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Helping hands

Grandparents are engineered to lavish their grandchildren with affection and attention.

ARE you one of those who leave your kids in their grandparent’s care while your spouse and you are at work? Consider yourself very privileged if you are.

Having grandparents around is certainly better than other alternatives. They lavish their grandchildren with affection and attention. They would drop everything for them – and extra care is always guaranteed. Grandparents are engineered that way, and that’s what makes them so indispensable. Can you think of anyone better whom you could trust your brood with?

Even when you have a maid at home, the presence of grandparents gives you the peace of mind to concentrate at work, as they can help you to keep an eye on things. Let’s face it, we all know someone with a horror maid story to tell. All this makes us constantly wonder whether we are gambling on the kids’ safety whenever we leave them home alone with a maid.

Of course, it’s not necessarily all roses. Some parents complain about how grandpa and grandma spoil the kids, and find fault with their old-fashioned ways of childcare.

When a difference in parenting views occurs, it’s best to listen to what the grandparents have to say with an open mind. After all, there is something we can learn from those who have been there and done that. Try to understand their point of view, and be flexible when the issues are not major.

Having said that, you don’t have to bottle things up and pretend all is well if you find their ways are totally unacceptable to you. The kids, after all, are yours. Hence, you do have the right to decide how you want your kids to be brought up.

Discuss the clashes of opinions and find a compromise before they fester into major disputes. Voice how you really feel – without hurting their feelings. Remember that no one likes to be told that they are a bad influence on your kids!

There are also some parents who are secretly resentful of the special bond between their kids and the grandparents. Well, it’s only natural for kids to feel closer to their constant companions. But it’s also understandable if you feel left out when they seem to prefer their grandparents to you.

Remember, however, that kids are capable of loving both grandparents and parents in different ways. Thus, don’t see the grandparents as the opposition party. They are here not to fight for your kids’ love, but to give them more love. Think of how lucky the kids are to have both the love of their grandparents and parents.

Then there are those parents who lament the fact that the not-so-highly educated grandparents are unable to contribute much to their kids’ academic learning.

Well, grandparents might not be able to explain science and such to your kids, but they can pass the legacy of good values to the next generation. They can teach your kids all about filial piety, good manners, and a million other things that harried parents might not have the time (or patience) to do.

And yes, even though they might not be able to help much in the education department, you can count on the doting grandparents to applaud every little achievement, and do things like giving a standing ovation when your three-year-old is finally able to sing the ABC song without jumbling up the alphabet.

At the end of the day, as with everything in life, having the grandparents as your kids’ caregivers has its pros and cons.

When the going gets tough for you, keep in mind that things can get pretty rough for them too.

Any babysitting grandparent can vouch that taking care of young kids is not exactly a walk in the park. They have to deal with the daily grind of cleaning dirty bottoms, feeding finicky little eaters, taming tantrums, and other things that cause exhaustion and anxiety.

On the other hand, declarations like “I love you, Grandma!” and wet kisses on the cheeks are not always an hourly event.

So make sure you don’t burden them with the entire task of parenting. Grandparents don’t have to go through parenting twice in their lifetime, but they are doing it out of love and concern for the family. Hence, be appreciative and tell these unsung heroes how grateful you are for their help and support. After all, no one appreciates being taken for granted.

No matter how full of shortcomings a grandparent may be, at the very least you have someone who genuinely cares about your kids’ happiness and health.

Now, that’s someone you should keep within the reach of your children, don’t you think?

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Mother’s love

A mother has a special influence over her children that no one else has.

I WORK as an accounts assistant and am studying towards a part-time degree in accounting. I will be completing my studies in December. I have been very busy in the office. Most of the time, I stay back till 7pm even though the official time for work ends at 5pm. Recently I was promoted to acting accounts executive.

My children, a four year-old girl and a two-year-old boy, stay with my mum. I have realised that they learn nothing at my mother's house. They spend their time watching television.

I also suspect that my mum does not like my son. She seems to treat him differently compared with my daughter and nephew who are also under her care. My son gets caned whenever he does not listen to her.

My brother shouts at my children whenever he wants them to stop doing something. I think that affects them negatively. My children have picked up the bad habit of shouting whenever they want anything from me.

I am the kind of parent who does not like to spank my children. Rather, I prefer to explain and talk to them. I treat them with respect. However, recently, due to my heavy workload and coursework, I lost control and spanked them. Will this affect my children emotionally? They also witnessed my husband and I fighting some time ago.

Am I a good mother?

Concerned working mother

It is not easy for a working mother who has to do parenting on leftover time. And it can be challenging when you depend on others to care for your children. As parents, we make mistakes. But if we are committed to doing a good job in raising our children, we will correct our mistakes and learn from experience. We must also learn to forgive ourselves when we have failed.

