an extremely important quality that I hope they will be able to keep when they grow up, as that would help them a lot. Practically, what do I mean by it? I will tell you a story. The first time my daughter wanted to use a vacuum-cleaner, I looked around and quickly understood that all these Lego blocks will end up in the bowl of my “Dyson”. Probably that’s also the fate awaiting my necklace that’s lying on the table and probably those chalks and everything else but the actual dust. The easiest solution would be to do it myself and reply to her – “It is not a toy. When you will grow up…”

Yes, I had to take out those Lego blocks and wash them, my necklace survived against all odds and the chalks were partially affected. But also with some guidance miraculously the dust got cleaned. The point is everybody learns by making mistakes and it’s OK, and it is not that difficult to wash Lego blocks after all. If she screws up I am never commenting anything like “why did you do that again?!”, “can’t you do anything right?!” or alike with the same message. She is learning. I must admit that I am also learning, as it is really difficult to restrain yourself not to comment.

Second, almost everything is allowed (within reasonable limits and with certain precautions of course). If my kids want to use a knife they don’t get a Montessori wooden one to “cut” a wooden banana. I find those types of toys a total waste of money. My kids get a real knife. First – a small and less sharp one, then – just any normal knife. Undoubtedly I have to explain and I have to supervise, and probably a finger will be cut at one point in time. Well, I don’t give them a machete! There are also nice tools out there to protect little fingers while they are cutting – check out Opinel Le Petit chef set. And let me repeat once again – you have to explain. When I am at home with kids I am talking a lot: explaining what am I doing, what am I using, why, what for, and so on. And it doesn’t really matter if they don’t understand everything yet, or don’t remember. One day they will. And it’s good for their language development, especially since they are raised bilingual Russian-Dutch with a passive English (that I am speaking with my husband).

Third, is the motivation. Pure human psychology here. If you force somebody to do something you are likely to face a resistance. If you are asking for help, you are likely to get one. So – “little one, can you please help me, I can’t do it myself” works much more efficient than “do-this, do-that”. People in general, but little ones in particular, are willing to help others, they also want to feel themselves useful and significant (“I am such a big girl/boy, I did that myself!”). I personally use that. That allows not only to develop respective motor skills, but also develops their emotional intelligence.

Fourth, another trick that works for me – arouse interest! “Do you want to help me bake a new cake?” (especially if I stress the word “new”), “Do you want to plug-in the blender in the socket yourself?” (and stress on – yourself – as much as you can!), “Can you find all the matching socks?”, “Let’s see who can fold these towels faster! Whoever wins gets a candy!” You can turn a lot of chores into a game or a contest with a bit of creativity. And like with everything it’s not going to just magically work the first time, but one day it will work. Magically!

I can only hope that my kids will keep the same enthusiasm vis-a-vis helping their mother when they grow up, but at least now: 1. they learn a lot using just everyday items; 2. they are involved and they feel involved; and – most important selfish point  – 3. I get help.

P.S. Chocolate brownies that are in the featured image for this post we made together with my daughter yesterday. Some ingredients were of course gone before they reached the cooking bowl, but overall she did pretty well – at least breaking eggs into the mixture she does much better than her mommy…

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Negotiations with a monster: Applying Negotiation skills theory to persuade a toddler

Today I would like to revise some of the basics of the Negotiation skills theory, something that is taught in business schools but should actually be introduced as early as in the primary school and for everybody not only the aspiring managers and consultants. You should take it with a grain of salt yet also a toddler is a party in negotiations. Yes, when there is a discussion about something you just want to shout out loud that he or she is going to do the way you want them to do otherwise their ass will be kicked big time, but however tempting that is, it’s not a solution in the long run.

I have studied the negotiation skills theory both through various online courses, including Harvard, yet the first introduction into the theoretical foundations was done by an almost legendary South African professor Dr. David Venter. I was lucky to get to know him (and his wonderful wife – Paula Venter, whom he uses as an example and an object of comments all the time!), be able to listen to him and even at one point in time stay in his cozy house in Hermanus – the best place to watch whales. I will use some of my notes from his course and the information from the Negotiations Planning template by Infostrat©.

