Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Because some things do get lost in translation

Happy New Year! Gong Xi Fai Cai! 祝贺大家龙年龙马精神,万事大吉!

Chinese New Year has always been one of my favourite times of the year. This is our second year with Dear Daughter in tow. And I have to say - things do get betterI had a fabulous CNY.

1. For one, being with our parents and the huge extended family means I have two hands to myself. This is something which they don’t warn you of in parenting books. Have a baby and learn to do everything with one hand.

2. I am able to savour the endless rounds of good food in peace. No gobbling an entire meal in two or three bites or chasing after a toddler in between stuffing myself with mouthfuls of food.

3. DD runs around entertaining our family members. Her joy is infectious and it is great to see others loosen up with her and laugh along. This is the year she gets very interested in dogs. It cracked us up when she stands at the door beckoning the family dogs to come over with, ‘Dog! Come here!’

Guess what she saw? 

Aww, lovely puppies which are as excitable as she is. Too bad condos in KL can't keep dogs.

4. I taught DD to do the ‘gong xi’ pose, the one where you put both fists together and shake vehemently as a symbol of congratulations. Children at this age learn quickly through mimicking adults (yes, that’s why we are role models). DD saw DH and I offering two mandarin oranges to our elders and copied us by bringing mandarin oranges to her grandparents. It heartens me.

It is very important to me that DD is exposed to the Chinese traditions. I want her to learn to greet her elders, to wait till the elders eat before she can start. I want her to know not just Mandarin but also her dialects.

After living in Hong Kong for a couple of years and covering the North Asia markets, I am convinced that knowing Mandarin is mandatory and basic, knowing the dialects is the next wave of advantage.

I remember when I first started out doing sales, my boss who was the Head of Sales told me that ‘D, clients don’t buy from you because you have the best product or best price. People buy from people they like.’ It’s true, and usually speaking the local language helps break the ice and brings people closer. The benefits of knowing languages are intangible but very real.

Unfortunately for the younger generation, they are generally exposed to English only and deprived of the opportunity to learn dialects. Here in KL, it’s pretty bad. From primary level, we would be forced to choose between going completely Chinese, completely Malay or pay through the nose at an international school. At the all important early childhood stage, there is a dearth of options.

Yes, many kindergartens claim to teach Mandarin. But you don’t pick up a language unless you are immersed in it. Allow the child to interact in the language so that his/her brain forms the right synapses. The system our school uses alternates between English and Chinese weeks, allowing full bilingual immersion and have successfully produced batches of effectively bilingual children since 1998. This is why I went through the drastic measure of importing a system.

Having said that the best way to learn a language is not through a taught environment but rather in everyday life. For DD, I speak to her in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Occasionally we learn Japanese together (I studied years of it but don’t remember most of it since I have not used the language in years). When my parents are here, I ask them to speak to her in Hokkien as well.

Initially my parents resist here fearing it would make them ‘uncool’. I had to laugh when I heard this. This coming from my strict traditional dad. After I explained to them my rationale, my dad agreed that imparting her with dialect skills is an invaluable gift.

He questioned then if it would be confusing for DD to be exposed to so many languages at a tender age. I explained to him that when children are under three, their ability to absorb information is tremendous. Just expose them to the languages actively (ie. not passively through a DVD and hope for the best) and the little seeds are planted in their brains. You will be surprised how kids pick up the nuances of languages almost instinctively.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to me is that DD is happy. I will provide her a nurturing environment to acquire knowledge and skills in a fun way. A good foundation in early childhood serves as a springboard to realizing her full potential. After this, it’s up to her how far and high she wants to fly.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Giving our children a good Head start

I love my food and have been head over heels in love with food since I was a little girl. Food not only fuels my body, it serves as a daily inspiration for me. I live to eat and am blessed with a hearty appetite.

When I was pregnant, I pray that DD will love food as much as DH and I do. I don’t have any particular craving and exposed her to a variety of food. After DD arrived, I breastfeed her and am still breastfeeding her at 15 months. According to the parenting guides, breastfed kids are unlikely to be picky eaters. The theory is that the child is exposed to a smorgasbord of tastes through the breast milk from a young age, as opposed to the homogeneous taste of formula milk.

