Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Sound of Silence

Ah.. the television. A source of tension among many families and friends. The subject of TV and children always seems to do just that; after all everyone has their own idea of just how educational a television can be to the developing child. My view is probably the same that you'll hear from anyone in the developmental science profession. I personally don't see the purpose of allowing children to watch TV before the age of two. Oh, yes, did you hear a few gasps? There are always a couple and I've even gotten lectures on how I am depriving my child. I find it very interesting how strong some people feel about the television; so strongly that they have to tell me for 5 minutes or more how strange and  controlling it is for me to not have the television on for my child--who is not even a year old yet. Come on...really? It makes me wonder why certain people feel such strong emotions towards this considering that my son is thriving, hitting all his milestones and certainly gives no indication that he is missing out on anything. Believe it or not my son likes interacting with me and when I'm not able to engage, he enjoys the sound of silence where he can read a book, explore objects or even just watch in fascination at what I am doing; and yes, this is in silence.

Silence is actually one of those really cheap developmental enhancers that you can expose your child to. How you may ask? Well, it is simple. Television as we know is stimulating. It is fun to look at and attracts a child's attention. Too much of it however can have a negative effect on certain children, especially those that may be prone to have a short attention span. If a child gets accustomed to a stimulus, he will tend to prefer that over another. In many ways some parents unintentionally train their children to be this way; for example, if an emotional child is often offered the television as a distraction when he is upset, he may become to depend on such a stimulus to soothe himself. The item of course doesn't have to be a TV: we use pacifiers, a favourite toy etc. to help calm children and all of these items can be challenging to break away from. The television when used in excess however can have long term effects- again to certain children. On going TV usage creates a stimulating environment where the child now feels comfortable. Often if these children are offered the opportunity to sit in silence, they become bored or perhaps over anxious. They have adapted to always having something visually appealing and may have a difficult time relying on other senses to navigate them. Sometimes such children become destructive when encountered with silence. They may throw things or get into things that are messy to create something that appeals to them. These things are all great as long as they are channeled properly. Throwing a pillow or a ball is fine or making a nice finger painting mess is wonderful. Throwing daddy's phone or writing on the walls with crayons however would not be as nice! If this is your child, it is not too late to 'train' them to appreciate all that a low-key enviornment has to offer. If your child finds it difficult, play soft music in the background. Classical music is great and baroque music has shown to be beneficial to cognitive development in infants. Why not allow them to create their own stimulus? Offer musical instruments where they can sit and experiment with rhythm and various sounds. Doing this in a quiet environment creates an opportunity to listen to a single note in its purest form, uninfluenced by any other accompanying sounds. Perhaps your child will find they have an interest in music.

There are also so many other wonderful activities that are great for quiet play; puzzles, blocks, cutting along lines, drawing, reading. If you select any fine motor activity, you'll most likely have a winner and many cognitive/problem-solving activities are best performed in an enviornment where the thinking process is not disturbed.

We all parent in our own unique ways. Some things of course can be overkill; which results in issues for the parent and child. All innate objects can be used as a positive or as a negative. It is all about timing and purpose. The TV is one of those objects I often see during consultations with parents or even in child care centres (another gasp, please! Yes, I do visit places labelled as 'early learning centres' where the TV is turned on for numerous hours of the day) where then it has become something negative; either a source of over-stimulation or used as a babysitter or as a bribe.

I am very proud of Lachlan as he can sit for a long time preoccupied with reading or problem-solving. Friends often comment on how great it is that he can be so content in his own world. Can I say that it is because of a lack of TV? I can not. You could find a child who loves television that can do the same thing. Perhaps no exposure to television allows him to achieve this process for longer durations. Who knows. I just know that the television isn't offering him anything more interesting than what he has around him and we both aren't complaining about that. I do know that he would prefer to watch me read to him or perform finger plays, over the television. I know this because we have tested it out and he chooses person to person interaction over a digital image which makes both of us happy. I certainly am not a TV Nazi, I don't go around judging people because they let their infants watch TV. If I did that I would probably have few friends! I realise many people allow their children to do this. We are all free to parent in whichever way we choose. My friends know how I feel about TV in infancy and I would hope that they don't judge me or label me as a certain type of parent. Even so, who cares as long as you are at ease with what you do. If you are someone who feels guilty when they plop bub in front of the boob-tube, then perhaps you need to question why you feel guilty and then go from there. This might be a likely emotion for a parent that uses the TV excessively, whereas not for a parent who turns it on in moderation.