So let’s begin. A toddler is a monster by definition! There are couple of aspects which are especially difficult in negotiating with this monster:

  1. accepting that a toddler is to be negotiated with, not just bossed around all the time;
  2. dealing with irrational behavior – crying and shouting (but, hey, your business partners tend to get emotional and seemingly irrational as well. Yes, usually they don’t fall on the floor in the middle of a shopping mall and don’t scream that they desperately need that new toy car, but those are nuances. Emotions can get pretty high also in a boardroom.)
  3. dealing with your own emotions and mostly with your own anger (this little thing dares to question my authority?!)

So, you have – let’s call it – a disagreement with your toddler. You went to the shopping mall, your kid saw a toy in one of the shops and wants it. You say no, your kid switches on the drama-button.

According to the Negotiations skills theory you start with identifying the nature of the conflict and the issues related. In this case it is your unwillingness to buy a toy that a kid wants, hence issues, roughly speaking, are: ownership of a toy and financials. Usually financials are less of an issue and much more the problem lies in the intangible plane. The intangible issues related to the conflict are numerous: feeling of entitlement, feeling of undermined authority, honor, ability to get what you want, ability to decide, perception of usefulness, feeling of control, just to name a few.

Now, what do you do? First, you have to identify the deal parameters. Here, let me first introduce couple of terms:

  1. aspiration base – the highest achievable goals or objectives for a negotiated agreement. In plain words – realistically, what do you want to achieve?
  2. real base – the minimum you want to achieve.
  3. BATNA – best alternative to negotiated agreement – what alternative exists to satisfy your interests.

So those three points are to be identified next for all the participants of the negotiations. The contracting zone or the zone of possible agreement (ZOPA), or bargaining range lies in between the real bases. This is where an agreement is possible.

Coming back to our toddler… Your aspiration base is probably – the kid shuts the hell up, gets up and peacefully walks home holding your hand and forgetting about a damn toy, right? And the minimum? At least shut up, huh? No, I guess you are more interested in the kid getting up and walking home. Your BATNA will be kicking that ass. Now, let’s look at the other side. The aspiration base of the kid is getting that toy. What’s the real base? Hmmm… Poor kid is not in the situation to “walk away from the deal”, so the real base of the kid is not having a toy, but at least expressing emotions about this unfairness of the world. No real BATNA either – I almost feel sorry for the little monster!

This all brings us in the ZOPA (that sounds extremely funny for the Russian-speaking, as [zhopa] in Russian is “an ass”; you would say literally “I am in the ass” when the situation is a total disaster). So the ass… I mean the ZOPA for our situation with a toddler will be anywhere between “not having a toy, but at least expressing emotions” and “not shutting up, but at least getting up and walking away”.

The Negotiations skills theory further prompts us to identify the most important characteristics of the other party and then proceed to the SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and competitive advantage, but I will skip these steps in our example (you have a very strong competitive advantage after all, you tyrant!).

What is important is what comes next. Interests, where also one has to identify shared interests, complementing interests and conflicting interests. Your interests are something like: having an obedient kid, quietness, getting your way (moral satisfaction of exercising authority), not having an additional useless toy at home, moving on away from the shopping mall, and so on. Interests of the kid are: having this extremely useful toy, getting his way (same moral satisfaction!), being able to express his emotions, being listened to and so forth. The real conflict if we analyze it deeper is actually only a toy, but having a toy is not even in the real base of the kid. It is all about emotions! Emotions that need to be recognized.

Theoretically (and also practically) you now have to proceed with identifying value creating options and concessions and counter-concessionsFor that there is yet another template (also by Infostrat©, which prompts to answer the following questions:

  1. what is a concession we can make to motivate the other party to move in the direction that we want? – How about an ice-cream? Or even better – we are now going to eat an ice-cream, which one do you want: vanilla or chocolate? In that way the choice is not in between accepting or not accepting, but in between accepting option A or option B.
  2. what is the reason why we would make such a concession? – We would get the kid up and moving and that’s what we want, right?
  3. what is the cost of the concession to us? – low strategic importance, minimal investment.
  4. what is the value of the concession to the other party? – moral satisfaction and a pleasant feeling in the belly
  5. what is the counter-concession we would require? – here! we can get more than our real base: and the getting up and the shutting up.

