The Unseen Struggle of a Child

I am currently reading Erika Christakis’ book entitled ‘The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups’. I still have a few more chapters left, and while I have a lot to say on how the book is organised (it’s really hard to pinpoint the proofs put forward and follow the arguments) I am struck by a number of anecdotes, examples and snippets written.

One particular passage I couldn’t help but sharing here is this, a description of how a child may struggle to put on her coat (or perhaps, any other item of clothing) all by herself, in a kindergarten setting:

Occupational therapists use a concept called motor planning to describe the steps required to plan and carry out a series of movement. Putting a coat involves more than just sticking your arms through two sleeves. From the moment a young child is instructed to put on her coat, she has to think about how to move her body from one place to another, without bumping into her peers or knocking over their block tower. Then she has to position her body so she can grab the coat without pulling her backpack off the hook or pushing her boots to the floor. Then she has to find a big enough space to put her coat on without taking up other people’s space and think about  how she can get her right arm into what only appears to be the left sleeve and the left arm into what appears to be the right sleeve. This of course assumes she can see which part of the coat is the front and which is the back and transpose that visual image to her own body. And forget about zippers and buttons and snow pants and wet gloves that have turned inside out. There are probably dozens of motor planning steps required just to get outside.

If you are still not overwhelmed by that description, imagine instead having to fumble in a spacesuit in zero gravity with a wrench the size of a pair of tweezers and being asked to repair a two-hundred-million-dollar telescope on the international space station before being blown off -structure by satellite debris, like Sandra Bullock in the movie Gravity.

Just yesterday we were arguing over his refusal to take shower. I told him showering is easy and simple: take of your pants and shirt, step into the shower, pee, brush your teeth, use the shower gel, rinse, dry your body, put on your fresh clothes, and voila, you are ready to play again. To that he screamed: No, showering is difficult and a long process!

After reading the above passage, I could not help but feeling a little more emphatic.

Sure, if I list it down like that the process seems trivial to me, we adults can do these mindlessly with our eyes close. But to a 4-year-old child who has just mastered putting on and taking off clothes by himself in less than a few months, it indeed involves hard work, if from a child’s eyes the steps to take are as challenging as the author described.

Luckily, my husband has a little more empathy than I do – and seems to understand well how the brain of a child works: you will see how he lists down all the moves needed for my son to pee and clean himself, how to jump, how to turn an inside-out shirt to its right side. I could see how this approach eases the process for our son, but pheww, the waiting you have to endure for the process to finish, when you have a lot of other things to do will make any trace of empathy fly out the window. That methodic approach of the husband gives birth to another methodical person in my household (it is not something I truly dislike, but I am more carefree and now I have two persons commenting on how I do works).

But then again, that’s what a parent does. We do what is right, which is to be patient, and not what is convenient for us.

And surely, the saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is now applicable to both of us.


The Mystery of ‘Nothing’


My son Isa grew up, for the best part of the last one and half years, before my eyes. I saw his intelligence developed, and most often than not, I could trace back the source of his newfound knowledge: it could be me, his father, other family members, or the TV. Where did he learn about tooth fairy he’s been talking about? Oh, it could be the Little Charmers series he’s been watching. Whom did he imitate when he said ‘I don’t like this, it is too yellow’? It must be the book we’ve been reading to him the other day. Or where did he learn that if he’s angry he can scream his lung out? That must be mommy – guilty as charged!

The perks of being a stay-at-home mother in this regard is the pool of influencing sources is rather limited and somehow I can control it,  ones. Bad behaviour coming from any of us parents? We can definitely rectify it. The family members? Tell them rather subtly that it is not good and demonstrate a better way. If it is the TV, I normally can figure out which programme (after all he watches only Nick Jr channel from HyppTV), try to understand the context and explain to Isa why it is wrong and how to do it right.

But despite all this ability to trace back all the roots of corruption (haha), I am still perplexed by this one belief Isa has, that if Mommy (yes, specifically me, one who looks after him 24/7) asks ‘What are you doing?’ he MUST answer it with ‘Emm..nothing!’.

Like, he’s so convinced that this is really the correct response he even advises his father to do the same, reminding him that ‘if Mommy asks you what are you doing, you must say ‘Nothing!’, okay?’, to which, of course, my husband laughed his heart out – jokingly defending himself by saying that it’s not from him that my son learnt such gesture.

When I asked him why he answered my question that way, he just reiterated, in a matter-of-factly manner that ‘if Mommy asks you what are you doing, you must say ‘Nothing!’, as if it is just a common sense; nothing impolite about that.