If you are an avid TV watcher, then there are a few things that you can take into account to ensure your child is receiving maximum benefits. The first thing is to examine the content. Is it age appropriate and offering anything of educational value? Secondly, sit down and watch the program with your child. This is actually how the majority of educational TV programming is meant to be viewed. Interact with your child while you are watching. If it is a program such as Sesame Street or Playschool, play off of the topic discussed and repeat the questions that the characters ask on the show. Engage with your child to ensure that they do take something away; this also shows them that the TV has a positive purpose, it is not just an 'escape.' When the program is over, talk about what you watched and see if you can find something that your child was particularly interested in. Expand upon that interest and create your own activity at home which will coincide with what they just learned. Lastly, limit TV viewing to a moderate level and avoid using it as a reward or bribe, doing this only makes the TV more appealing. (The same is true for eliminating TV all together. I have seen cases of children over the age of two actually sneaking in the middle of the night to watch... and we all know the types of programs on at that hour and I'm not talking about informercials!) I personally think 30 minutes of TV viewing in one day  for a toddler is more than enough.

Finding a balance is key and just remember that there is nothing greater than the dynamic between parent and child. If you use TV because you are out of activities to do with your child, there are a lot of websites such as this one that can give you some tips. Check out your local library or a teachers resource centre for books on age appropriate activities that will engage your child. Just remember that YOU are the best entertainment for your child!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Year of the Tiger

Happy New Year, everyone! Well, it certainly looks like a happy one for us. We just experienced our first little Chinese New Year's celebration. Today Lachlan and I hung up our red lanterns around the house which he has been quite fascinated with ever since. We also made his grandparents and great auntie New Year cards signed with a little red Lachlan hand print. It was also Lachlan's first experience with crayons. He scribbled a nice design on the front colouring sheet, taking his own creative license, of course. Next the moment came that I had been looking forward to all week; the donning of his Chinese outfit. My husband and I picked it out the last time we were in Chinatown in San Francisco. We couldn't resist when we saw the traditional shirt and pants, so small on a little hanger hanging up in the overcrowded Chinese shop. We 'umed' and 'erred' about whether to buy it but all it took was the lady at the shop telling us how adorable our little prince would look in it and we were sold. The lady was right, he did look adorable in it and he was so excited buy his new getup when I first put it on him. I carefully slipped the silky loops over the knotted buttons on the shirt and stared down at Lachlan who gave me a huge toothy smile. It was if he knew it was a special outfit for a special day. I picked him up from my bed and held him in front of the mirror. He looked at his attire and looked at my bright red Chinese shirt and began to give a little chuckle while kicking his legs. He approved.

Off to grandma and grandpa's we went. The car ride was long with a lot of stand still traffic but my little man was sitting happy and content in the back seat sporting his new clothes. He looked like Chinese Dynasty sitting on his throne all buckled up in the back seat. Of course I was his chauffeur, providing live entertainment. Mostly 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm.' Our car radio isn't working at the moment which leaves a very, very long car ride.

When we got to grandma's Lachlan was greeted by his grandparents, daddy, who met us there from work and also his Uncle. Grandma and Grandpa, affectionately known as Ba and Ong, and his uncle presented Lachlan with his first red envelopes. He didn't seem to be too interested in them, but one day he'll understand what is inside them and I think he'll be a lot more excited. He definitely hit the jackpot. I think he's going to have a lot of good luck this year! For those of you who are not familiar with the Chinese New Year tradition, (also known as the Lunar New Year), it is customary for adults to give children red envelopes with money in them. The envelopes are red because red represents good luck and also is suppose to scare away evil spirits. The amount of money in the envelopes is also traditionally an even number and is never in groups of four as these represent bad luck.

