Tidying and untidying

I’ve lost an ipod nano. Actually I lost my visiting sister’s ipod nano, I used it at the gym, put it down when I came home and haven’t seen it since. She was here to see her little nephew for the first time and I suspect his little fingers have relocated it to some place we didn’t think it might be. Months later it might appear, but I’ve been compelled to buy her a new one.

Having little fingers in the house means a perpetual untidiness. They grab everything they can and relocate it. Books get emptied out of shelves, piles of CDs are stacked in the kitchen, and kitchen utensils are deposited all over the house. As if it’s part of his job in this household, Luka can be seen industriously moving things from one place to another. He has a determined look on his face as if he’s an office worker going about his business, and I suspect most other kids do the same.

I’ll be working away and he’ll come up and hand me a pile of papers he’s fished out of the waste basket, as if I really should have them. It’s sweet to see you child purposely handing you things, as if to say ‘here, you’ll be needing these’. I’m not sure whether to congratulate him (clapping hands) for finishing a task or scold him for creating a dreadful mess everywhere he goes.

This is the reality of having kids, especially if you’re habitually tidy like I am. The house becomes one unbearable mess of used clothes, diapers, toys, baby accessories, food, garbage and general items picked up from all over the place. Shoes are great one!  He loves putting on his mums high heels and clunking around the room looking ridiculous (apparently another tots favourite).

So, you can inconvenience your life by sealing up kitchen cupboards, putting almost everything out of reach, and making damned sure you’ve put valuables like ipods away safely instead of leaving them on the kitchen table, or you can perpetually tidy up after your tot. 

Things are sure to disappear, tea spoons run low because they’ve been surreptitiously deposited in the dustbin, books end up in the bath and so on…it’s a nightmare, I tell you. Inversely, garden tools show up in the toilet (he marched in with a rake twice his size the other day), dog food pellets are fished out of my wallet, and I discover business cards in his grasp when he’s nodded off!

On the other hand, he’s learnt where things go. When it’s bath time I help him undress and then he diligently carries the lot over to the laundry basket, sorts the clothes from the diaper, which is then deposited in the trash basket instead, clever chap eh!


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Trouble on two legs

pics-27707-175.jpgToday, in the space of a few hours, little Luka has managed to a) get an electric shock from playing around with a plug socket b) fall down some stairs and c) prod his finger into the fan at the back of a computer. Phew! He certainly knows how to find trouble.

This might sound like unobservant parents but it’s pretty normal for curious little tots. They’re a disaster looking for a place to happen. Forever gravitating naturally to dangerous things, as if they understand that forbidden places and items are somehow more fun. The more you tell them ‘no’ the more they want to see for themselves.

Keeping an eye on your little one is a full time, and tiresome job, and gradually you are going to have to learn to leave them to their own devices, checking in on them every few minutes. As they get older you begin to trust them to longer and longer periods tinkering by themselves.

Luka is at this stage. At 17 months old he’s quite confident and can amuse himself. You can’t spend the rest of your life worrying about your offspring so I’ve conscientiously allowed him more and more independence. But with that obviously comes a bit of judgement and, crucially, learning from each incident and ‘adventure’.

It started with secretly trailing him to see what he got up to and how close he might come to danger. Then I would watch him tackle something potentially hazardous just to see how far he would go and the consequences. If he started to climb into the pond I’d see if he could stand in it alone or recover if he fell over. Well, the pond has since been fenced off but it’s nice to know that he isn’t totally useless in recovering by himself.

Lately he’s taken quite a few knocks. He slips and falls and bangs his head, sometimes he cries but mostly he now just gets up and carries on. If anything it’s the bump to his pride that sets him off on a crying spree, and this is usually only when someone is there to witness it. He’s made a leap of confidence which all of us take with us through life as our comfort zone gradually increases. This I think is one of the really important elements I want to instil in him.

By contrast, his conservatively minded grandmother tends to be neurotic and highly strung about his movements, kicking up a constant drama at his every move. Well, he is unusually inquisitive and active, but with her minding him it’s a constant ‘awash, oooooohhh, noooooooo’. I try to discourage this, allowing him freedom to learn and develop his confidence, as it will be critical to his character in the future.