At one time it feels like I’m a having a very moody and secretive teenager around instead of a preschooler – too soon, too early.Of course I have told him to answer nicely and truthfully if that question is asked, that if you’re playing with the blocks, just say so, and still am correcting him from time to time.

Nevertheless, it is still a mystery where he learnt that from to this day.

Or maybe I just need to stop being too nosy.


A Note on Your Fourth Birthday

Today is Isa’s fourth birthday.

Four years have passed, and though not every second was filled with laughter (we’ve had our share of anger, frustration and a lot more less-than-positive emotions), my firstborn Wan Isa is still a joy to be with and a very interesting individual to get to know.

And every person that enters your life is meant to teach you a lesson or two. With him, I learned (and am still learning) a lot more than just one or two.

I have witnessed how forgiving a child could be. Despite how badly I fail him, I am still being rewarded with ‘I love you, mommy’ which I know is unconditional, and I am inspired to be as forgiving.

I have learned that to live with a child means that I need to learn to savour every moment and slow down; because by now I have started to wonder when was the last time he falls asleep on my tummy, something he has not done so for quite some time.

I have realised that the kind of love that comes with the birth of a child is one that can bring me down on my knees prostrating before God in ultimate desperation and humbleness, begging for his safety and wellbeing.

I have also learned that through his innocent yet consistent musings of wanting to ask Allah for a shoehouse in Jannah and all other things he wants to do there, I am being reminded that this life is temporary and I need to be good so I could be reunited with him in a place where no one knows any sadness.

In short, my son brings out the best in me.

Alhamdulillah. Haza min fadhli rabbi.
To many more years of learning and growing together insya-Allah.


Tentang Bahasa dan Keupayaan Berbilang Bahasa


Gunakan Bahasa Melayu Dengan Betul

Saya pernah menulis tentang pendirian saya (dan suami) tentang penggunaan bahasa dan pendekatan yang kami gunakan untuk Isa dalam pos yang lain sebelum ini: kami menekankan penggunaan Bahasa Melayu yang baik (semi-formal, penggunaan ayat penuh dan sebagainya) serta berusaha untuk tidak mencampur-adukkan bahasa Inggeris dan Melayu dalam satu ayat.

Sememangnya memerhatikan bagaimana kanak-kanak belajar bahasa memang mengujakan. Dalam banyak aspek perkembangan anak-anak, perkembangan kemahiran berbahasa mereka adalah satu aspek yang sangat suka saya perhatikan.

Baru-baru ini saya perhatikan ada beberapa perubahan pada kemahiran berbahasa Isa… semuanya gara-gara saluran Nick Jr (yang ada dalam langganan HyppTV) yang mula menyediakan pilihan alih suara/bahasa Melayu untuk siri-siri kegemarannya. Ada masanya Isa meminta untuk menonton dalam Bahasa Inggeris dan kadang-kadang dalam Bahasa Melayu.

Ada beberapa perkara yang boleh saya kesan, mungkin sekali merupakan akibat pilihan alih suara itu:

  1. Kesan paling jelas adalah Isa sudah boleh membezakan perkataan dalam kedua-dua bahasa tersebut, e.g. ‘Clock tu jam dalam bahasa Inggeris’.
  2. Kesan lain termasuklah Isa sudah mula bertutur dalam ayat bahasa Inggeris (penuh/separa penuh), dan kadang-kadang meminta saya untuk bercakap dalam Bahasa Inggeris. Selalu juga Isa bertanyakan maksud perkataan tertentu kepada saya.
  3. Isa juga menggunakan ayat bahasa Melayu yang hampir formal – alhamdulillah. Saya tidak risau akan hal ini. Biar lebih, asalkan jangan kurang. Kalaupun keformalan ini mungkin akan ‘cair’ apabila dia mula berinteraksi dengan lebih ramai orang, mudah-mudahan saki-bakinya masih ada. Tidak sesekali kami ketawakan keformalannya, walaupun kadang-kadang kedengaran agak janggal. Tak mengapa, kita biasakan yang betul.
  4. Kemahiran mendengar juga semakin baik. Kadang-kadang dia akan bertanya tentang apa yang didengarnya di radio. Kebelakangan ini apabila saya membaca terjemahan al Quran usai solat dan dia berada di sisi saya, dia akan bertanyakan maksud perkataan atau frasa tertentu: “‘Hikmah’ tu apa, mommy?”. Baru siang tadi, ketika kami sama-sama menasyidkan ‘Erti al-Fatihah’ Isa bertanya” Puji bagi Allah’ itu apa?’. Saya fikir kemampuannya untuk menangkap butir perkataan yang didengari meskipun tidak difahami sepenuhnya menunjukkan otaknya sedang berfungsi baik Alhamdulillah.

