Monday, April 4, 2016

Drive Like a Buddhist

Thais ignore rules. I was scared to drive in Thailand.   Packs of motorbikes surround your car. With centimeters to spare they vie for position at traffic lights.  Nobody looks where they're going. Often lanes mean nothing. Cars suddenly pull out of side streets. I'd thought most Thais were  Buddhist and I'd expected universal politeness and restraint. Not lawless dodge'm cars with no idea of right-of-way.  

As often happens here in the The Kingdom of Smiles, I'd misunderstood.  Culture dictates driving style. Thais are highly collaborative and mutually aware at a level Westerners don't get.

Think of walking in a big crowd at the State Fair or leaving a baseball game.  There are no lanes, no rules of the road, but people rarely bump into each other. Even little kids race around but instinctively avoid collisions most of the time.

Thai Buddhists drive as if they were walking in a crowd.  You move in a general direction, stay alert to where others are around you, go with the flow, and get where you're going with no problem. It is very foreign concept for someone who drove mostly in Chicago.  

Even in Chicago traffic, you can get in your lane, follow the rules, and dream your way home. Someone might cut you off and you'll curse and gesture at the violation of the rules, but you don't have to keep close track.  

Try rules-based driving in Thailand and you'll cause an accident.  Thais do awareness-based driving, just as we all do awareness-based walking.

I watched Thai drivers closely.  No road rage. No horns. No respect for lanes. There's this expectation that if they pull out in front of you, you'll see them and slow.  Exactly like walking in a big crowd, with no rules except to avoid bumping into each other.  

Now I drive relaxed but alert, attending to everything and constantly scanning. On a good day I just think of myself as part of a human flow,  abandoning expectations about rules, and trusting that others are keeping an eye on me too.  It's not perfect. You can still drive Chicago style and probably survive. You might get there ahead of me too. Or maybe not.

Last week I turned wrong way into a one-way alley. A huge black pickup was coming at me. The guys got out smiling, and stopped traffic so I could back up onto the main road. They pointed me to the correct alley, laughing and waving so the old pink guy wouldn't lose face. Next time I'll being paying attention. Thai style.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Overweight Children Part Two: Ten Tips for Parents

David McPhee, Ph.D.

 Fat kids suffer, and not just because other children are mean. Studies suggest  teachers favor lean, cute boys and girls, and assume they're smarter. Many assume obese kids are weak, lazy, and unhealthy. Overweight adults know subtle judgment and rejection, but have grown-up defenses.  For kids it’s harder. For them “fat” is a cruel insult that has no response. Here are my ten tips for parents:
       1. Never reward or punish with food. Give treats for good behavior, especially sweet and fatty ones, and your child will connect fats and sweets with love and approval.  If you withhold food to punish, you’ll reinforce the food-love connection. 
                   2. Be calm about food. It's a law of nature that you pay a lot of attention to a behavior it will increase, even if the attention is negative. Be neutral and matter-of-fact about what kids eat or don’t eat. If a child isn’t eating, stay cool and distant. If kids are eating in a polite and moderate and healthy way, that’s when to show feelings and appreciation. If you get in a power struggle about food you’re sure to lose.
                   3. Model emotionally healthy eating. Let the kids see you eat slowly, with attention and enjoyment. Express delight about tastes and textures and temperatures so that kids stay aware of the eating process without distraction.  By definition, compulsive overeaters don’t pay attention to their food; all they seek is the current fix and the next. Don’t serve food in front of a television or with other major distractions. Mindful eating and compulsive eating are incompatible.