There is a lot to learn about Vietnamese tradition if you aren't familiar with it. It has been a really interesting and fun learning experience for me; one of the many benefits of being in a bi-racial marriage; you learn so much about the other person's culture that you grow to respect the customs and appreciate the history behind them. It is one advantage that Lachlan will have; he will be exposed the thought process of both the Eastern and Western world and hopefully form a respect and understanding for both. How lovely would it be if more children were raised this way? Perhaps they would turn into adults who have a less critical eye and are not as hasty in judging people by the colour of their skin or the sound of their last name. Ah, what a wonderful world that would be. :-)

I should also add that this year is the Year of the Tiger. We have a houseful of species here. Lachlan is an Ox. I am a Monkey and my husband is a Rat, a cute and sweet rat though! Also hy husband's great aunt recommends for Monkeys like myself not to have a baby this year as Tigers and Monkeys do not get along...there's one more thing to worry about for you! ;-)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Book Worm

I can't believe it. Our little man is 11 months old. Only another month and he will have finished the first year in his life's journey. Time goes by so quickly; ever week it seems like he has tackled some sort of milestone. I can hardly remember those pre-crawling days. He's a busy little beaver, all over the place keeping mom on her toes. Although Lachlan is enjoying his new role as a 'mover,' he is still very much the 'observer.' He is a ball of energy but he will certainly stop and smell the roses if something catches his eye; there he can sit for quite a while fascinated by some intricate little detail that I would take for granted. If it is a book, he could sit there for ages flip through the pages and then starting all over again. Though it doesn't take him long to habituate to a page, he is certainly happy to read the book forward to back and then back to forward. If it is a texture book, he will remember where to feel on every page and do so, even if he only cares to do it for a millisecond, he won't forget before turning to the next page!

Lachlan still very much enjoys touch and feel books but his new fascination is in the world of 'flip the flap' books. The first one I bought him was a tiny Christmas board book full of lots of flapping fun in search for Santa. Christmas has come and gone but the book is still in commission. I've been very surprised with how gentle Lachlan has been with the book. I figured the flaps would have been torn out by now but they are all still in tact. He very gingerly pulls the flaps forward and back, we'll see how long that lasts!

Since I have noticed he really enjoys the flip books, we have upgraded our home library collection with a few new flip-flap additions. I've noticed that Lachlan generally stays intrigued with the same book for about two weeks. After that he tends to move on to something else. I typically leave out 3 or 4 books for him to choose from in his main play area. He also has another in his room and in ours...also two for bath-time and more in my office. My son is obsessed with books, what can I say! Out of those, there is usually one or two that he seems to gravitate towards the most. After two weeks are up, I swap out the books for a new set, but leave a book that he still seems to want to explore more. I mentioned in previous blogs how important repetition is for children. The same rule carries on to literacy. Children will learn in their own time and at their own pace so it is best to give them this space and opportunity. There are certain times in a child's development when we are meant to be just mere observers, offering only guidance and resources when needed. The rest is up to the child. Children are pretty darn good at setting their own pace and there is very little we can do to make them speed through a developmental process; but why would we want to do that anyway? Learning is a process and each step, no matter how small it may seem, is really a significant one. I've seen on many occasions where children have been reading a book over and over again, as Lachlan does and caregivers have stepped in and said, "You must be sick of that book. He's another one," while taking the other away. This is a very unwise decision because the caregiver has just disrupted a very important part of learning. Who knows what the child is thinking during the moments of repetitively turning pages; perhaps his brain is making new connections for the first time or exercising pathways that were made only yesterday. These are the moments when we as parents need to just stand back, watch and believe that baby knows best!

Tracking Lachlan's language and literacy development has been so much fun for me. Perhaps it reminds me of all those good 'ol research days back in college. Whatever the case is, I love it and it means so much more when the subject of observation is my precious son. I could literally watch him all day, studying his every move...perhaps I better get a grip before he enters college. Think that might be seen as creepy?