Saya fikir ini adalah satu perkembangan yang bagus. Saya dapat lihat usahanya untuk membina ayat bahasa Inggeris sendiri, bukan sekadar mengulang apa yang didengarinya di TV. Alhamdulillah. Kerja saya tinggal lagi membetulkan ayatnya dan menjadi rakan berbual yang baik dalam kedua-dua bahasa.

Kemudahan Alih Bahasa

Sebetulnya saya memang tidak menggemari kebanyakan rancangan kartun keluaran dalam negara, misalnya Upin & Ipin. Penggunaan bahasa yang kurang baik, butir percakapan yang tidak jelas, serta jalan cerita yang kelihatan agak kompleks (kanak-kanak seusia Isa atau yang lebih muda cuma mampu memahami jalan cerita yang ringkas). Yang paling saya tidak gemar tentulah watak Kak Ros yang sangat kasar. Hal-hal ini menyebabkan rancangan sebegini bukan pilihan di rumah kami.

Saya tidaklah merendahkan produk tempatan. Kekangan bajet tentulah tidak membenarkan kajian yang mendalam dan khusus sebagaimana yang dilakukan untuk rancangan TV Dora the Explorer misalnya. Dalam buku yang saya baca ada disebutkan bagaimana setiap episod Dora diuji terlebih dahulu kebolehfahamannya untuk kanak-kanak. Jalan cerita yang dipilih juga mengambil kira keupayaan kanak-kanak di setiap peringkat umur yang menjadi kumpulan sasaran. Pendapat pakar psikologi kanak-kanak diambil kira dalam setiap episod yang ditulis.

Saya lihat setakat ini dialog dalam rancangan yang telah dialihbahasa dari bahasa Inggeris  menggunakan bahasa Melayu yang jauh lebih baik. Sama ada di saluran Disney Jr. (Astro)  atau Nick Jr. (HyppTV) , kedua-duanya agak bagus menurut perhatian saya.

Mommy Pun Perlu Belajar Semula

Saya pernah sebutkan sebelum ini bahawa awal-awal dahulu saya membacakan buku-buku Isa dalam Bahasa Melayu, meskipun buku itu ditulis dalam Bahasa Inggeris. Saya berusaha menterjemahkan secara spontan dalam ayat yang penuh, sempurna dan formal (sehingga sekarang Isa boleh membezakan bahasa ‘buku’ dan bahasa ‘tidak formal’- kalau dibacakan buku dalam  bahasa semi-formal dia akan merungut si pembaca tidak pandai bacakan buku untuknya T.T ).

Memang bukan kerja senang. Sudah beberapa kali saya duduk termangu di depan laptop ketika cuba mengarang emel dalam Bahasa Melayu, sesuatu yang tidak pernah saya lakukan setelah sekian lama. Begitu lama masa yang diambil untuk menulis sepotong ayat. Lagi-lagi apabila sudah pulang ke Malaysia pun, komunikasi di tempat kerja masih memerlukan saya berbual, menulis, berfikir, dan membentang dalam Bahasa Inggeris. Bos saya sendiri tidak pandai berbahasa Melayu.

Tapi yang senang itu tak semestinya yang betul. Anak saya Melayu, dan dia mesti tahu, faham dan fasih berbahasa Melayu. Kalau ikutkan suami, dia mahu biasakan Isa dengan loghat-loghat negeri tertentu juga (setakat sekarang cuma faham loghat Utara sahaja).

Jadi saya sendiri mesti berusaha membiasakan yang betul, mesti kembali membaca dalam Bahasa Melayu. Kembali MENULIS dalam Bahasa Melayu. Kembali meneliti struktur-struktur ayat yang saya baca, bukan sekadar ‘reverse engineering’ ayat Bahasa Inggeris. Kembali menambah kosa kata seperti yang saya lakukan ketika sekolah dahulu. Dan kena cari semula Kamus Dewan.

Alah bisa tegal biasa.


p.s. Sejak kembali semula ke sekolah dan bertemu rakan-rakan sekelas dari generasi yang berbeza, saya memang selalu sakit kepala dengan bahasa. Kalau menulis dalam Bahasa Inggeris, berjam-berjam perlu dibetulkan tatabahasanya. Jika mengirim SMS dalam ‘bahasa Melayu’ sepuluh minit nak tafsirkan maksudnya. Ini cerita pelajar paswasiswazah, bukan budak sekolah menengah!