Well, as I have discovered through my parenthood journey – take what I read from parenting books with a pinch of salt.

Each child is unique. As a child leaves infancy behind and moves in toddlerhood, he/she starts forming his/her opinion and preference in everything, including the food.

DD is no exception. She was doing great, eating well until she neared one year old. There are days when it is just harder to feed her. Through trials and error, here’s some tricks that work for us:
  • Offer variety. Mix it up. Don’t feed the same thing day in day out.
  • Make a nutrition packed soup/stew. It’s easier to sneak in a few mouthfuls of power food every now and then. For instance, I boil spinach, broccoli, lentils, carrots etc, blend it up and add a protein such as minced beef or fish.
  • Offer distraction. I have tried video, feeding her while she is playing with toys and feeding her while taking a walk.
  • Let DD feeds herself. The mess can always be cleaned up later.
  • Offer competition. Sometimes I pretend to feed her doll. Or when we are out with friends’ kids, we find that she eats as heartily as the next kid.
  • Offer a change of location. Don’t always feed at the high chair. She loves it at Fitfor2 at Bangsar Village or Kidzsport and never fails to finish her meal there.
Then there are days when all above fails. I will resort to feeding DD her favourite food – cheese and tomato. I would tell myself that some food is better than no food and try to focus on the big picture, i.e. her diet throughout the week.

In recent years, the diagnosis for hyperactivity (ADHD) and dyslexia in children has been increasing. Leading nutritionist, Patrick Holford, found in his book ‘Smart Food for Smart Kids’ that in many of these cases, the learning disabilities can be eliminated simply through an improvement in diet. Holford explains the positive link between eating nutritious food and a child’s brain power.

I strongly believe in the importance of wholesome food for a growing child. This is why I go out of my way to ensure our school feeds nutrition-packed food. Our nutritionist works on IQ-boosting food to improve the children’s attention and learning ability.

Parents are not charged a leg and limb to select the meal option. Instead our nutritionist team source actively for the right suppliers and  works within budget. The children comes first at our school, before any talks of profit and margins.

Unfortunately in Malaysia, our preschools and daycares do not know or care enough about this. Many of the schools continue to serve sugary drinks, pandan cakes, doughnuts, nasi lemaks etc. 

When I question these schools, the principals would tell me that 'it's part of their effort to ensure the child gets accustomed to a Malaysian diet.' Erm, I don't think so.

We are what we eat. The stuff we put in our mouth affects our mood, our health and learning ability. Depriving your body of vital nutrients can be detrimental.

A child’s brain goes through exponential growth in the first 6 years and is 97% of adult size by age 6. Hence we should all give our children best head start in life with a wholesome diet.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Multi-Million Dollars Job