So, although we have plug sockets sealed, occasionally he’s going to pull out a plug and ‘get his little fingers in the way’, thankfully nothing serious occurred the first time. I didn’t intend for him to ‘test himself’ like that, but it’s useful information. There will be times when he slips through an accidentally open stairs gate – I’ve watched and ‘covered’ him dozens of times as he climbs and he’s always sure footed, but he did fall the other day and rolled down several stairs before luckily coming to a stop. He was in tears, but wasn’t badly hurt, it was just the shock really. 

Between the two of us, we’re building up a ‘confidence and boundary’ profile, of what we can and can’t get away with – always under dads’ discreetly watchful eye.

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Off to Play school

There comes a time in every tot’s little life, when it’s time to go and mingle with other tots. Some have the priviledge of staying at home with mum or a full time minder for a few years, others are sent off to a child care centre the moment mummy finishes maternity leave.

The baby books will tell you that babies generally don’t play with others their age until they are at least 18 months old. They need to interract with an adult who’s mind is developed enough to deal with them. Of course, there may be young siblings around them who they sort of interract with – but leave two of them alone together and they have difficulty actually playing with each other.

At this age tots are pre-occupied with the things around them (and yes the hair or nose or face of another baby becomes ‘things to grab’!) and rely on the input of intelligent adults to smooth the whole ‘growing up process’. At this stage they are still learning about themselves, with constant input or minding of their parents, close relatives or minder, so that they aren’t quite sure how to deal with another their age.

No doubt all parents have friends with babies the same age and have been delighted at the prospect of putting them together only to see them ignore each other. We excitedly threw a 1st birthday party for Luka, and about 10 babies under 18 months showed up, many almost his age. We sat him in the play pool with five other little girls and he wasn’t the least bit interested in them!

Anyway, getting to the point of the title, we finally decided it was time to send him to play school (at 16 months) since he was getting bored and restless at home with the same old toys and people. I work from home and he was becoming a pain, interrupting me and insisting I amuse him. Time for some proper play school activities. Besides (BIG NEWS) our second child is due in October so it was time, we thought, to get him out the house in good time.

Well, in short, he loved it. The first day we dropped him off he never looked back, excited at the new environment and the group of children playing around. It’s just a converted house full of play items, and the little ones of various ages amuse themselves all day under supervision. With children as old as three or four to ‘lead the gang’ he’s found himself among his first real pals and can tag along and join in.

Of course, by the second week he was experiencing separation anxiety and would be in tears when we dropped him off, but didn’t want to leave when we came to pick him up. The main thing is, he’s now learning to interract with other tots. The other evening we were out eating and there was a group of kids (between 16 months and 6 years) larking around and he excitedly made a bee-line for them and joined in their general energetic maelstrom. He seemed pleased to have the chance to hang out with people his own age.


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First words

There comes a point in your child’s development when they utter their first comprehensible words. It might be ‘dada’ or ‘mama’ or something they’ve heard often which resembles their basic ‘baby vocabulary’ like ‘bye bye’, but when they start uttering it more than a few times the proud parents beam with excitement!

My son Luka has been gabbling away since his first birthday, sometimes stringing along whole sentences of his own undecipherable language, complete with cadence and lilt. Sometimes it even sounds like he is singing to himself. But none of it makes sense to us but I’m quite sure he is trying to articulate his thoughts. Only lately (since 15 months) has he definitely been coming out with ‘dada’ – which like his buddy Kai (born two weeks ahead of him) refers to all sorts of things, such as dogs and food. He can reliably also say bye bye, along with with a hand wave, when you are leaving.

I think it’s probably difficult to say exactly when a baby starts to talk, no doubt it’s a gradual process, but there isn’t a single parent in the world who doesn’t proudly announce that their baby has begun uttering its first few words. In terms of development it’s one of those great milestones – the fact that we’re the only species to develop a communicable language. But certainly we don’t suddenly wake up one morning and start speaking a few proper words.

Like all babies I imagine my son’s use of words comes from endless repetitive words and phrases like ‘bath time’, ‘eat your food’, ‘don’t do that’ and ‘sleepy time’. And I make a point of trying to talk to him the whole time we are together – a kind of running commentary of what’s going on around us, usually repeating the nouns, so he can put images to words. ‘We’re rolling on the grass, on the grass, grass’. ‘Lets go and see that tree, wow this is a big tree, nice tree’ (he loves the garden). He usually has that attentive look of curiousity about him.