Even though I used real negotiations steps and terms, the example itself is of course meant more as a humor, as you are not going to fill up a negotiations template every time you face a tantrum from your toddler, nor you are going to buy him an ice-cream. The important point, however, is – this little monster also has interests and feelings, emotions and wishes, hopes and aspirations. A kid is entitled to all of them and just shouting and forcing your way because otherwise your authority will be undermined or you might feel ashamed in front of other people is not reasonable either.

There are different ways to deal with tantrums in kids and as a parent you most probably know best what works and what doesn’t work in your case. However, some general advice is – stay calm yourself, if possible pick up your kid and give him a tight hug, see if you can give-in (within reason of course) or what works best with my kids – distract or use humor, make a funny face or tell or better show something interesting. Just keep your cool, admit the rights and interests of your kid and figure out what value creating options can you create and which reasonable concessions can you make. It will get better one day…

 

Do you stop developing if you decide to stay at home?

This is a comment I heard way too many times. “I cannot imagine that I would stay at home! That will be a total degradation!”; “A woman has to get a job otherwise she will become stupid and not interesting”, and many others with different words but the same basic message. Arh! To note I am not talking about situations when a woman has to work to provide for the family, I am only talking about cases when a husband actually earns enough to ensure a decent living of his family.

I hate labeling. You can have a salaried job and have no personal development whatsoever. You can have no job and have an amazing personal development. If you are lucky you can have both. Whatever your choice, don’t think it’s the only right one. If somebody chose not to go to work everyday it by no means automatically signifies that this person is not interesting or will face “degradation”. Personal development is only a matter of a personal choice. And a job as such doesn’t mean that you will stay or become interesting. Let’s face it: a lot of people go to work, have their morning coffee, gossip with colleagues, do some stuff, go to have lunch, procrastinate in social networks, do some repetitive stuff again and count down until they can go home; and that’s what they do day in and day out every single working day. The funny thing is that one of the classic representatives of the above example actually did comment on “no job means no development!” – oh, seriously?!

I did have a salaried job, I did freelance, I am thinking about my own business, when kids grow up a bit, but at this particular point in time I am a stay-at-home mother by choice. As I already said in some previous posts just that already hones a whole bunch of skills. Yet, at all times in my life, whatever I was doing to earn the living, I also had  and still do have quite some hobbies.

  • I love reading and I am usually even reading several books at the same time – just finished Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury and am almost done with Walden and Civil Disobedience by Thoreau. After I discovered Kindle my reading hours increased even more, as it makes reading in all circumstances so extremely convenient – Kindle Paperwhite has an in-built light, so you can read in the dark; you conveniently hold it in one hand and don’t need your second hand to turn pages; it has an effect of a paper, so no reflection, allowing you to read in a bright sun; not even talking about being able to have a lot of books without the need to carry around a lot of weight. And it’s not only fiction that I read, but also quite some non-fiction, mostly business books or articles on raising bilingual kids.
  • As regards cooking – it is not only a mere necessity, but also an additional hobby of mine. Frequently it is inspired by Foodpairing (c) and sometimes – by a molecular cuisine. I love experimenting, I love surprising. Cooking allows for that.
  • I did quite some online courses – e.g. Child Nutrition and Cooking by Stanford; Open Permaculture School by Regenerative Leadership Institute; Cognitive Psychology, as well as Crisis Intervention: theory and practice, as well as some others by WEU; Introduction to Psychology by MIT, just to name a few.
  • A week ago I have already planted tomato seeds inside for the subsequent replanting into my square foot garden – yet another hobby of mine.
  • I do cross-stitch embroidery .
  • When an inspiration comes I write poems which couple of years ago I assembled into a book published by Lulu. I write in Russian but for the book I provided translations into English, mostly for my husband to be able to understand them.
  • Recently I started calligraphy;
  • Also recently I finally got to sewing resulting in a nice set of clothes for my daughter and son.
  • I learned to play golf and when the weather outside allows for it, my daughter is in her “school” or willing to join and my son is peacefully asleep in his buggy, I am pitching in the garden with my Tailor Made or hitting some perforated balls with Big Bertha. Also, we do escape to the field with my husband from time to time.
  • I am intensively learning Dutch to get it to the fluency level. Next will be Spanish, where I have some basics, and Italian which I just love.

