Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Refining those fine motor skills

Now that B is walking and occasionally running more confidently, it's time to refocus on his fine motor skills.  I've noticed that boys tend to be slower than girls in this age group to master certain tasks... B expresses interest in doing these things, but when he’s stuck, he gets frustrated quite easily and just swipes or throws it away.  Perhaps we can incorporate more intentional fine motor skill practice throughout the day, either through daily routines or short “games." 

Some ideas:
1) Filling up, dumping out and scooping:
Prepare for this stage by setting up play areas and offering manageable activities. Taking blocks out of a large box, pegs out of a pegboard, toys out of a trunk, and sturdy puzzle pieces out of a puzzle. Once he has the "taking out" step down, it's time for the "putting in" step. Some of the above tasks can be reversed (although you may not be able to generate much enthusiasm for putting toys away) and will flex your child's visual and mental muscles as well as fine motor skills. For a follow-up, encourage your little one to try a more challenging feat, such as dropping "O" cereal bits or beans into a smaller container/with a slightly narrowed neck, or using a shape-sorter. This is the precursor to self feeding.  Use a deep, short spoon that easily fits in a tot's hand. Practice with yogurt, cereal or beans when there's time (and energy) to clean up.  Be prepared to help a little (or a lot....)

2) Dressing and undressing 
Putting things on and taking them off is a toddler delight.  Dressing and undressing — himself or a toy — provides a host of opportunities for him to practice his finger and hand coordination. Tiny doll clothes are too intricate but big capes or ponchos for his teddy bears, felt boards with people shapes and changeable outfits are perfect. Reusable stickers can also fascinate, though very small ones are tough for little fingers to manage. Provide a big box of dress-up clothes that are easy to manage — Dad's old coat and shoes, your old scarves, and hats galore. When it comes to dressing himself for the day, your toddler will do best with pants that have elastic waists, pull-on tops, and Velcro-fastening shoes to minimize morning struggles. Be sure to introduce new challenges — a single large button or a big snap — one at a time.

3) Drawing and scribbling
Sometime between the ages of 12 and 18 months, your toddler will probably attempt to "write" by making marks on paper or with crayons, and sometime between 18 and 24 months she may surprise you by drawing vertical and horizontal lines and perhaps a circle. Set up your budding artist with big sheets of thick paper taped to the table. Thick, sturdy crayons or washable pens in a few primary colors (so as not to overwhelm) are a good choice. Chunky sidewalk chalk to use outdoors, paper pinned to an easel instead of a flat surface, or soap crayons in the tub, finger-painting and printing (hand- and footprints, brush leaves, acorns, carrot-tops, or flower petals with paint to use as homemade stamps)

4) Stacking, sorting and stringing
From carefully balancing one block on top of another to placing colored rings on a pole, stacking (and knocking down, of course) is a toddler tradition. Let your child experiment with blocks of different sizes, shapes, and colors, and offer a variety of other materials for building and manipulating. Though ABCs and 1-2-3s games are a ways off, your toddler can sort refrigerator alphabet magnets by color or size or string beads with plastic snap-together beads. Once he’s mastered those, offer a thick shoelace and a piece of felt with holes cut in it or a sturdy string and big wooden beads, colored pasta shapes or fruit rings.

5) Poking and pinching
Toddlers are sensualists above all else — they love to smell, taste, and touch. Nontoxic modeling clay invites hand and finger movement as your child rolls, shapes, punches, and molds the material to her liking. A few simple tools, such as a lightweight rolling pin and some plastic cookie cutters, stretch this activity out longer. The softer the dough, the easier it is for small hands to shape. Real edible dough is, of course, the ultimate treat or “gak” - the gooey preschool favorite made from equal parts white glue (or flour, colored with food colouring) and water , which kids just love to squish and squeeze. If there's opportunity outside, a mud pie kitchen or a sandcastle construction zone creates opportunities to use those same manipulative skills. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

To boldly go where I've not gone before

While 2012 brought along the most unexpected blessing (leaving my job to be a full time mom), 2013 is shaping up to be the year of big new enterprises.  The biggest is project #2.  We've been actively trying again since my periods returned to "normal" after I stopped breastfeeding, sometime around B's 11th month.  I'm glad I began this blog when I first discovered #1 because it's like I'm starting the process all over again. Hopefully I'll be better and wiser, despite feeling older and more tired ;(