Well, these are things I read in several child development books, and it makes sense, but it does require effort and patience to talk ‘baby speak’ and repeat yourself with boring simple phrases. I also ask a lot of questions to get him interested in things. ‘Where are we going Luka?’. ‘Why are the dogs barking’. I try to make it educational rather than cute ‘gagga-speak’ that others tend to use when they come into contact with him.

Then there are the words he’s invented. Every kid has them. My sister came up with the word ‘diggy’ and has been nicknamed that ever since. For Luka it’s ‘inja’ and ‘bigum’. Soon you realise he uses them in specific situations. The other day he saw Oliver (one of the canine family members) crawl under the car, so he lent under it and rattled off a unhesitated and slick commentary that sounded exactly like ‘Oliver what on earth are you doing under there, I command you to come out immediately!’.

When you have your own child and the numerous opportunities to study their behavioural use of language (before you share a common vocabulary) you soon notice the small nuances, such as the tone, diction, pace and confidence that they rattle off ‘utterances’. It could be some thought that comes to mind and needs to be expressed – even when nothing happened (for instance leaning out the window into a still garden).

Now, in Luka’s case he’s learning two languages at the same time, English and Thai.
And herein lies a challenge, since the potential for confusion is increased. But there are millions of babies around the world that grow up successively learning two languages simultaneously. I read somewhere that they tend to develop slower at each language but ultimately end up bilingual. I also think they probably can recognise the subtle differences in tone, syntax and sound of the two, in much the same way as we can recognise French and German apart without actually speaking them.

To help Luka with his learning, his mum always speaks to him in Thai and I speak to him in English. But most his day is spent with this grandmother who only speaks Thai (and confuses the matter by speaking to him in the Northern dialect). Sometimes when I speak to him in front of his grandmother I have to use Thai so she understands what we’re going to do ‘ja pai dern pai maa’ (we’re going to walk the dogs now) or ‘welaa up-naam’ (it’s bath time). Usually I will then repeat it in English for him.  This is important I think, and I make extra effort to do things with him and talk about it as we go, so that he gets sufficient exposure to English at this early age.

Before long they’ll be gabbling away and we’ll wish they would just shut up!


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Learning routines

Since our baby was about six months old we got him to recognise and acknowledge the concept of ‘NO’. Of course the repetitive ‘no’ or stern ‘noooo’ sinks in, but I made a point of getting his attention and shaking my head. Before long he understood. By eight months old – at an age when he was asserting himself and trying to see how much he could cognitively get away with – he would respond by shaking his head in reply.

This must be one of the most delightful and rewarding aspects of our development process together. Think for a moment about this. I see he is going to, or has done something that I really discourage (especially if its dangerous) and interrupt his comfortable world of play-exploring to get serious. This gets his attention. ‘Luka’, I stearnly say, and wait for him to look at me. ‘No’, I instruct him, shaking my head and repeating myself. After a pause he vigourously shakes his head (never looks me in the eye) and moves onto something else.

He acknowledges its forbidden or ‘not good’ and moves on, not wanting to dwell on it. This I think is an important breakthrough and disciplinary action. I make him admit it’s wrong rather than constantly deny him things. Sometimes when he really doesn’t want to stop, or admit that he knows he shouldn’t have done it, he goes quiet, stares at the ground, holds out a little longer to see if he can get away with it, then vigourously shakes his head (still staring at the ground)! It’s as if he’s saying, ‘ok, I admit it was wrong, can we move on now, it’s no big deal. This is great, it’s an intelligent and cheeky response which I’m pleased with.

For an eight month old who is only just crawling I thought this was quite pleasing. He now uses it to signify to us he doesn’t want something, like his water or milk (though he’s also taken to pawing it away with his hand). Now he’s nearly 15 months old and we still communicate like this but we’ve augmented it with the positive recognition – hand clapping.

Before I go on, I must mention that from the outset I’ve tried not to be a ‘no dad’ – in other words a control freak who stops him at every step if there is the slightless chance of danger or mess. This is in stark contrast to his grandmother who minds him all day and has limited confidence in his safety due to a lack of knowledge. I think it’s better for his development to give him confidence to explore, to find out what fits where, what happens when you do this or that, what’s in here or there.