Your children need parents whom they can trust to reflect their actions and try to help them make connections with what they are learning. Your role as a parent is to help them make sense of what they are learning and sort out the confusion in their lives. If any misunderstandings occur, help them solve the problems; this will strengthen the parent-child bond.

Before you start trying to make amends with your children and extended family members, you must deal with your guilt as a working mother. The situation you are in, as a working parent and part-time student, is temporary. In a few months, once your studies are completed, you will have more time for yourself. The more frustrated you feel, the worse it will affect your home life. Go easy on yourself.

Having your mother care for your children has its advantages and disadvantages. While you feel safe with this caregiver since you trust her and know her well, the care-giving can put stress on your relationship with your mother. Both of you want the best for the children in your own way. You may not share your mother’s ideas about discipline or the way she manages the children. Your mother may feel that she knows what is best; after all, she brought you up and is now looking after your children.

One way to make this arrangement work is to spell out the rules and expectations clearly. Tell your mother that you appreciate her help in care-giving. Explain that you find it difficult to do a good job as a parent when there are conflicting ways of managing your children’s behaviour. You must also stress that you understand how difficult it is for her to cope with your son. Encourage her to let you know whenever she finds it hard to manage his behaviour; assure her that you will help her wherever possible. Offer to do what you can so that she will not feel too harassed from caring for three young children.

Whenever you are with your children, remind them to use their quiet indoor voices to make their requests known to you. If they shout like their uncle, gently tell them that you like it better when they talk nicely. Your children may even learn to say this to their uncle the next time he shouts at them. As a mother, you have a special influence over your children that no one else has. Make this influence a positive one.

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To help them grow

Optimal nutrition starts with serving the foods your child needs.

LIKE most parents, we are prepared to do everything we can to help our children grow well and develop their potential. This includes meeting their needs, especially for optimal nutrition. More than just ensuring they are fed every day, it also includes understanding their nutritional requirements, guiding them towards choosing nutritious foods, teaching them good eating habits and helping them overcome mealtime problems.

It’s always amazing how a child changes from being a helpless baby into a toddler and then a preschooler. It’s a dramatic transformation that increases his nutritional needs, compared with infancy. The best way to meet those needs is by giving a wide variety of nutritious foods that, together, supply all the major nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well as the many other healthful substances that are naturally present in many foods (eg phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables).

·Carbohydrates are your child’s best source of energy, especially for the brain. Carbohydrates are found in grains, cereals, tubers, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Brown rice, wholemeal breakfast cereals and bread, beans and, of course, fruits and vegetables also supply fibre which helps reduce constipation, a common problem in childhood.

Nutritious: Carbohydrates found in grains, cereals, tubers, fruits, vegetables and legumes are your child’s best source of energy.
  • Protein is needed to develop, repair and replace body tissues, even bone and blood. Sources of protein include fish, meat, poultry, legumes, milk and dairy products.
  • Fats are important as they help maintain body temperature and promote hormone and cell development. Some foods and beverages also supply essential fatty acids (EFA), like omega-3 and omega-6, which promote brain, nervous system and eye development.
Fats are two times richer than carbohydrates or proteins so do limit your child’s fat intake. Avoid using excessive cooking oil; discard the fatty bits from meat and chicken skin; limit fried foods and oily ready-to-eat snack foods (eg. potato chips and keropok).

The latest research suggests that you should minimise intake of foods (eg. commercially-prepared baked and processed foods) that contain high amounts of hydrogenated fats. Read the labels every time before buying a packaged food product.

Vitamins and minerals are vital to total body health and function. They work individually as well as with each other to enable the utilisation of energy and nutrients from food, strengthen the immune system, aid the development of cells and keep the organs performing well.

All the vitamins and minerals your child needs can be obtained from a varied diet. Fruits, vegetables, cereals and red meat are excellent sources of vitamins. Milk, cheese, yoghurt, fish with edible bones, bean products and leafy green vegetables are great choices when it comes to bone-building calcium. You would do well to remember that about 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones. Meat, fish, liver, green leafy vegetables, cereals, nuts and beans and certain fortified foods provide iron for the vitality that your child needs to keep playing and learning well through childhood.

A healthy diet

Optimum nutrition for your child begins with you serving up nutritious foods. The next step then is to know the reasonable amounts of food that your child should be eating each day. This is an important part of ensuring optimal nutritional intake. After all, like with most toddlers and preschoolers, getting him to stay still and eat properly might be a challenge. You may even find yourself discovering new levels of stress and anxiety if your child develops picky eating tendencies.

Our hearts reach out to you and all the other mothers who might have similar feeding troubles. So, join us next fortnight to find out, if your child is eating well.

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Eating problems

For some children, a poor appetite may signal psychological or medical problems.