The bottom-line is – and I repeat it once again – everything is a matter of your choice and your priorities. If you want to keep on developing you will find a way, if not – you will find an excuse.

As a Postscriptum – no, I don’t have a nanny and never did. It is possible to cook together with even a very small kid and in that way develop the motor skills and the speech, if you talk at the same time of course; it is possible to do calligraphy together, when you little one is scribbling something on another piece of paper; it is possible to sew and make a toddler cut the threads; it is possible to pitch and allow the happy toddler bring the balls;… But I will talk about all this in one of the subsequent posts on how to include a kid in your life.

Solutions, no excuses!

Dress even when there’s noone to impress

If you get up every morning and go to work there is a big chance that you are dressed up and have at least a slight make-up on. Your hair is done, your nails are done, and you are all sleek and chic. Why would that not be applicable to a woman who works from home or better at home? Cleaning up in a suit and on high heels – are you kidding me?! Agreed. That would be over the top. However, it has been proven that how we look influences how we feel and how we behave. A robe and a pair of cozy slippers, no make-up and a messed up hair is not going to discipline you! On the contrary, that relaxes way too much. And yes, of course, when you have small kids you think that you have an excuse – they will spill something on you, they will maybe even throw up on you, it’s all going to be too messy. And how does this explain that you didn’t comb your hair?

I can understand all the excuses: there were days when my second kid was just born and the first one was but 1,5 years that I didn’t care that much about how I look. That’s what I thought. And then I started feeling bad about myself. So it is not that I didn’t care, I just removed the item from my priority list, yet in the hindsight I shouldn’t have done that.

Nowadays, the only part where I compromise is the shoes, I do wear my favorite cozy UGG’s slippers. For the rest, I am picture-ready at all times. Usually I wear either a knee-high dress, or regular pants and a shirt or a turtleneck. I never use foundation or much make-up in general on any occasions, but: 1. pencil and brush for brows; 2. a bit of mascara; 3. lip balm; 4. hair comb and a bit of hair spray – these items are my everyday routine. It takes literally 5 minutes of my time and it immediately gives me a better feel about how I look.

Don’t forget the language!

That was my mistake which only made the process of an adaptation so much longer – I thought I could do without the knowledge of a local language. Actually there were three mistakes. First, I did not immediately recognize the need to learn the language; second, I was putting blame on others instead of myself; and third, I thought it will just stick by itself in the end.

Fluent in English in addition to my mother tongues – Russian and Latvian, with a decent French, some notions of German and Spanish I have moved to Belgium to do an MBA. In English. After that I started my PhD and working for the business school – likewise in English. I talk to my husband in English and – hey! – majority of Flemish at least understand English, but a lot even speak this language fluently. Why bother? And that was what I did for the first 4 years of my life in Belgium: I did not really bother. I was just getting frustrated at my Flemish colleagues in the business school talking Flemish in between themselves; I was just annoyed at the family parties when the family of my husband was talking Flemish. On top of that I always believed I was good at learning foreign languages and thought that Flemish will just stick somehow by itself without me putting any special effort into it. Besides, I was not sure that we will stay in Belgium.

What I do know now the later does not matter. Even if you are in the country for a short period of time – learn the language! Even if everybody understands English – learn the language! Especially if you are already undergoing a change in respect of your professional career and in general – your identity – learn the language! You will never be fully accepted in the society and will not feel good yourself if you are not able to communicate.

I totally lost 4 years and was still not sufficiently active in the following two. My knowledge of Flemish at this particular point in time is in terms of European classification something around 2B, which is a conversational with a good understanding. However, I am now finally putting a lot of effort in learning this language. A great tool I found recently is a DUOLINGO app for the iPhone. They also have a website, but I find it very convenient to use an app. Totally free, pleasantly diverse and overall I would even say an addicting way of learning with an offer of Dutch, Spanish, Italian and a bunch of other languages.

To note that also with respect to learning Flemish I apply the principle of the set time limit. It is a difficult, close to impossible, task when you have kids running around to find an hour to learn a language, but finding 4 time slots of 15 minutes at some point in a day is so much easier. Same total time, yet better output due to a more concentrated effort.