If it means he trashes your bookshelf, or keeps digging into your wallet and leaving the money strewn all over the floor, so what. As long as you use a little judgement. If he likes fiddling with the volume knobs on the stereo even if it’s near electrical plugs then I keep an eye on him and let him go ahead until he actually does find danger. I really do think this is an important aspect of how I intend to raise children. I want them to be adventurous, curious, confident to go ahead with trying new things out, seeing what happens, and learning by doing themselves.

This is counter to a typical Thai cultural trait to do as you’re told and follow the system. And living in Thailand I can see the shortcomings of a nation of people who’ve been through an education system that teaches you what to think rather than how to think. Classrooms full of kids learning by rote an obediently doing exactly as their told since the system gives none but the elders and power holds the priviledge of ‘knowing the way’.

So, back to the encouragement of figuring out and doing by yourself – which I believe is at the heart of child-learning. And since this blog entry is getting a bit long I’m going write a new entry for the positive routine of learning. The self-congratulatory ‘hand clap’…

Here he is taking a bath in the sink some months ago.


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Congratulating positive learning – clapping hands

Clapping hands is one of those clever little things parents teach their children to impress everyone and your child should be able to do this (with some repetitive encouragement) by 18 months old, if not sooner. Clapping hands is part of singing activities and mimicking of parents, but in our case its reserved (at this stage) for self congratulations when something right or challenging has been achieved.

We taught Luka to clap his hands when he had completed a task that was worth doing. We would clap, as a sign that he had done well, and soon he caught on and tried it himself – babies love trying to mimic their parents to get recognition. Now he does it out of habit to signify he has successfully completed the task, no matter how simple it is.

It all started with the piggy bank routine. Noting how he like to insert things into each other, like phone charger jacks, plugs and so on, we made a simple piggy bank and hung it from a cupboard in the office. He likes seeking out coins – usually by raiding my wallet, so we taught him to start saving his pocket money by depositing the coins through the slot. He liked this one, and now he makes a bee-line for the hanging piggy bank everytime he finds a coin. In fact it’s gotten out of hand because he knows (at 16 months) where the wallet is kept in the office draw and frequently fishes it out, finds the coins and then waddles over to deposit them in his piggy bank.

When the penny dropped (no pun intended) we would clap hands as if to say ‘well done, you’re saving money’ – so he learnt to clap too, and every time he manages to get the coin into the slot (which is still quite an exercise in dexterity for him) he then claps his hands upon hearing the crunch of coin on the pile of nickel. Scarcely a penny is deposited without him grinning and clapping his hands as if to say ‘right, job done’.

Of course we have gotten him to extend this to other important co-ordination/learning tasks like shape shorters, which he’s still getting the hang of. When he finally figures out where the crescent block goes and gets it correctly positioned (often with a little guidance from dad), he laughs and claps. We clap to, just to remind him.

So, clap, clap, clap. Soon he is clapping at all sorts of things. Handing is dad the mobile phone which he’s picked up because it was ringing. Successfully putting a spoonful of food into his mouth with his own hands. Turning off the fan when I ask him, or inserting the car keys into the lock when we have a chance. These all get a hand clap. And whenever there is a chance to let him do the task, I let him, for he loves to be involved and feel important. And he loves to get a clap.

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Technical matters

 So, thanks to some server problems, we managed to have a brief outage of the blog recently. Thankfully the impact was minimal and we lost just one posting that I had made on our challenges trying to find a suitable push-chair to upgrade to.

I just wanted to apologise to anyone who has experienced problems trying to access the blog during these issues. If anyone is particularly interested, I can re-hash it for publication or I can provide my thoughts on request!

I hope that readers of this blog are finding the postings of use. We’re really trying to build the site into a useful resource for dads wanting to share their experiences with other dads and hopefully for new fathers to pick up some tips and ideas too.

We’ve now moved the blog to a highly respected blog service (wordpress.com) and hopefully that’ll be the end of the issues.

If you’d like to get involved, please feel free to leave some comments on the blog, or join the forum. 

And, don’t forget, the Market Harborough dads meet up in person regularly too!


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