THREE-year-old Justin has a problem with food. He is very picky at mealtimes – he won’t eat most foods and at times, refuses to eat at all. His weight starts to plummet. His worried parents bring him to a paediatrician, who examines the boy and discovers that Justin has gastroesophageal reflux.

A few houses away, food is the least of five-year-old Asha’s interests. She whines whenever she has to eat, looks pale and has little energy to run around and play with her friends.

Children with feeding problems generally insist on eating only one or two types of food for long periods of time or are reluctant to try new types of food. They may also be strongly averse to certain types of food, don’t eat enough or simply refuse to eat.

Research shows that up to 45% of children experience problems at mealtimes. In most cases, these problems do not result in serious, long-term consequences. However, there are instances when a poor appetite is more than just a growing phase and may signal a serious problem.

First of all, you need to establish if your child’s feeding problems are indeed cause for concern. Children with poor appetites do not receive the nutrients needed for growth. As a result, they are underweight.

One way to tell is by regularly charting your child’s height-for-age and weight-for-age on a growth chart. When done over a period of time, these measurements can serve as an indicator of growth disturbances. It will also enable your child’s doctor to ascertain whether your child is under-nourished or overweight.

There are two main causes why your child is not eating as well as he should – psychological disorders and medical causes.

Psychological disorders

Of the two main causes, psychological disorders are the more common of the two. These incorporate behavioural, environmental and psychological problems caused by a variety of factors. For example, some parents may restrict the amount of calories they give their child out of fear that their kid may become fat. Some parents may be feeding their child insufficiently or poorly because of a lack of interest in the child’s welfare. The amount of money a family spends on food and the nutritional value of the foods they buy also affect growth.

Adjustment disorders may cause a healthy child to have a poor appetite. According to psychiatrist Associate Professor Dr M. Swamenathan, adjustment disorders are temporary disorders that follow stressful life events and circumstances. A child expresses anger and rebelliousness by refusing to eat after such incidents.
Another factor is depressive disorders.

“This is common in middle and late childhood,” says Dr Swamenathan. “It is a result of environmental factors either at home or at school. It may include a parent becoming seriously ill, the death of a family member, parental disharmony, being abused, sibling jealousy and harsh parenting. Other factors may include difficulty coping with studies, being bullied and a fear of teachers.”

A rare cause is obsessive compulsive disorders. “This is characterised by disturbing and frightening thoughts that intrude continuously, such as ‘I am going to fail in my exam’ or ‘My mother is going to die’. The child believes that he or she can prevent these bad things from happening by doing a particular action. For instance, ‘If I don’t eat, I will pass my exams and nothing will happen to my mother’,” he explains.

Dr Swamenathan adds that an obsessive compulsive disorder can be identified when a child does some acts repeatedly, such as washing hands, checking the door or light switch or asking the same question over and over again.

A poor appetite can result in children having protein calorie malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances and deficiencies in trace elements such as magnesium, manganese and zinc. Iron deficiency is a fairly common problem related to poor nutrition.

These factors can lead to a child lacking drive, and becoming disinterested and confused easily, They may also have difficulty concentrating and remembering.

If your child has poor appetites due to psychological disorders, take an empathetic approach to the situation and evaluate it from your child’s point of view. Remember to always show love and concern. Identify areas of stress and institute remedial measures such as spending more time talking to your child.

“Avoid making threats or punishing your child when he doesn’t eat, and reward him for behaviour that is desirable,” advises Dr Swamenathan.

“Try not to force. Instead encourage your child to eat. During mealtimes, make sure your child is seated comfortably at the table and eat alongside him as often as you can. Also, have regularly scheduled meals, and try to make mealtimes as pleasant as possible.”

When it comes to snacks, you need to time them in between meals so that they do not spoil your child’s appetite. Limit fruit juice as it provides empty calories and diminishes an appetite for nutritious meals.
Medical causes

Poor appetites are sometimes caused by medical conditions involving the gastrointestinal system (eg. undetected urine infection, chronic diarrhoea, chronic liver disease), chronic illnesses (eg. cardiac and respiratory disorders), infections (parasites, tuberculosis) and metabolic disorders, which can limit a child’s capacity to make the most of the calories consumed. Consultant paediatrician Dr Zulkifli Ismail says that poor nutrition can cause a child’s immune system to be compromised, making him prone to infections and illnesses.

“Young children need the right nutrients in the right amounts for their brain to develop optimally, particularly during the formative years. So if they aren’t eating well, they aren’t getting the nutrients they need. This can negatively affect their brain development,” says Dr Zulkifli.

Poor nutritional intake can also cause wounds to heal poorly and cause a build-up of toxins in the body, making it difficult for the body to derive nutrients from the food that the child eats.