          4. Let eating be a pleasant ritual, a ceremony.  Have the kids set the table and decorate it. Light a candle or two, even on ordinary occasions. Assume that eating is that special place, not in the media room or the bedroom, and certainly not in the bed or the car.  If you have to get fast food, slow it down. Go inside and sit at a table, and don’t teach kids to eat in a moving vehicle.
                    5.  Never use shame to get a kid to stop overeating. It won’t work. Compulsive overeaters already associate food with love and approval. A shamed kid will will just eat more to feel better.
                   6.  Be aware of your kids’ metabolism.  Most children’s blood sugar is a little low when they get home from school. A small glass of juice, or better yet, raw fruit, can help smooth things out.  There is no such thing as a “sugar high” (unless the parents expect it) but big doses of refined sugars like soda pop are not kid-friendly.
                  7.   Please don’t put your kid on a diet. Unless it’s a life-time diet, all you will get is resentment from the child, and short term weight loss. Soon the fat will return.  Deep down we all know that diets rarely work for long-term weight loss. Older kids might want to improve their nutrition and ask for help. That’s different. Research and learn together, when your teen is ready to explore healthier eating for life.
                   8. Don’t provide binge foods. Kids who eat compulsively often have a few items that make them crazy. Like alcoholics, they start and can’t stop until it’s all gone. Chocolate candy bars are a frequent offender: those big molecules of fat feel so comforting in the mouth and the bit sugar hit is so soothing. It could be any food, but it’s likely to be highly concentrated: lots of calories for the size. Just don’t have it in the house.
                   9.  If you’re overwhelmed, get help. Consider sending yourself to counseling instead of your child. You might be your own kid’s best therapist, and the counseling can provide you tools to do it. In my practice I call it "therapy by remote control."
        10. Admit you are ultimately powerless. You can restrict your dog’s food by putting what you want in the bowl, but human food is everywhere. Determined, driven kids will get it, at least when they’re old enough to be sneaky. Start by accepting and enjoying your overweight kid. Start by letting go of all blame and all shame. That's how you'll increase your influence with your child and your ability to help.

Overweight Children Part One

Play With Your Food: Teaching Kids the Fun of Mindful Eating

David McPhee, Ph.D

     Does it bother you that fat kids are bullied or rejected every day and lead shorter, sicker lives than children of average weight?  If you're a parent and want to help, you have to understand the problem first.     
Compulsive eating in children arises from too much wealth and too little mindfulness. 
Parents counsel and explain but don't model or moderation. We put kids on diets, but we don't teach them the joy of eating that can be found in paying attention. In our society only sommeliers and chefs savor and thoroughly describe what they are tasting and experiencing.

We also set up food as part of a reward system.  "Eat your peas and you can have desert" teaches kids "Yes, peas are disagreeable and unpleasant, but to get you to eat them I will gratify you with food full of fats and sugars." 

 Why not attend to the pea?  Create a story of its planting and growth, and how it was protected and nurtured by nature and farmer alike. Enjoy its shape and color. Play with your food a bit and see how many peas will balance on the blade of a table knife. Tell the story of the princess and the pea, or of Jack and his Beanstalk (close enough.)  Don't teach that peas are ugly but necessary.  Food should never be associated with reward or punishment.

I once counseled aides at an eldercare center to be sure to offer residents their glasses before eating so they could see the food clearly, then discuss the food admiringly to see what memories this might trigger. While they are learning to respect and delight in ordinary food, it's OK for kids to smell it carefully and even touch it gently, and experiment with various utensils and unexpected combinations.

Most childhood obesity comes from compulsive eating by kids who confuse food with love or at least relief, together with poor teaching and the abundance of cheap, concentrated food.

Is Letting a Kid Get Obese a Form of Child Abuse?

How do you feel when you look at this picture? Are you angry with the parents? Child Protective Services in Ohio recently removed a youngster from his parents just because he was enormously fat. They said letting a kid get so big was child abuse. Do you agree? Does it make you worry about your kids, or about yourself?

Parents want everything good for their children and love to see them learn and grow. Few parents really know how to teach their kids to eat with attention and joy, mostly because they don't know how themselves.  

Nurturing and teaching are the key responsibilities of parenting, and they often go together.  Nurturing means providing healthy food that promotes growth and well-being. It also means avoiding using food as a bribe or love-substitute, or withholding food as a punishment.  Kids in supermarkets whine for candy. Parents say "If you're good, you can have one piece."  Perhaps if they are extremely good, they can have the whole bag.

Goodness in a child's mind means only one thing: complying with the parental will, usually by being quiet and unobtrusive.  If you are "good" you will receive highly concentrated simple and complex sugars and fats, which nature designed to feel good in the mouth and brain.

Later, if we are lonely or bored and want love from outside ourselves, our hearts remember to connect love and comfort with sugars and fats, so we watch reruns with a soda and a bag of chips.

Sadly, we don't really taste the Coke or the Doritos. The comfort they provide is primitive, oral, and can never be fully satisfied.

If only we could learn to savor a single chip. Turn off the TV. Hold the chip, notice its texture. Enjoy its colors and how it is translucent to bright light. Smell it slowly, becoming aware of the complexities there. Snap it in half and listen to the sound. Put the half on your tongue and notice again. But wait, the sensations are likely to shift. Slowly chew and then swallow, mentally following the chip all the way down. Describe the experience to yourself, and select words that might communicate the experience to others.