Here's my early pregnancy checklist:
  1. The egg is usually fertilised within 12 - 24 hours of ovulation.  Once you've conceived, the embryo produces hCG after implantation (not before)
  2. Pregnancy symptoms may show around 7-10 days post ovulation. 
  3. WAIT before testing. Given my notoriously inconsistent monthly cycles, waiting till the week after my period is due spares the disappointment and $$$ (good tests ain't cheap).  Rule of thumb: At least wait 2 weeks till after you've done the deed, assuming you timed it right!
  4. Test with your first morning urine for a higher concentration of hCG. Don't drink beforehand
  5. Nauseous?   Sense of smell is heightened, taste of blood in saliva
  6. Peeing alot?  hCG signals the blood supply to increase in the pelvic area, irritating the bladder so you pee frequently, but in small amounts
  7. Fatigue? Increased metabolism to support your developing baby compounding by the sedating effect of progesterone.  Don't fight it -- unless of course, you have an active, demanding toddler.  I'm looking at you B--
  8. Cramping? As the foetus grows and pushes against the walls of your uterus
  9. Spotting? 8-10 days after ovulation (just before you would normally get your period) you may notice light spotting, which is caused from the implantation of the embryo into your uterus lining. The spotting is usually pinkish in colour and not red like a normal period
  10. Stuffy nose, colds and flu? Your immune system is suppressed and prevented from attacking and rejecting the foetus as if it were an foreign object by hormones and antibodies the foetus produces. The antibodies also take part in the growth and development of the placenta. As a result of these hormonal changes to your immune system, you are more susceptible  
  11. Pimples!  You may get them in early pregnancy but will most likely settle down fairly quickly after your hormone levels stabilise
  12. Breast changes?  Nipples may be tender, sensitive and deepen in colour, breast may be sore and / or lumpy, veins become more noticeable and enlarged, areolas may darken and the little bumps (Montgomery’s Tubercles) may increase and / or enlarge
  13. Constipation?  Increased hormones make your intestines more relaxed  
  14. Cravings?  It is believed from some evidence that the body is craving vitamins and minerals it is deficient in.   If you are not yet taking pregnancy multivitamins, it might be a good time to start. 
  15. Changes in vagina?  Due to the increased level of blood in the pelvic region, you may find your vagina will appear more purplish than normal

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What's past is prologue

Since B is now a toddler, I borrowed some parenting books to help prepare me for toddlerhood :). After all, "a mind once stretched to a new idea never returns to its original size." (Oliver Wendell Holmes)

