parenting

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.

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“Nak main dengan mommy!”

Ignore the mess in the background, the children were having fun!

Ignore the mess in the background, the children were having fun!

Soalan pertama aku kepada Isa setiap kali dia terjaga dari tidur adalah “Abang Long nak buat apa hari ni?” dan jawapannya selalu konsisten : “ Abang Long nak main dengan mommy.”

‘Main dengan mommy’ bermaksud aku berada di sampingnya, berinteraksi dengannya (Isa rajin bercerita, lebih-lebih lagi sejak imaginative play sudah berkembang) walaupun kadang-kadang Isa tak kisah jika aku cuma duduk di sofa dan minum kopi sambil melayannya bermain dan bercerita.

But I have to tell you a secret: after a year and half being at home, I concede that I couldn’t stay focused at playing with him for more than 15 minutes. 15 minit. It’s a shame. Sometimes I feel terribly sleepy, sometimes I have to fight the urge to pick up my phone, or I just need to get up and do some chores. Their dad i.e. my husband has always been the fun one, not me.

Aku selalu terfikir: kalaulah ini yang didefinisikan sebagai meluangkan masa berkualiti, then I am really suck at it.

Aku rasa bersalah. Aku rasa bersalah sehinggalah akumendapat jawapan kenapa sukar sungguh untuk akududuk diam dan menemankan anak bermain tanpa multi-tasking, apabila membaca buku ‘You are Your Child’s First Teacher: Encouraging  Your Child’s Natural Development from Birth to Age Six’ tulisan Rahima Baldwin Dancy.

Kata Baldwin-Dancy dalam bab kedua bukunya di bawah subtopik  ‘Why Is It So Difficult to Be Home with Children Today?’ beliau menyedari ramai ibu bapa tidak menyangka bahawa kehidupan stay-at-home bersama anak-anak di rumah rupanya sangat mencabar.

Beliau percaya salah-satu faktor yang menyebabkan hal ini berlaku adalah struktur masyarakat dan gaya hidup yang berubah, di mana keluarga nuklear (dan subnuklear) hidup dalam berjauhan daripada keluarga besar masing-masing. Berdasarkan pengalaman Baldwin-Dancy, ibu (dan bapa) berpendidikan tinggi (university-educated) memang tidak mungkin boleh hidup terpencil dengan anak kecil tanpa interaksi dan bantuan daripada ahli keluarga besar. Ini ditambah lagi dengan kurangnya pengiktirafan dan penghargaan daripada masyarakat sekeliling secara umumnya tentang peranan ibu atau bapa stay-at-home.

It takes a village to raise a child – sebab itulah cadang Baldwin-Dancy kepada ibu bapa: carilah keluarga lain dan juga generasi yang lebih tua sebagai pengganti keluarga kembangan (extended family) jika tiada, yang sebenarnya turut berkongsi peranan membesarkan anak-anak.

Baldwin-Dancy turut menceritakan bagaimana sahabatnya, ketika berada di sebuah kampung di Mexico. Sahabatnya ini pengamal kaedah attachment parenting yang menggalakkan bayi dikendong i.e. babywearing. Selama Sembilan bulan sahabatnya itu mengamalkan babywearing, yang akhirnya menyaksikan dia hampir terbang semangat dek kepenatan hilir mudik dengan bayinya. Memang bayi di kampung itu semuanya dikendong sepanjang masa tetapi bukan semestinya oleh ibunya! Kadang-kadang bayi itu ada bersama neneknya, kadang-kala dikendong oleh kakaknya, dan ada ketikanya dengan makciknya. Pokoknya, seorang bayi di kampung itu tidak diasuh secara bersendirian oleh ibu bapanya sahaja.

Faktor kedua, kata Baldwin-Dancy, yang menyebabkan tinggal di rumah bersama anak-anak begitu sukar adalah kefahaman ibu bapa bahawa mereka harus fokus 100% kepada anak-anak i.e. anak-anak adalah prioriti utama. Kata penulis lagi, kefahaman ini tidak tepat  kerana membiarkan anak-anak memerhatikan ibu bapa melakukan kerja-kerja harian di rumah i.e. merupakan satu keperluan. Senang cerita, ada nilainya apabila mereka melihat pergerakan kita melipat baju, mambancuh teh, mengemop lantai dan sebagainya. Oleh sebab keperluan ini tidak dipenuhilah, kata Baldwin-Dancy, anak-anak mula menunjukkan tantrum, yang sering disalah tafsirkan oleh ibu bapa sebagai kesan kekurangan perhatian.