It’s been a crazy Friday the 13th.
DD tossed and whined through the night with a mild fever due to teething. Then I had a flurry of meetings. Met up with the contractor and the designer. Then back home with DD. I am on solo for parental duty tonight as DH has a work event.
Now that I have put her down, I finally have a quiet moment to myself and want to write about what I heard this morning.
This morning while doing the school run, I tuned into Mix FM’s Daily Dilemma with Dilly and JD. [I love the two of them, they never fail to brighten up my mornings.] Today’s dilemma is about a newly married young lady who frets about juggling family life when she has a child. She feels that since her boss  frowned on her leaving on time after getting married, it is a good indication the boss would be unhappy with her starting a family.
I hunted around for my handphone to call in only to realize I left it at home. Ah well, Dilly, we are not meant to be.
What Alicia has described is a real problem.
I think many working mothers share the same harried feeling I have on most days. As women, we juggle different roles in our lives. We are daughters, employees and someone’s BFF, wife of someone we love and then we become mothers. In the many hats we wear, we are pulled in different directions constantly. 
The dilemma exists partly because our work culture is still years and decades behind developed countries’. While Malaysia recognises there is a brain drain, our employers are still imposing an invisible glass ceiling on women, in particular working women. By employers, I don’t mean the stereotyped males, female bosses are equally guilty as charged. This shouldn't be the case.
I hope I can make a difference in whatever small ways I can. For one, our company is different, we are pro-family and support working mothers. Working moms can be fabulous resources. They are great multi-taskers. Nothing fazes them as they take mini daily disasters in their strides.
DH and I are very hands on with parenting. We have no maid, minimum help from parents (who are out-of-state). This is fine, because we want to raise DD ourselves. As in, not farm out parenting and this is a decision we both feel strongly about.
Everyone asks us out how we do it. I won’t deny it. The truth is we take a day at a time.
It is very tough juggling everything, even harder when both of us had a rigid schedule.  God forbids when a day falls out of routine, i.e. DD falls sick and one of us had to take time off. Worse if you have to deal with a manager who doesn't understand, as in Alicia’s (the lady who rang in the radio station) case.
I think 2011 was a pivotal year for me. As DD turned one, it made me reassess what I really want in life. I used to work in the financial industry in London, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong in investment banking. I was driven and passionate, so zealous that one HR manager told me to chill a notch. LOL.  When I was working in London, I volunteered to cover the New York hours too, working crazy 7 am to 1 am shifts everyday because I loved my job so much. But in the meritocratic work culture, my hard work was recognized and I climbed the corporate ladder quickly, skipping rungs as I got promoted faster than peers.
That was the old single me then. When I met DH, my priorities shifted. And I became a mother, and things changed further. Other priorities take precedence over being the top performer at work. It doesn't mean I don't want to excel at work, I am just no longer at my employer's beck and call.
I know with clarity what I want in life.
I want to be a full time mother. As in dedicate myself completely to DD without being half glued to the Blackberry, without cajoling her to watch one more video so that I can finish reading a research report and without rushing so much that I cannot spare a moment to squat down and talk to DD at eye level.

Being a mother is the most important job I will ever do. I created a life. It is now my job to give her the best upbringing. In the early years, a child is like an blank canvas and it's up to parents and early caregivers to bring out the vibrant colours in them. I want to dedicate the next few years immersing DD in a stimulating yet nurturing environment and develop her learning potential. Be a role model for her.
In the many roles we play in life, we please no one when we try to please everyone. Instead, focus on what matters most to you.
The other day, I peeled the foil off a pack of cream cheese for DD’s snack. Spontaneously, my 15 month old daughter said ‘thanks’ to me. It was the first time she articulated the word and she had used it in the right context.
Imagine my joy and pride. This beats the triumph of closing a multi-million trade. Anytime.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

Our dear friends, M & J, had a beautiful baby boy last month.
Baby boy is so angelic and adorable. He is also very understanding and allows his dear mommy rest time by sleeping through most of the time.
I am incredulous because Dear Daughter is extremely active from the moment she is born. She cries, she squirms, she is awake often … she basically needs plenty of TLC from the get-go. So (irrationally) I asked my friend what her secret is in producing such a well-behaved little angel.
M happily replied that she prayed for a well-behaved boy throughout pregnancy. Each time she sees a well-behaved child, she would rub her belly and remind baby boy to be a good boy when he comes out.
At that moment, Dear Hubby shot me a dirty look which said ‘what were you praying for during our pregnancy?!’
Oops. Come to think of it, I think I got what I prayed for. When I was expecting DD, I prayed that she will be a healthy and happy child who is interactive and active. Guilty as charged. Next time I will save my wishes for the national lottery or such, since the fulfillment potency seems pretty strong.
I think that as parents and parents-to-be, we form our expectations on the kind of parents we want to be and transpose this into reality.
I ask myself what is the most important aspect I want DD to develop. The answer comes to me right away. A beautiful heart. It is most important to me that DD grows up with a zest for life, passion in her endeavours and empathy for others.
The best way to inculcate this is to model the behavior as parents and let her participate directly.
Whenever we pass by dead animals on the road (which by the way, there are far too many road kills in KL), I would always stop whatever we are doing and say a prayer for the dead animal with Natalie. We would pray that the suffering for the dead animal is short, that it had lived a fulfilling life and that it is now up in heavens running around happily and healthily every after.
DD is active because we interact with her in a rough-and-tumble way. I want her to experience life through its full spectrum of colours herself, not through reading or observing. DH and I converse to her from day 1, allow her to crawl on the grass as young as soon as she could crawl, let her fall and pick herself up and run around with her in the mall. 