If you suspect that your child is not eating well due to a medical condition, send him to a doctor for evaluation. Your doctor or paediatrician will examine your child’s diet and eating patterns, and try to establish when and why growth or weight gain has stopped. Your doctor may also look for emotional and social problems for the decrease in growth, and counsel you about family interactions or habits that are damaging to your child’s development.

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Learning begins at home

THE most important learning for the child comes from his family. Parents are his first teachers. The child learns about his world and how to be a good person from the very day he is born. His sense of self comes from how his parents treat him and respond to him. Child experts often advise parents to tune in to their children from an early age. Children’s self-esteem is nurtured early in life as they interact with their parents in a positive environment.

When a child gets into trouble, parents often blame themselves for being too lenient or too strict with him. Some parents even blame the child for being naughty or disobedient. The truth of the matter is, children are the products of either good parenting or bad parenting and not because their parents are good or bad. When we make mistakes with our children, often times, we are not aware of ways to manage our children correctly.

We can do a better job with our children when we understand the different stages of development. As children mature, parents need to manage their children’s behaviour differently. You cannot talk to your teenager as you did when he was six years old. Listen to what your child says and find ways to support his interests.

Communication plays a vital role in our daily interactions with family members. We need to understand what they hear and see, and be able to send messages in ways that they can understand and accept. Children need adults to guide them in choosing the right words to express themselves. Teaching by example is the most effective tool for parents. Many have found that their words fall on deaf ears when they do not practise what they preach to their young ones.

A mother of two school-going boys remarked that today’s teenagers are easily influenced by their peers. She feared for her children’s welfare. She wondered how she can protect her sons from negative influences. Children tend to draw closer to their peers when their parents refuse to acknowledge them or listen to them. Their peers, on the other hand, make them feel accepted and loved. They never question them or belittle their ideas.

Self-esteem is how the person feels and thinks about himself. Feeling loved, valued, wanted and respected will make children feel good about who they are. Parents can create such an environment for them to grow up in. Once your children are confident, they can try new things and explore their world.

Parents must allow their children to make mistakes so that they can learn to cope and find out what they can do to succeed. Like a toddler learning to walk, he will fail many times before he achieves his goal. But once he manages to do what he sets out to do, he will experience an overwhelming sense of pride.

Many children feel unloved because they are scolded or punished frequently. The foundation of their relationship with their parents is built on fear and violence. While parents consider their acts of punishments as a form of discipline, their children do not share this understanding. They cannot accept the fact that their parents inflict pain on them to teach them a lesson.

As children grow, parents must be prepared to allow them to take charge of their behaviour. When parents respect their children for their sense of independence, they will live up to parental expectations.

My five-year-old nephew once declared: “I have no freedom. My parents make me do everything.” He feels helpless when he is not allowed to do simple tasks for himself or decide what he wants to do or say.

In today’s competitive world, our children need to know that being different is acceptable. We do not want our children to be carbon-copies. They can have their own likes and dislikes. They should not feel the need to submit to societal pressure to look the same and talk the same way. Parents can show their children how to value different things that they learn from others.

We live in a multicultural society. Parents’ attitude can make a lot of difference in how their children regard other people and accept their ways. Bring the various cultures into your children’s lives through stories, songs and food.

Hopefully, one day our children will grow into mature adults who do not discriminate against others.

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Not keen on kindy

Some children may need help to settle down in kindergarten.

MY daughter will be five in July. She has just entered kindergarten. She’s very noisy and boisterous at home, and bullies her younger brother. But when she is outside, she is very shy. She refuses to talk or even answer questions.

In kindergarten, she doesn’t participate in class activities. She finds the activities overwhelming. She is reluctant to go to school and insists that I sit beside her. When the teacher takes her aside and talks to her, she is very friendly. She seems to enjoy one-to-one conversation. When I ask her why she doesn’t want to talk, she says she is shy.

How can I help her open up? I don’t want this to go on day after day. Mother of Two

Children need to believe that they can achieve what they set out to do. They also need their parents and teachers to communicate that belief to them. They learn to have a positive attitude from the adults around them.

For children to discover their strengths, they need the adults around them to value their individuality and acknowledge that they do things differently. Your daughter may have a different personality from that of your son, and she handles her fears differently from other children.

Acknowledge her for who she is. Being shy is not a sign of weakness. She may be more aware of things than other children – hence her apprehension to speak up or participate in school activities for the time being. She will not answer questions she is not ready for.

Parents and teachers can reassure children that they can succeed in their struggles by sending them positive messages about who they are and what they are doing. Helping children to do the right thing is not about correcting them when they make mistakes. They need guidance as well as emotional support for their efforts.

Your daughter has just started kindergarten. She is wary of her new school environment and the people there. As time passes, she will eventually adapt to the school routine and social circle. Her reserved behaviour may only be temporary. She will be ready in her own time.