Sound silly?  Maybe, but I remember a monk leading a group of students though an exercise like that as we held and touched and sniffed the big red apples he'd brought us. For nearly an hour. When he finally let us take a bite, it was apple ecstasy for me.  I'll never forget that apple from 40 years ago.

Maybe you've taken wine tasking courses.  They follow most of the steps I suggested for the potato chip, and they have certainly enhanced my appreciation.  Sadly, I often go through the attention exercise only with the first sight and smell and  and sip, then drink the rest of the glass mindlessly.

There are games parents can use to teach kids mindful eating, far better than lectures about "slow down and enjoy your food,"  but the best teaching is through example. 

Dieting rarely works long term. It's about restricting and limiting ourselves temporarily, usually so we can be thinner and feel more attractive. It makes our favorite foods our enemy. When we've learned that food is a substitute for love, food-as-enemy is a recipe for craziness.  Mindful eating can lead to moderate eating with great pleasure, and we can model it for our kids.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ten Tips for Power Parenting

In 20 years as a family psychologist, I noticed what usually works and what doesn't. These tips are the best I know.

 The reason they work so well is that almost any approach succeeds if it's grounded in consistent love and common sense.  Kids are hard-wired to develop, and will so if we make things safe, then get out of their way.  The vast majority of parents are alreadly more than good enough.  These hints provide ideas for moms and ads when they are distracted or troubled or want to  fine tune their approach.

        1. Stay in charge, not in control.  It can be a fine line, but the difference is big. If your focus is control of your children, you may be getting in the way of their development. To grow up, kids need to face and conquer challenge after challenge, and some of those challenges can be a little risky. If you over-control, you limit the challenges, and the children's developoment may lag. In contrast, if you are in charge, you’ll provide a structure of safety within which your children can experience failure and success on their  own terms.

           2. Parent with emotion.   Our   feelings are part of our identity.  Our kids need to see that emotions aren’t dangerous and that they can be beautiful.  Emotions do not cause and can’t excuse bad behavior.  If your own parents’ anger was associated with violence or withdrawal, you may be giving your children the message that their anger is “bad” and that a “good” kids sit inexpressively or smile sweetly, all the time. Emotions are information, and kids need to learn to express emotions  in ways that don’t scare others and don’t lead to harm.  If you let you children see you angry or sad, and allow them to see you deal with it competently, you’ll he give them a far greater gift than teaching them to hide or suppress their feelings.

 3. Consult your own parents. 
Even if your biological mom and dad aren’t available, there are plenty of willing older adults who’d be glad to give advice and support. Expand and extend your family and your kids will benefit. It can also ease your stress.  When I try to explain my work as a child custody evaluator to friends in Thailand, they invariably say “but where are the grandparents?”

            4. Be an intentional parent.  A parent is a kind of manager.  Effective managers create an environment, and then and set up systems, and make adjustments so everything works smoothly. They don’t expect perfection, but they have a plan.  Let your kids know what the plan is, and let them participate in making it.  If you just react when there are problems, you’ve created an environment of management by crisis.

             5. Pay attention.  All children lie all the time, and all children tell the truth all the time. It just depends on what you pay attention to.  If you just listen to their words, you’ll rarely get it right. If you respond only to body language, you’ll do better, but still misunderstand. Kids’ communication is a package. You need context, history, words, and the non-verbals. 

             6.  Don’t ask questions. When you ask a child a question, unless you’re teaching him or her or working together on something,  you put the child in charge. You’re saying “please give me some information I want and need.”  Your children  can give or withhold or distort information any way they like. This often leaves you frustrated and wanting more. If you have an open relationship with your children, you won’t need to ask a lot of questions. If you know your children, you’ll be aware of context, history, and body language anyway, which will usually tell you what you need to know.  Questions don’t put you in charge, and the answers, if you get them, don’t give you control. Parents who take a vacation from questions often report feeling closer to their kids.

            7.  Be a teacher of right and wrong. This seems obvious, but we often fail by teaching at the wrong level. The right level is just a little above the child’s current developmental stage.  Imagine a child teasing a cat. For a very young child you might warn “Oh, don’t tease, kitty might bite you.” An older child could be reminded “I think that’s really bothering the cat.”  A still older child could learn from a discussion of kindness to animals in general, and a teen or young adult could see the value of not causing suffering to any living thing.  The progression is from avoiding pain (for the very young child) to living by principles.  Of course, while explanations are important, you example of right moral behavior is the most important.