Hence it is totally my fault when she starts somersaulting three weeks ago. Beats me how she figured it out though.

Monday, January 9, 2012

How to select a preschool/nursery/daycare

Over the course of last few weeks, I have got two friends asking me how to select a preschool for their children.
One’s not based in KL (or I would have asked you to send your child to my school dear) and the other friend’s child is under one year old. So I thought I will write an entry for all parents who are looking for a preschool/kindergarten/nursery/daycare.
I would like to pat you on the back for deciding to send your child to any form of formal learning setting.
A child is born with a tremendous ability to learn. Do you know that a child’s brain is 97% developed by the time he/she is 6 years old? Their brains grow and create new synapses through new learning experiences. Hence, the more you stimulate your child during the early years, the greater the learning potential your child might realize.
Firstly, consider the amount of exposure for your child and weigh it against your current arrangement. Perhaps you would your child to be placed in a learning environment all day while you work – Full Day. Or you have suitable care arrangement at home and only want a half day school – Half Day.
Once you have decided on the frequency of classes, here’s some other factors to consider in selecting a school:
This is the approach the school bases its curriculum on. It not only serves as a guide on how they run the school but also sets the syllabus for teaching content.

The most commonly heard of school of thought is Montessori, but many parents do not realize what Montessori philosophy entails. Maria Montessori recognizes that each child has great learning potential but learns at his/her own pace.

A newer school of thought is the WholeBrain learning system which is a science/logic based approach. WholeBrain learning believes that all babies are born geniuses and we just need to unlock their potential with appropriate stimulation of both left and right brains.

My ideal school is one which offers good curriculum that stimulates the right and left brains, a conducive environment for languages (English, Mandarin and Malay) and promotes social interaction.

2.Values System
No doubt as parents, you are most qualified to instill the right values in your child. But as your child spends a considerable amount of time in school, it’s important to choose one who shares similar core values as you.

For instance, I once interviewed a daycare whose principal thought that infants are ‘too young to know anything. When they grow older, then we teach them stuff.’ Uh huh no.

At our school, we teach our children the value of money, manners,  social graciousness and how to be a helpful contributing person.

You are what you eat. A good diet is especially important for very young children. As a child’s body undergoes tremendous amount of growth in the early years, what he/she eats has a strong impact on his/her physical growth.

Unfortunately, in KL, many schools feed our children processed food loaded with sugar or a porridge based diet high on simple carb but low on nutrition.

Child nutrition expert Patrick Holford said that many children are misdiagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. A simple change in diet to include brain food affects the development of the brain and the child’s learning ability.

A good diet should consist plenty of good fat, complex carb, protein, calcium, fruits and vegetable. At our school, we have an in-house nutritionist who dedicates a huge amount of time and research into designing our menu. We also supplement our children with multi-vitamins and DHA (subject to parental sign-up).

Is there ample space for the child to roam? We want our kids to grow up in a ‘free range’ environment, not cooped up in a small hole all day.

Scrutinize the level of hygiene. If the school does not practice good hygiene, your child is more likely to fall sick.

Safety is something that Malaysians cannot take for granted. At our school, our security is enhanced with secure tag entry and regular patrolling provided by the building.

This is a factor that tends to be overlooked. You don’t want to have to park, climb a flight of stairs yanking a stroller and struggle every morning just to get your child to work.

Instead, look for a school near your home with convenient drop-off points. If they are indoor, make sure they have escalators and lifts for accessibility. You will thank yourself when school starts.

The school should have a rule books and adhere strictly to it, such as sick child policy and designated eating area etc. Children thrive in a structured environment.

7.Honesty and Openness of the School
Have you ever encountered schools who will only meet you if you place an appointment? Or schools who are hesitant about parents observing sessions?

Schools which operate in a secretive manner may have something to hide.

Go with your intuition (yes, your innate mommy’s and daddy’s instinct) on the sincerity of the staff. Are they child-centric and genuinely care about your children? Is your child comfortable and happy?

I always recommend dropping in spontaneously when scouting out a school. If the principal or teacher is unable to give you the full attention then, they can arrange a follow-up full visit.

8.Involvement of parents
Personally I like to know what and how my child is doing in school. Parents would know how hard it is to find out from the kids themselves.