Khadijah: the Eighth Month

My daughter Khadijah turns eight month old a week ago. Looking at how I missed recording her monthly development here on this blog, I reckon it is time for me to put some effort to do so.

In all honesty, eight month passed very quickly with Khadijah. I don’t remember feeling so overwhelmed by Isa’s development last time; even when I only spent half of my waking hours with him on average. But with Khadijah, days moved a bit too quickly to my liking despite me being around her nearly 24/7. Days turn weeks and weeks to months, and now there she is attempting for the umpteenth time today to stand unsupported – a skill she’s been trying to master since the last two weeks.

Khadijah often surprises me. Physical developmental-wise, I have learnt to be extra vigilance with her. Just after two weeks of her reaching the milestone of creeping, she begun the attempt to crawl, and before I knew it she started pulling up. And just as she mastered moving around while holding on to things, she has built the confidence to let herself stand unsupported – which means more hit, more falling down and all things that could make a mom begs for heaven’s protection.

She adores her brother immensely, and you can tell by how she looks at Isa each morning. Isa adores her too, and he loves seeing her all dressed up in a gown, glad that her sister turns into a ‘princess’ (but insists that he is a king instead of a prince -_-‘ ). I find it funny that neither of them can stand being awake alone for too long, and would do whatever they could to wake the other one up – despite the well-known fact that they actually can get more of my attention, and can play alone uninterrupted without the other one around.

I often wonder if their relationship would be that close if I were still working. They would still have been sent to the same creche, but with less contact time due to the different age group would they be, as Isa terms it, ‘best friends’? Is this another plus point I could add to the ‘list of things I or (we) gain from being at home’?

Khadijah’s strong character is observably growing each day. I have a thing for strong women, and aspire to be one of them – and I am thankful that she has  at least some traits of it – with the downside of having to witness both my son and daughter roughing up each other (no kidding about this!) and withhold my urge to stop them because they are clearly having fun. As my friend puts it – I need to stop being the party pooper!

It is important to record here that Khadijah is being extra nice to mommy being refusing milk from bottle and can remain happy with 3-4 hours between feedings – a mercy to me since that exempts me from having to express milk (and all the hassle that comes with it) in order to leave her for my thrice-a-week classes. Well, of course at some points her crankiness will appear but so far my husband can still handle it well…or so I think. Funny that she would happily snatch her brother’s bottle at any given opportunity but refuses to drink from hers. I should retrain her, really, but I am more tempted to leaving it as it is, partly because we have started solid food, and well, having to NOT pump milk and worried about the stock is mind-freeing.

Of course, at eight month the separation anxiety – the inevitable phase in a child’s life I assume – still strikes. For half of the day she’d be happy to play together with her brother without me within sight, but the other half would be spent tugging me, and holding on to my legs (now how am I suppose to cook, or eat, or even poop happily that way?) and crying and screaming her lungs out, if she’s not stuck on my chest. But this too shall pass, shan’t it?

My little Khadijah has indeed been a blessing (who screams), but I am just happy I get to enjoy her (and her screams).


Isa’s Daily Chore Chart

Today is the second day of us utilising the Chore Chart for Isa. I have always thought that using the chore system is beneficial, but never think that I’d start using it this early. Anyway, I believe that the sense of responsibility and accountability can be inculcated early in our life.

Of course I am tempted to make a pretty chore chart (thanks to Pinterest), but for the time being I am happy with this one:


Making the Chore Chart

First, I ran through a list of chores suggested for Isa’s age (he’s three this year Masha Allah). It is important to make sure that the activities listed are not too difficult or too easy for my child. In our list it is making the bed and cleaning up after meals.

Second, I listed down activities that are most challenging for me to get Isa doing them. That’s why you can see that taking shower is one of them, because God help me, he cries like nobody’s business if he has to stop playing to shower. Tidying up after playing and drinking (enough) water are in the list due to the same reason too.

Third, add an extra spot for bonus points – I call it ‘Do good’ item, so that all other positive actions he does during the day are acknowledged and rewarded. This is important because at the end of the day, his father a.k.a the sounding board a.k.a the rewarding body will listen to my report.

I googled for free chore chart printables/templates on the Internet, and found one which suits me and how I imagined it to be (but too lazy to design one myself), printed it on an A4 paper, and put it in an IKEA frame that is lying around. I am yet to hang it on the wall, as I am still finding the most strategic place to put it. I use a whiteboard marker to draw the star on the plastic sheet which comes with the frame. 