Malangnya, kehidupan moden yang sudah diringkaskan dan dipermudah oleh sekian banyak gajet dan makanan segera menyebabkan kerja-kerja seharian seperti memasak, menyapu lantai, dan lain-lain kerja fizikal berkurangan. Sudahnya, tiada apa lagi yang menarik untuk diperhatikan oleh anak-anak sedangkan itulah yang membantu mereka belajar dan membesar. Kata Jean Liedloff (pengasas konsep attachment parenting), kanak-kanak perlu menjadi pemerhati kerja-kerja seharian kita, bukan menjadi fokus utama ibu bapa sepanjang masa. Kita yang dewasa ini pun, kalau diperhatikan 24 jam sehari boleh jadi ‘sakit jiwa’.

Aku turunkan petikan daripada buku tersebut yang kufikir menarik:

“In her book she recommends keeping babies in physical contact all day night until they crawl, as is done in the Yequana culture, where the parent or caregiver may occasionally play with the child, but most of the time pays attentiton to something else, not the baby. Sge says in her article, “Being played with, talked to, or admired all day deprives the babe of this in-arms spectator phase that would feel right to him. Unable to say what he needs, he will act out his discontentment. This is the attention-getting behaviour parents interpret as needing more attention when in reality, the child just wants parent to take charge of adult life, because the child needs to see a life in order to imitate it!”

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Aku boleh menerima penjelasan penulis buku ini bukan kerana ia membebaskan aku daripada rasa bersalah. Bukan juga kerana sekarang aku ada alasan lebih kukuh untuk membiarkan anak bermain sendiri (bermain sendiri pun ada cabarannya sekarang, lebih-lebih lagi dengan wujudnya gajet yang bagi-terus-diam sebagai alternatif). Tetapi penjelasan ini membolehkan aku untuk lebih fokus dan memahami prioriti dalam memenuhi keperluan anak-anak, bukan escapisme.

Isa dan Khadijah masih perlukan aku untuk bermain di samping mereka pada masa-masa tertentu. Kajian menunjukkan permainan anak-anak menjadi lebih sofistikated dan kompleks bila ada sedikit ‘bantuan’ daripada orang dewasa, dan itu bagus untuk mereka. Tetapi lebih penting daripada itu aku mengajar diri aku untuk slow down. Perlu vakum lantai? Tak perlu cepat-cepat. Ambil masa, dan jika mereka mahu menolong, berikan peluang. They need movement, and here’s a chance. Tak payah tergesa-gesa mahu siapkan semua kerja dalam to-do list. Perlu jemur baju? Biarkan mereka ikut serta, bukan halang mereka dengan alasan ‘Mommy nak cepat ni, ada banyak kerja lain!’. Memang susah nak amalkan, tapi kalau aku boleh  tinggalkan banyak perkara lain untuk berada di rumah 24/7 dengan mereka, maka ini perkara wajib aku lakukan dan dahulukan.

Contact times, pada aku, perlu bukan sahaja untuk hal-hal sedemikian. Lebih lama contact time, lebih banyak teachable moments  yang merupakan peluang untuk kita mendemonstrasikan nilai-nilai penting dalam kehidupan. Kalau tak duduk lama dengan anak, macam mana mereka nak Nampak cara-cara melayan tetamu? Cara selesaikan masalah e.g. bila air tumpah? Cara mengawal emosi bila marah? Anak-anak mengambil contoh tauladan daripada orang yang paling rapat dengan mereka i.e. ibu bapa. We are their universe and they look up to us, so take some responsibilities and start behaving yourselves.

Lebih daripada itu, aku kena belajar untuk menerima dan meminta bantuan. Belajar untuk percaya bahawa anak-anak akan belajar banyak perkara daripada ahli keluarga selain aku dan ayahnya. It helps me to keep myself sane too, and learn to trust others. Anak-anak memerlukan aku, but I’m not going to be at their disposal all the time – and that’s okay. It’s still healthy and maybe even crucial for their development.

Bi iznillah.

The Mystery of ‘Nothing’

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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.

 

The Scar I Keep Hidden

*(Day 2 of NaBloPoMo)

I have a scar on my right foot.

It is in the shape of a slice of tangerine, or so I thought when I was smaller. The scar grows as my foot widens, and now it is nearly 2 inches length.It has been there as far as I remember.

As much as possible these days I would hide it from being seen by my parents. Now that I’ve become a parent myself, I come to understand how they feel when they see this, especially my sensitive dad. My dad often mentions of it with a tone full of guilt when he sees it.