We hold regular meet-the-parents session to update them about their child, give an educational talk on a specific topic (right brain activity, diet) or engage their feedback in general. We are your partners in educating your children and it’s a two way process.

There are an appalling number of preschools, daycares and nurseries in Malaysia without license. It’s not expensive nor complicated to obtain one. If the school scrimps on a small fee to avoid registration, consider what else they are scrimping on in educating and caring for your child.
 * *
Remember, each child is different and it’s important to find a school which fits your child’s personality and your family. Doing the homework in finding the right school for your child does reap its benefits. For one, your little one will look forward to going to school everyday and meet his/her teachers and friends.
At the end of the day, all we want is our child to be happy, healthy and balanced.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Eating Quietly

Dear Hubby (DH) has a pet peeve which is one eating with mouth open. While it's considered rude in Western culture, unfortunately, eating and slurping loudly is common in Asian culture.  

When we were living in Hong Kong, many people slurped and sloshed while eating.  It's the same back in Malaysia. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because some people see it as enjoyment of food. Or mostly, people don't realise what they are doing.

I am working on my Montessori assignment now and read this section on teaching eating manners. How it works is that caregivers sits at each table and eats with the children, modeling chewing with the mouth closed, using utensils correctly and asking politely for things to be passed.

Which builds on my belief that children learn by mirroring the behavior of their parents.

So intuitive and simple. I will certainly be implementing this in the school.

Getting Attached

Yawn. It’s 6.10 am on a Saturday morning and I am up working.

Since becoming a mom, I find early morning hours are like stolen time for myself to work, do house work or cook dear daughter (DD)’s meal. I wonder how many other parents do the same.

Dear Hubby (DH) works better into the night. I am in charge of bedtime duty and in the midst of patting DD and reading bedtime stories to her, I inevitably doze off myself. I tell myself that sleep is infectious and hope fervently DD will follow suit and close her eyes too.

DD turns 15 month yesterday. At one point post pregnancy, I stopped counting in weeks and days. I guess the day would come that I stop counting in months too. The recent highlight was that she understands what DH and I are saying. With almost 30 words in her vocab, DH and I could minimize the second guessing and have a simple conversation with her.

Me: Baby, what is your favourite colour?
DD: Pur-ple! Pur-ple! (pick up a purple object)
Me: Are you sure purple is the colour you like best? How about blue? (show her a blue object)
DD: (shake head) Noooo blue
Me: How about red? Red used to be your favourite colour (show her a red object)
DD: (shake head) Nooo red. Pur-ple!

It makes me chuckle that she has a mind of her own and has a favourite colour already. At this point, DH would chime in and say that she has inherited this from me.

Looking back, the past year of parenthood has been pretty challenging. Without much help, since both parents and in-laws are out of town, DH and I choose to tackle parenting (and keeping the house in order) ourselves. And of course, DD just has to be active, mischievious baby at the same time.

As we feel our way around parenthood, there are certain many paths we could take. It all started with each choice we made – breastfeeding, babywearing, communicating, discipline etc. We find ourselves googling and ending up on DrSears’ site a lot. I think DH and I surprise ourselves that the school of thought we subscribe to is attachment parenting. If we want DD to grow up with a beautiful heart, we have to start the right behavior ourselves with her. There’s no one better than ourselves to love and care for our children.

‘The essence of Attachment Parenting is about forming and nurturing strong connections between parents and their children. Attachment Parenting challenges us as parents to treat our children with kindness, respect and dignity, and to model in our interactions with them the way we'd like them to interact with others.’ – API

Benefits of attachment parenting:
  • feels right, acts right
  • learns language more easily
  • establishes healthy independence
  • learns intimacy
  • learns to give and receive love
  • become more confident
  • can read baby's cues; respond intuitively
  • flow with baby's temperament; find discipline easier
  • know baby's competencies and preferences
  • brings out the best in each other

Dear Dr Sears, your idea of attachment parenting saps the energy of DH and me. Hopefully the returns to parenting input pays off soon. I wonder if we will become so attached to our baby, that someone has to wean DH and me off her when she leaves the nest one day. Maybe DrSears should dedicate a chapter to weaning off AP for parents. :)