Avoid labelling her as shy or stubborn. This may diminish her self-confidence and make her feel inadequate. With a little brother at home, she may constantly feel that she is in competition for attention and affection.

Do not make comparisons. It may make her feel unloved for who she is. She may develop low self-worth and think that she is not good enough.

Say something positive about her every day. Parenting so often involves the need to correct, to discipline and to judge. You may go through a day easily without having said anything nice to your eldest child. It is worth your while to say something nice to her. She may, in turn, do the same to her younger brother.

You may want to spend one-on-one time with your daughter. Read to her and ask her what she thinks of the story. Listen and talk with her to find out how she feels about being in school and at home.

Exchange ideas with your child on what to do in school and at home. If she has difficulty speaking up in school, do some pretend play with her. Give her a script that she can use and help her to practise her lines. As she gains confidence, she will start using her own words.

We do not always have the right answers as parents, but we have the skills to solve problems. Show your daughter various ways she can handle difficulties in school. She can learn from you how to get positive attention from her teacher and friends on a daily basis.

Children like to be praised for what they can do. If you give her encouraging words for her effort in an activity, she may feel she has succeeded because she has tried. Eventually, as she becomes more skilled and experienced, you may see startling results.

While your daughter is adjusting to life in kindergarten, do expect ups and downs along the way. Her fears and frustration in the early days will slowly disappear when she knows that you are not angry or upset with her. Stay calm and in control even when things are rough. Your daughter will appreciate your effort and understanding in helping her through this challenging time.

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Focus on strengths

Children are hoping to find acceptance for their good qualities.

I HAVE two children, aged seven (boy) and four (girl). My son is in Year One in a Chinese school and my girl is in kindergarten. I find it hard coaching or guiding my son as he is very stubborn and extremely playful. I have even received complaints from his teacher about his playfulness in class.

Every time I lose patience with him, I would shout loudly and also use the cane on him. After that, I feel extremely bad. I have tried not to act this way but he just does not do things properly and will often refuse to do what he needs to (for example, his homework, eat his dinner, bathe) if I do not use force him.

He has complained to me, saying that I always scold him. I have explained to him why but it only worked for two days and then he went back to his bad behaviour. I tried talking gently to him but it does not work. Tell me what can I do. I need your guidance- Worried mother

Your seven-year-old is going through many changes in his life. He can do many things on his own and is going through rapid development of mental skills. This is a critical time for your son to develop confidence in all areas of life, such as making friends, doing schoolwork and playing sports. He can be quite independent if he wants to.

You need to shift your parenting gears to help him develop the skills needed in middle childhood. Start by showing him some respect for being a Year One pupil. Your tone of voice and behaviour towards him must be different to how you treat your younger child.

Work out a timetable with your son on how he should spend his time after school. If he keeps on schedule, he can get more playtime instead of extra coaching time. Children like to be rewarded for their effort. This reinforces their positive behaviour.

Children in their middle childhood years are more sensitive to how they are treated. Your constant scolding and punishment will only make matters worse. Your son resents your lack of patience with him. Instead of changing for the better, he may act badly just to spite you.

Spend more time focusing on what he is doing well. He needs to know his strengths and good qualities. What you say and do with him can boost his confidence in his skills.

I AM a mother of three children, aged eight, six and two. My second daughter will be be in Year One next year and my husband insists that she attends Chinesemedium school. I have heard a lot about the heavy homework load she would have to endure. My daughter is very active and cannot concentrate for long periods.

When asked to do homework from her kindergarten, she throws tantrums before she starts doing her work.

Sometimes she takes an hour to finish one page of mathematics or her colouring homework.

Sometimes I need to scream at her or threaten her with a cane. But then, she will start crying and take a really long time to finish her homework. She has enough time for play and TV. She is a smart girl and we always reward her for doing well in school by giving her what she wants.

Her teachers from school and other learning centres feel that she talks too much during class and does not concentrate. She is very loving to her little brother but not to my older girl, who has special needs. Some mothers think I pay too much attention to my other children. I am still breastfeeding my son.

My eldest daughter is in an international school and I have thought of putting my second girl in a private school. Should I just learn how to let go and allow her to learn at her own pace? She can’t read yet but if her teacher has read a storybook to her, she can actually memorise it.

I am trying to read storybooks with her every night to enhance her reading skill but there are times when I need to be with my other children. Should I just let my second girl be in private school where there is less homework or let her choose her school? – Mother of three

Before you decide on which school to send your middle child to, you should focus on her present situation. From your description, she sounds like a child who can easily adapt to different environments and can achieve good results in her work.

As for her lack of concentration when doing her homework, she will change as she matures. To get her ready for primary school, she needs your attention to guide her on the right path. Preparing for school takes more than just knowing the 3Rs. She needs to be emotionally prepared too.