             8. Play for no reason.  People have paid me lots of money to sit on the floor and play with their kids.  It’s called “play therapy” and it’s not a big secret. Kids are wired to learn and to work through problems with their play. If we create an environment and get out of the kid’s way, acting more as a cheerleader and less as a guide, children will often be able to deal with something they are not equipped to discuss or hear advice about.  Schedule regular play sessions with kids and let them take the lead.  Just your presence is often enough. One boy healed a relationship with his somewhat insensitive father by having the dad simply sit with him and watch him play video games.  All Dad had to do was say “hmmm”, or “wow” from time to time. The play was regularly scheduled for 20 minutes after supper, and nothing was allowed to interfere. I’m no fan of video games, but this was a happy exception.

                                   9. If you hit your child, do it in anger. 
            Don’t ever hit your kids. It doesn’t work and it sends the wrong message. But if you do ever slip and strike your child, let it be in the heat of the moment. Later, when you apologize, you can use the moment to teach about how to manage feelings, and how to express anger with words instead of fists.  If you cause a child physical pain in a cold, calculated and deliberate way, there’s no way to create a teachable moment. Scheduled and ritualized infliction of pain on a child is never good parenting.

            10.  Remember, you are good enough. Even if you overcontrol, misread feelings, badger your children with questions, and have no time to play you're good enough. Even if you are overstressed and yell or hit at times, you're good enough. If your consistent message is love and it’s usually delivered with common sense and kindness, your children will likely grow strong and develop well.

11. Bonus tip: Co-parent with patience and deep respect. Whether are still married to your children's other parents and still madly in love, or long divorced and cordial but distant, they way to treat that other parent is your prime way to teaching your children about healthy adult relationships.

David McPhee, Ph.D.

This is an update of an article I wrote in 2012



Sunday, March 20, 2016

Jesus as my Personal Lord and Savior:

My friend sent me picture of an Australian church with amazing brickwork.  I noticed a little white sign near the side door:

Persons on this property for other than recognized church activities are trespassers.  This area is under constant electronic surveillance 

Already irritable from watching CNN, I immediately imagined what "recognized church activities" might be. Collusion with oppressive governments in slavery and genocide?   Support of US candidates for president who want to ban all Muslims and most Mexicans and who think climate change is a hoax?  How about Catholics consigning the poorest in Africa to hell for considering the use of birth control, even to prevent transmission of AIDS?  (Pope Francis apparently got rid of that one a couple of months ago).  How about covering up and indirectly promoting child sexual abuse by clergy, worldwide? These are some widely known church activities.

I'm pretty sure a if a band of Christian conservationists walked around the church softly singing hymns and carrying banners about protecting the planet or something. . . .that would definitely NOT be recognized as a church activity, and police would be summoned. 

Of course churches produce saints. While most Catholics and Lutherans looked the other way, a few brave Germans sheltered Jews at great personal risk. In the USA, heroes helped runaway slaves. Some were movtivated and supported by churches, though most religious groups preached the rightgeousness of slavery.    

In the First World, churches exist mostly to reassure members and add importance to life transitions.  "Church activities" include inspirational weekly sessions with comforting ritual, often in expensive buildings on tax-free grounds. There may be token trips to soup kitchens and the occasional food bank drive.  To date, however, there is no scientific evidence that church membership renders people more ethical, more commited to peace and justice, or superior on any variable typically associated with "goodness."

The political climate in the US requires that candidates be religious. The second most popular Republican concludes hateful tirades with a forced grin and a "God Bless."  The sole candidate who has worked for justice on the streets a socialist secular Jew. 

Millions of Americans claim to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior, but too many persecute minorities, exclude refugees, build walls and vote for hateful demagogues. Preferring isolation and relishing military aggression, they provide no evidence that they have heard or heeded the Gospel of  justice for the poor, simplicity of life, and least of all the requirement that above all they love one another.  

Richard Rohr is a Catholic priest who challenges us about creating a religion to serve outselves rather than adopting a lifestyle to serve others.

Christianity is a lifestyle - a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an established "religion" (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one's "personal Lord and Savior" . . . The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.   Richard Rohr   

click here for  more Richard Rohr quotes