You see, the scar came about when I was not yet two years old, according to my dad. I accidentally ran onto a still hot electrical iron my mom had just used, and forgetfully put on the floor. My dad would recall how I would limp a few days after the accident, often regretfully.

After nearly 30 years you can say that they are probably over it by now, but judging from how I’d feel whenever I see a mosquito bite on any of my babies (which will have some scars imprinted) , I’d rather keep doing what I’ve always done. This kind of things give a punch to a parent’s heart, a pang of guilt to add to the existing, neverending list of things ‘I should have done and not done’. It is the kind of guilt which elicits the well-known advice to parents: ‘Forgive yourself’.

I hold no grudge. The scar has never bothered me.

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.

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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.

Reading List : October 2014 Update

I went to Kinokuniya the other day, looking for some homeschooling books. I have searched on its website before that, but was disappointed to know that many of the books suggested by homeschooling moms around the Net are available upon order only. I thought I’d go to the bookstore anyway (Isa was kidnapped by the grandparents, so it’s just perfect for book-browsing) and see what they have in stock.

It turns out that Kinokuniya really doesn’t have many books on homeschooling (I do not wonder why, it’s illegal here in Malaysia except for very few exceptions) but I still buy two books.

One of them is Learning at Home: A Mother’s Guide to Homeschooling  by Marty Layne. Since this week was a parenting/education book of a different style than Einstein Never Used Flashcards, I managed to finish it in, guess what, four days! I intend to share a few notes on what I found interesting in this book (not much, but some are truly useful) in another post, God willing.

So my read list goes like this, now:

  1. Al Muhaddithat
  2.  Sustainability is for Everyone
  3.  Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (Reread)
  4. PhD: Kecil Tapi Signifikan
  5. SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
  6. Ukuran Pembangunan Pendekatan Kapitalis dan Islami
  7. Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn–and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less
  8. The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands
  9. Learning at Home: A Mother’s Guide to Homeschooling

I am currently reading three books:

  1. Purification of the Heart: Signs, Symptoms and Cures of the Spiritual Diseases of the Heart
  2. Development as Freedom
  3. The Playful Parent: 7 Ways to Happier, Calmer, More Creative Days with Your Under-Fives

One of them is in the list because my Professor has made in near compulsory to read (in fact for my first term paper I had to use the book – Development as Freedom – intensively). The third one is the book I bought along with Learning at Home. The first book is well, a true gem that I am taking my own sweet time to finish it.

Anyway, I am still one book behind, to date,  to achieve my 12 books a year target (shame on me!).

 

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This entry is part of my ‘Read-a-Book-a-Month’ attempt.

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What’s Your Child’s Love Language?

I knew about Gary Chapman’s Five Love Language some time before I got married, and it has been a long time since we husband and wife discussed about it. We did talk about it briefly before the wedding as part of getting to know each other, but at this moment I could not remember what he said at that time. After three years of marriage and knowing him more closely, I think I know mine and his love languages better.

It was not until a few weeks back that I was reminded to analyze Isa’s love language. He is still a toddler, and perhaps all toddlers need a bit of words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, receiving gifts and quality time. Nevertheless, I can spot some particular habits of his that points towards a specific language.

And I suspect his primary love language is physical touch.

Isa is a big ‘hugger’ for instance.

There was one occasion when my family members were sitting together and he started to hug each one of us – me, my parents, my sisters, my brothers and his cousin. He was barely two at that time, and my nephew (whose development I followed quite closely) has never shown such behavior. And he still does that often with family members.

Whenever he noticed that I am angry with him – or when I made it clear through “Mommy is upset with you!” – his reaction was priceless; he’d immediately scream “I want to hug mommy” a few times.

These days it is even clearer. Sometimes in the car, when he is safely secured in his carseat, he would ask for my hand “Mommy, I want to hold your hand!” – which often results in my hand being overstretched to reach him from the co-pilot set, and at some extremes – he insisted on hugging me from the passenger seat which is of course impossible.

He also loves backrubs – which according to this slide is a clear clue of his primary love language – physical touch. I’d offer him backrubs when putting him to sleep, and there are days when he’d move his clothes just to have my hand directly touch his skin. I mean, that is a really clear sign, no?

It is true that we should not assume that boys need physical touch any less than girls – my son could be an example.

And I guess Isa is just lucky to have a mom whose primary love language is physical touch too, that his inclination is, well, more than happily received.