Give her some personal oneon- one time and focus on her interests. Do not insist on her doing what you think is right but marvel at her little achievements that only she can do.

Middle children tend to struggle a great deal to get attention in the sibling cauldron. She is not the first born with the special needs nor can she compete with her breast-feeding toddler brother.

Your second daughter may constantly try to find acceptance for what she can do. Sometimes, this struggle may end up in negative behaviour. Find time to show her that she matters and tell her that you notice how hard she tries to do the right thing.

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Good dietary habits

Your children’s daily experiences with food will shape the way they view nutrition.

SIX-year-old Kumar is a happy and healthy kid, but when it comes to mealtimes, he often eats nothing but yellow noodles for weeks on end. No rice, no vegetables, just yellow noodles. Once in a while, to break the monotony, Kumar has some peanuts.

Anne, Kumar’s playmate, is quite the opposite. When her mother prepares noodles, she insists on rice. When mum prepares rice, she’ll ask for bread. Her mum has become so frantic that she arranges special meals for Anne while the rest of the family has their regular meals.

Anne’s best friend, Laili, refuses to eat anything remotely green. She screams when she sees veggies on her plate, and throws tantrums when given green apples. Her mum has given up bribing the five-year-old with candies and toys to get her to eat her greens.

Do any of your children behave like Kumar, Anne or Laili when it’s time to eat? If they do, don’t worry. Eating can be a chore for many children between the ages of one and 10. In fact, 45% of children face one problem or another during mealtimes.

There are all sorts of reasons why children become selective eaters. It could be due to a lack of familiarity with food or insufficient food variety and/or quality. It may be because your children are distracted during mealtimes. Your children could also be asserting their new-found independence. Perhaps they’re frightened by some kinds of food.

Children often look up to their parents. Are you setting the right example for your kids in terms of food choices and mealtime habits? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you generally eat an unhealthy diet that’s high in fat and low in fibre?
  • Do you eat out more often than you eat in, as a family?
  • Do you snack in front of the TV instead of having a proper meal at the dining table?
  • Do you make negative comments about foods you dislike in front of your kids?
  • Do you have second or third helpings despite feeling full?
  • Do you habitually skip meals, especially breakfast?
As parents, you have a responsibility to teach your children good eating habits and about nutrition. It starts with you practising good habits yourself. Your children won’t perceive healthy eating to be a priority if it isn’t something they see you doing.

Understanding the basics

It’s important that you understand the basics of good nutrition yourself. Having sufficient knowledge about nutrition enables you to model the right habits and behaviour, and motivate your children to do the same. Not sure where to start? The Food Pyramid Guide is the most widely accepted reference on healthy eating. Read it and understand its key principles.

Regular family mealtimes

One simple and effective way to instil good eating habits in your kids is to start having meals together as a family. Eating together encourages your children to be more receptive to food and increases their food choices. They also learn portion control, since there’s only so much food placed on the table for everybody. Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere around the dining table.

Clean up your fridge

If your refrigerator is stocked with chips, fast foods, fizzy drinks and sweets, it’s time to rethink your food choices. Make a healthy statement by stocking on more fruits and vegetables. If you need snacks in the house, stock up on wholesome ones such as wholegrain crackers, wholemeal sandwiches, cereals, milk and yoghurt. Make these healthy snacks visible and easily accessible to your kids.

Everything in moderation

Watch your eating habits because your children are watching them too! The key principle here is to take everything in moderation, whether it is a sweet dessert or wine after dinner. Watch your portions and maintain a good variety in the types of foods that you eat.

Have fun being active

Good nutrition isn’t just about what or how much you eat. It’s also about being physically active. Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. The key is to have fun. Once your children see you living and enjoying the active lifestyle, they will follow suit.

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Mum’s the word

Datuk Dr G.K. Ananda Kumarasiri’s concern about the care of mothers has prompted him to write a book on it.

MOTHERCARE – there’s no such word – but Datuk Dr G.K. Ananda Kumarasiri coined it to illustrate a concept that he feels deeply about. His Mothercare and Parenting: Key to Social Structuring, is a hefty 506-page hardcover book, complete with illustrations and diagrams to help readers understand his philosophy.

Although Kumarasiri makes references to Buddhist teachings, he is quick to point out that spirituality (a strong foundation of the principles expounded in the book) can be derived from any religion or culture.

This former diplomat of 30 years (his posts included being High Commissioner to Nigeria and Asean director-general) took five years to complete the book. Kumarasiri has also written an extensive number of books under the Living Buddhism series.

Datuk Dr G.K. Ananda Kumarasiri: ‘Asian culture sees all mothers as sacred but we seem to be losing that respect.’
His Professional Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs Management: The Malaysian Experience, was self-published (as are his other books) in 1992 while he was still in service. It’s probably the first and only case study of diplomacy practised in Malaysia. Kumarasiri, 65, says that the rise of social ills and crime plaguing our society prompted him to write the book.