In "Happiest Toddler On The Block," Harvey Karp's approach seems directly opposite to Doman's "all babies are geniuses" POV.  Karp's prehistoric parenting premise basically matches the four toddler development stages against 5 million years of evolution, i.e. ORP = ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny:
  1. Charming chimp child (12-18 mos) - Wobbles around on two legs, grabs everything in reach, nonstop monkey say monkey do. Walking, pointing, pinching and grabbing, manipulating tools to explore (banging, mouthing, stacking), twisting and swiveling wrists. Gestures, uses own words, mimics words/actions/ expressions learned from parents. Signing helps.  
  2. Knee high Neanderthal (18-24 mos) - Strong willed, fun loving messy. Should be able to understand and communicate 20-30 words, esp. "No" and "Mine." Fascinated by small animals. Aping. Faster, jumping, throwing, hitting, gripping, scribbling and stringing words.  On the flip side, they are emotional yo-yos, no off switch, hard to change gears, prone to ADHD, but can learn orderliness, sorting and stacking (an area Montessori experts emphasise) 
  3. Clever cave kid (2-3 years) - Just beginning to learn how to share, make friends, take turns, use the potty
  4. Versatile villager (3-4 years) - Loves to read/tell stories, sing songs, dance ... while trying to behave :D
In tots, the right brain is stronger - this is where most experts agree (Doman, Karp). Hence, emotion and aggressive impulses dominate (Note: The right controls the left side which is responsible for details, organization, and in turn controls the right side). Prehistoric parenting involves being an ambassador to the Stone Age and engaging their right brain.  How do we do that?   How do we speak "toddlerese"?
  • Don't talk to/at them!  Fast Food Rule = Repeat, then get your message across
  • Balance big and small praise. Compliment action not child. Never spoil praise. 
    • A child is fed on praise and milk (Poetry for Children. Charles and Mary Lamb. 1809)
    • Up to 2 years: Enthusiastic, applause, big grins. Some check if you're watching (like B!) 
    • 2-4 years. Understated, change of tone, whispered praises
    • It takes 5 words of praise to cancel a single word of criticism
    • Side door message: Gossip aloud (stuffed animals, imaginary friends), 3rd party story (Santa, fairies, magic), reverse psychology (Opposites, "don't brush your teeth" - haha)
  • Respect and rewards to encourage good behaviour
    • Nothing can be done without hope and confidence (Helen Keller)
    • Ask for your tot's help, offer consistent speedy responses, let him decide in small things  (give 2 options, let him choose)
    • Play the boob. Once in while, be incompetent, clumsy, blind, weak, easily hurt, a baby like him, wrong, easily outwitted, arrogantly incorrect, a pushover, absurd, forgetful.... everyone loves bloopers!  
    • Encourage patience, delayed gratification 
Daily routine and play are proof of your love and make him want to cooperate:
  • Actively employ time-ins, a pleasurable time that you spend each day with him. Soothing routines include:
    •  Loveys or blankies (portable routines), affirmation, outdoor and creative play, reading  
    • Massage is love which is one unique breath, breathing in two (Frederick Leboyer)
    • Breathing exercises works best around 30 mos. Do them in the same time, same place, several times a week (if not every day). Begin before a nap or early evening when he's relaxed. 
    • Special time involves setting aside DEDICATED bonus time 2-3x/day with your tot doing any activity he wants. Announce it, set a timer, do it approx the same time every day
  • Laughter stimulates the immune system and erases the effects of stress  
  • Sucking is a comforting ritual and totally normal
Spare the (rod) discipline, spoil the child 
  • Your tot's job is to push the limits. Yours is to respectfully enforce them
    • This is how tots explore and discover the world around them
    • They are inherently impulsive, self centered and short sighted
    • Our rules can be confusing, sometimes unrealistic ==> set appropriate expectations and limits we can actually enforce 
    • We sometimes accidentally encourage bad behaviour (i.e. when they cry, we respond!)
    • Keep statements brief and positive.  Too many words work against you. 
    • Be consistent and creative.  E.g. sandwiching ("let's read, then we can have a race to see who picks up the most toys, then we have a snack!")
    • No mixed messages. Don't smile when you're serious 
  • Good tots can sometimes act "bad"
  • Use distraction and battering to get cooperation.
  • Punishments if necessary:  Ignore, remove privileges, time out (make sure you're calm and somewhat removed -- don't say much, done the same way, don't wait too long) 
Boulders that trip up tots:
  • Tantrums: First appear 12-15 months when emotions run high and self control is low
  • Public meltdowns: Outbursts where there's an audience have to be tamed.  
    • Use toddlerese and then offer a detour (compromise or distraction)
    • Else, count to 3, remove him from the scene and have a time out
  • Sleep problems: Overtired and overstimulated. Sleep training needed! 18 month regression   
  • Biting: Nip it.  Respond to hunger and teething, ensure there's sufficient outdoor play, use side-door messages to explain the rule, minimise conflict opportunities around other kids 

Secrets of the toddler whisperer

Tracy Hogg's book was full of gentle yet sound parenting advice. I liked her approach, fun acronyms and practical examples on how to manage those tricky toddler years. She's not an advocate of spanking - I'm not sure where I stand on this yet as it's quite a change for those who were raised with Asian parents/homes.

Everyday H.E.L.P with tots:
Hold Back.  For the purposes of observation, which is not the same as being detached, rejecting or ignoring your toddler
Encourage to Explore.  Ensure there are many opportunities a day for exploration, including let him play quietly with another child, try to solve puzzles or stack blocks on his own.  Don't constantly direct, monitor and instruct.
Live with Limits. Too much of anything is usually not good. Don't give too many choices, allow too much stimulation or participation in non-age appropriate activities.  Don't wait too long before reining in tantrums, aggressiveness or other high emotions.  Curtail activities that aren't good in big doses e.g. sweets, TV.
Praise Appropriately. Praise to reinforce specific acts of cooperation, kindness or behaviour

Routines and Rituals (R&R) continue to be important, perhaps even more so at this age. It provides security, cuts down on struggles, helps tots deal with separation, supports all kinds of learning - physical, emotional control, social behaviour, avoids problems by helping parents set clear consistent boundaries, allows everyone to slow down and connect.  Tailor R&R to your family -- starting with waking, eating, bathing, exits and entrances, clean up, nap and bedtimes.  Everytime you repeat and reinforce an act, you are doing R&R -- for better or worse!