And now let me tell you how it went yesterday.

I explained to him each chore/activity that he needs to complete every day, and that there will be reward if he collects a lot of stars (I try not to reward him daily at this point). Isa is practically happy with the idea of getting stars for each of completed activity, and referred to the chart several times during the day. He welcomed the idea of getting his favourite Kinderjoy as a reward at first.

Getting him showered was still a struggle nevertheless. While initially he was so excited to collect the stars, when it came to taking shower things like ‘I don’t want stars’ ‘I don’t want Kinderjoy’ came out, though after he finished showering he immediately asked if he could get another star printed on the chart. *sigh*

As my husband reached home and he’s left with one more item to do, Isa requested for his father’s phone to watch ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ videos on Youtube (Have I told you that he is still very much obsessed with this nursery rhyme?). We agreed to letting him access the phone as a reward as screen time is purposely regulated in our house, if and only if he could put away all his toys.

He lit up to the thought, but funnily as he sat down to begin tidying up we heard a loud cream of ‘I am tired I don’t want to put my toys away’ which lasted for a long time. I didn’t know what happen next because I let my husband handled that (I have had too much melt down yesterday too face another one).

So as of yesterday, Isa missed one star.


I am happy to report that the first activity Isa completed on the second day is… taking shower! 😀

I will update again at the end of this week, nevertheless, and see if this system works.

Children Toys: To Clean Up or Not Clean Up

At the very time I am writing this, my living room is a total mess. Just to illustrate it better, I am shamelessly putting a photo of it:

And at this very moment too, there is a little boy sitting in front of me having his breakfast, which means I can expect more mess soon.

There are days when I am a bit more productive than usual that before I go to bed I’d clear up my living room, and spare myself from the headache when I wake up in the morning. But it was not yesterday (most days, to be honest), when I was more keen on finishing the chapter I was reading.

Now that my little girl has started being mobile, and active I must add, she also contributes to this. Yes, my 5-month-old baby is now officially a proficient mess-making machine. Just the other day upon coming out of the kitchen I saw her pulling a small basket of toys of the toy shelf. In addition to that she now also pays much interest to what his brother is playing – which leads to his brother being annoyed and leaves whatever he’s playing just like that. In short, she contributes both directly and indirectly to the mess 😀

I am torn when it comes to messy play.

Sure, this is not even messy if you follow the ‘definition’ of messy play (which involves paints, sand, and perhaps all things gooey), which I know has enormous benefits to the children. Nevertheless, it still gives me some sort of headache though I am never an OCD person. Just the other day I could only stare at my wall helplessly; one blotted with a patch of pink homemade play-dough, and found myself making a silent promise that I would never make a new batch of play-dough.

I am torn because as much as I’d like to encourage creative play, how much responsibility should I give to my children when it comes to putting the toys away?

I could bark on Isa to put away the toys and blocks as soon as he finishes with them, but what if that stops him from, you know, developing further what he’s playing by leaving them overnight for instance? I remember the kind of play I was engaged in when I was smaller, and it didn’t happen only for one evening. Sometimes I’d take a break, but would like to come back to the scene without having to rebuild it, so there’s really no point of putting the toys away.


When Isa was younger, the rule ‘take one out, put one away’ worked well. But his play is getting more intricate and elaborate, that to not mix up his train set with his Mega Blocks and wooden blocks, or his countless toy cars is just impossible. But allowing all of those to be taken out means it will be harder to get him to clean up. And would really like to NOT yell.

Not pushing him to tidy clean up however, I fear, would bring about the false sense of entitlement, that there’s always someone else (often be me) to sort up all the mess. But to keep on reciting the rule ‘Put them away’  may discourage him from playing at all, and I have seen it first hand with the Lego set we bought him. We got him a 1000-piece Lego set a few months back, and suddenly his mom (that’s me) became obsessed with the cute little bricks that she kept dictating how and where the bricks should be kept and organized over and over again. The outcome? Isa did not touch the set for more than two weeks. Well, it could be the fact that he was a bit frustrated after having some difficulties (after all the set is meant for 4+), but I suspect it was due to my irritating, over-controlling behaviour: ‘Too many rules I’d rather not play with it,’ I guess.  Since I changed my approach, apparently Isa has warmed up and found some pleasure in playing with the little bricks.

I have long came to yield to the belief that a house with kids could never be spotless, but anyone, seriously, how do you deal with this? Where’s the fine line between being too restrictive and too liberal as a parent?

Maybe I think a tad too much.