“Governments have failed to put into place a comprehensive policy or strategy to stem the tide, instead depending on ad hoc measures that have proven inadequate. We need to identify the cause and I believe the untrained and uncultured mind is to blame. Education is what separates us from animals. Unfortunately, our current education system only emphasises rote learning,” he adds.

“If we have not been trained as a child it will be hard to expect teachers to do anything. Teaching moral education in schools is too late. One has to go through an unlearning process first to get rid of all that negative input from the past. Parents also have to lead by example. If they expect their children not to drink or smoke, then they should not do so themselves.”

He notes that governments are not motivated to look at long-term strategies, as politicians are more worried about immediate results to impress their voters. Changes that will benefit the next generation and after their political life is over don’t figure in their plans.

For Kumarasiri, the process of learning (emotional, psychological and spiritual) should start at the foetal stage. He describes the mind of the foetus as tabula rosa – a blank slate which one can fill with positive data. The formative infant years are also very important. But he notes the reverse can hold true, as was Adolf Hitler’s devious plan to form a master race.

“Recently, (Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri) Najib (Tun Razak) was reported to have said that mothers should talk to their unborn child during pregnancy. You also have to provide a positive nurturing environment for both the foetus and the expectant mother. The concern so far has been physical growth, while the emotional, psychological and spiritual development have been neglected.”

Which brings us back to Kumarasiri’s definition of “mothercare”, which includes care and support (emotionally, psychologically and spiritually) not just for the expectant mother but throughout the woman’s entire maternal journey, from her husband and immediate family.

A key part of Mothercare is his view on discrimination of women.

“We are all born of women. That should rightfully stop one from discriminating against them. Asian culture sees all mothers as sacred but we seem to be losing that respect. In many ways, we still look down on women. Men continue to exploit them,” says Kumarasiri.

He hopes to inculcate two principles in parenting – unconditional love and filial piety. Kumarasiri stresses that both of these have to be shown and taught to a child.

The author readily concedes that he has made mistakes as a parent, too, out of ignorance, and has learnt through trial and error.

Kumarasiri is happy that his daughter (he has three children) has had the benefit of using the philosophy outlined in the book to raise her two children – “... my grandchildren are wonderful and a joy to behold.”

He feels gratified that the book, done in his own time and with his own resources, has received good response from various organisations around the world.

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Baby’s signals

Your child will let you know when he is ready to be weaned off the pacifier.

MY son is 10 months old and has been a good baby until recently. When he was three weeks old, I introduced him to the pacifier at bedtime. The pacifier would drop off after he fell asleep and I would keep it for the rest of the night. He did not need the pacifier for his afternoon naps.

Around three-and-a-half months, I started substituting his midnight feed with a pacifier. I also made it a habit to offer him the pacifier whenever he moves or fusses in bed.

Now I am tired and want to wean him off the pacifier. When I first started, he would wake up in the middle of the night and cry for me to carry him. I would do that for a while and then put him down to sleep. Sometimes this works, but most of the time, he refuses and insists that I rock him to sleep. He would wake up frequently in the night and expect to be carried.

Before I started weaning my son off his pacifier, he fell sick for two weeks. He was down with a fever and became very cranky. He has since developed the habit of wanting me nearby when he sleeps.

I am very concerned about this behaviour. How can I rectify this situation and yet wean him off his pacifier? My babysitter has advised me against weaning.

I have very high expectations. I always expect to train my child the right way from an early age. Please help. – Anxious mother

At 10 months, your son is developing many skills and gaining greater awareness of the world around him. As he acquires more skills, he will also develop feelings of insecurity. He will not be able to cope when there are changes in his routine and practices.

Your babysitter is right about not starting the weaning process too early. She may realise that changes in the routine can greatly upset your son’s sense of equilibrium during both the day and night.

Babies suck on either their thumb or the pacifier. They feel soothed when they do so. Some babies need to suck on something more than others.

For many children, it is natural to be weaned off the pacifier when they feel secure and loved.

If you want that to happen with your son, you must be prepared to offer him a more desirable substitute.

Instead of getting comfort from the pacifier during the night, you will have to carry him to comfort him and offer him the feeling of security. When there is a change in your child’s routine, he will need to seek his comfort from his caregiver.

The pacifier is really a temporary comfort for babies. It does not replace parents. When your baby is sick and feeling unsure, he needs picking up and holding. Putting the pacifier in his mouth will not satisfy his need for your nurturing. When you pick him up when he cries for you, you offer him greater comfort. Once he is reassured, he will cry less.

You may want to comfort him while he is in bed rather than pick him up all the time. Try singing softly to him or placing your hand gently on him. As time goes by, he may find it easier to fall asleep once he hears you call out to him. You may not have to pick him up at all but just be there when he needs you.