H.E.L.P also applies to potty training which should begin between 18 mos - 2 years.
Hold back until you see signs he's ready. E.g. Some stop dead in their tracks, stand still, focus and suddenly move on.
Encourage him to connect bodily function with words and actions. Narrate what's going on when you change the diaper, invest in a freestanding potty and his fave toy "go to the bathroom"
Limit his time on the potty. No more than 2-3 minutes
Praise widely when something is deposited!

4Ps aren't limited to Marketing either ;)  They're also critical to potty training success:
Potty - one that fits his size and pants/panties once they go on the potty at least 3x/ day
Patience - never rush the process or look disappointed when he doesn't pee or poop or causes an accident. All kids progress at their own speed
Practice - as much as he can
Presence - sit with him and cheer him own

The rate of language development is determined by exposure to language and interaction with talkers (constant conversation, eye contact), gender (girls tend to talk earlier), other developmental gains taking precedence (esp. walking, manual/social growth, etc.), birth order (younger tends to talk later) and genetic disposition. Also setbacks may occur if there's a sudden change in the home (new baby, mom goes back to work, relocation, etc.). A different sort of TLC also applies during these critical years: Talk, Listen, Clarify. Pay attention to non-verbal and verbal signals. Look him in the eye when you talk/listen. Talk in short, simple sentences. Ask simple, direct questions to allow him to express himself.  Play word games to foster interaction, practice and learning. Exercise restrain and patience.

Common speech milestones and red flags by age below.
8-12 mos: Can speak and associate mama and dada.  Respond to 1-step commands ("Please give the car to mama").  Watch if: child doesn't respond to her name, babble (long/short groups of sounds), doesn't look when people talk to her, doesn't point or makes sounds to get what he wants

12-18 mos: Says first words: simple nouns ("dog," "baby"), names of special people, action words/phrases ("up," "go"). May follow 1 or 2-step commands ("Go into your room and get the towel"). Watch if: child doesn't say a word or two, even unclearly

18-24 mos: Says up to 10 different words, understands 30 or more. Speaks lots of gibberish :) Watch if: Child can't say more than a few words clearly, follow simple requests ("come here") or respond to simple questions with a "yes" or "no"

2-3 years: Has a word for everything! Combines words into sentences to express thoughts and feelings. Extensive vocab even though grammar isn't perfect. Can converse with adult. Watch if: Child uses fewer than 50 words and has no word combinations. Can't understand opposities/different meanings ("up/down") or follow 2-step commands. Doesn't notice or overacts to environmental sounds, e.g. horn

Last but not least, it's important to teach your tot self control. I thought Hogg's approach here was a little wishful thinking so one possible application would be to first try Karp's prehistoric parenting where parents speak (not act) like the little Neanderthal to get their attention and show empathy, and THEN try Hogg's suggestion of conscious discipline and offering choices through statements and questions. Rather than resort to demands/threats which (admit it!) come immediately to our minds, do/say if he's:
- Overstimulated and/or running inappropriately/too much.  Stop/restrain him, pick him up and remove from the activity if needed. "I see.... Let's take a walk outside. You can't keep running here. We'll leave once you've put your socks/shoes on."
- Throwing a tantrum in public for something he wants but can't/shouldn't have. Ignore it. "Wow, that's impressive. But you still can't have it.  Do you want to come over here by yourself or shall I get you?"
If that doesn't work, remove him. "You can't behave like this here."
- Refuses to cooperate while dressing or diaper changing. Stop, wait a while/calm him down, try again. "When you're ready, we'll dress up. Shall we change your diaper now or after you finish this snack?"
- Shouts, lower your own voice. "Let's use our quiet voice"
- Whines, look him in the eye and imitate a best (non-whiny) noise. "I can't hear you unless you use your best voice"
- Kicks/hits when you pick him up, put him down immediately.  "Do not hit/kick. It hurts."
- Grabs another toy from a kid. Stand up, go near and encourage him to give it back. "If you can't let go of M's toy, I can help you... M was playing with that. You should give it back to him. Thank you -- what good cooperation. Now would you like to hold/play with this?"
- Throws food.  Take him down from the chair.  "We don't throw food at the table." If he doesn't want to finish/wants to go out.  "When you've finished eating, then we can go to the playground."
- Pulls another child's hair/hits another child. Put your hand on his hand, stroke gently. Restrain him or take him outside if agitated.  "Be gentle. No pulling, no hitting. That hurts!" Worse case: Go home.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ring out the old, ring in the new

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Alfred Tennyson