It is good that you have high expectations of parenting. But your expectations have to be based on your child’s needs and development. Observe your child carefully before you implement any new practice.

Your infant son is learning trust and building a bond with you as a caregiver and parent. It will be easier for both parent and child when the child’s needs are met.

An important part of parenting is to respond to your baby’s signals correctly. When you pay attention to his expressions and actions, you will be able to be more helpful. This way, he will learn to handle stressful situations better. Responding to your baby’s signals appropriately will show him how to interact with others in a positive manner.

The better you respond to your baby, the more he will be able to tell you what he needs and what he does not want. He will feel encouraged by your positive responses and reward you with more smiles than cries.

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Helping with homework

It’s necessary in the learning process, but homework doesn’t have to be a dreaded task.

ONCE your child enters school, even at kindergarten level, homework becomes the focus in the family. Parents worry that their children who do not do their homework will end up with disastrous results in school learning. Some educators believe that children who do homework as early as kindergarten do better in school.

Homework definitely has a place in children’s learning. At its best, it reinforces skill practice in reading, writing and maths without the teacher’s direct supervision. Children learn to develop independent study and organisation skills when doing their homework.

On the flip side, homework in the form of “drill work” can bring about behavioural problems in children in their primary grades. Many children overwhelmed by school demands and lack of rest throw temper tantrums out of frustration.

Here's a real example. An early primary grade child was given 15 pages of writing to complete and submit to the teacher the following day. She also had to complete homework in other subjects the same day. Failing to complete the assigned homework would make the teacher angry.

Homework should be the child’s work and not the parents’. But when it is too much for the child to manage, parents can step in with guidance and encouragement. If parents feel that the child has been given too much homework, they should bring it up with the teacher. Do not complain to your child. You may not be able to change the school policy on homework and undermining the teacher or the assignments can only make matters worse.

Here are a few dos and don’ts on how parents can help with homework:


  • Children need rest and food before they start on their homework. Organise the homework session at a time when both parent and child have had some rest and are not feeling hungry. If parents work late, the child should complete what she can independently and consult the parents with the rest when they are home.

  • Do not make your child sit and do homework for long periods of time. Take short breaks. You have to remember that children who have had a full day at school will be physically and mentally tired when they get home. Take it easy with the homework schedule.

  • Set up a homework timetable. Put the fun stuff in the schedule too. Your Year One child will look forward to these activities when she has finished her homework. Be flexible with the homework schedule. School subjects are scheduled on different days of the week. This means, when there is a heavy workload, your child can complete her task at a later time and not have to rush through every piece of homework in one sitting. Talk to the teacher if your child is having a hard time completing her homework.

  • Make your homework timetable eye-catching. If attractive menus work for customers in restaurants, I am sure your child will enjoy looking at her favourite cartoon characters or pop stars decorating her schedule and dread doing her homework less.

  • On days when your child does not have homework, you can still help her out with some revision, even if it is just for 20 minutes. Or you can read a book together or work out some maths puzzles. When she has a stretch of days without any homework, you can give her a day off as well.

  • When you are helping your child learn a subject, try to make it fun. Don’t make it a chore. She does not need extra worksheets from you when she has completed her schoolwork. If your child is learning English, do some role-playing so that shecan practise the language in a fun way. Sing songs or read her stories in English to enhance her learning.

  • Make sure your child has a comfortable and fun environment to do her homework. Keep distractions such as the TV or computer games away. Have some light refreshments ready for an occasional break. Good lighting and a cool atmosphere can help with your child’s concentration.

  • Children need praise and lots of understanding from their parents. No two children are alike in their speed in doing homework. Avoid comparing your children. Offer positive remarks to each child individually whenever you notice them putting effort into their work.

  • At exam time, children become nervous and tense because they worry that they will fail miserably and disappoint their parents. To lessen children’s anxiety, you may want to encourage them to learn different things to develop their skills. Children who are confident with learning skills tend to cope better in tests and exams.

  • Do not do your child’s homework for her. You may think that you are helping her but you are actually putting her at a disadvantage. She will be dependent on you to a certain extent. Her teachers will not know what she is having difficulty with and will not be able to help her when they cannot gauge her progress. You can help by going through her papers when she is done.

  • Do not punish your child if she makes mistakes in her homework or tests. Everyone makes mistakes. Trial and error is often the best way to learn. If you want her to learn, do not demand that she gets a perfect score. Do not call her “stupid” or “careless” when she makes mistakes that she shouldn’t. Children need a balance of work and play. It is up to parents to help organise this in their daily lives. You can schedule an hour or two for outdoor games and play so that your children can have some fun. More importantly, parents must get children to learn to take responsibility for their own tasks.

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