My Journey as a Working Mother: From One Mamma to Another

They say a mother is born when her child is born. Motherhood can be a journey of varied emotions – love, protection, anxiety, frustration and guilt. With more mothers balancing work at home as well as in society, the dynamics of motherhood as well as parenting are changing tremendously.

So, we approached a wonderfully compassionate, working Mamma of a four year old to share with us the joys and learnings of her parenting journey.

Hi Dhivyaa, tell us about yourself and your family.

Hi, I am Dhivyaa Naveen Kumar, a working mother. I moved to Basel, Switzerland in 2012 soon after my marriage and my husband and I have a 3.5 year old daughter named Mila.

Can you share your birthing experience with us?

I actually had a very trying birthing experience; it was not very pleasant. During pregnancy, I had hyperemesis gravidarum which is a case of excessive nausea and vomiting. This lasted my entire first trimester and I couldn’t keep even water down. This led to excessive weight loss and I was on infusions during this period. Eventually, things got better in the second trimester. I went to work until the end of 36 weeks gestation and went on maternity break when my doctor advised me to do so.

During labour, after almost 24 hours, just as I was pushing, my daughter got stuck. Although the doctors tried hard for a normal birth, they had to eventually go for an emergency cesarean section. This led to a lot of physical and emotional pain before, during and after my daughter’s birth.

How soon after Mila did you get back to work?

We had only 12 weeks of paid maternity leave in Switzerland. As a new mother, this naturally increased my anxiety and I had symptoms of postpartum depression; thankfully I was not on any medication. The only medicine for me was my child. I kept admiring her smile and holding her against my skin. Skin-skin contact with the baby is helpful not just for the baby but for the mother as well.

What steps did you take to prepare yourself and your baby before getting back to work full-time?

Mila was completely on breast milk until about 14-15 weeks. She already fell into a routine and would feed every 3-4 hours. Around the 15th week, I began pumping milk and feeding from the bottle. She thankfully took to the bottle immediately although I was worried that she would refuse. After the 15th week, I started pumping milk for two feeds at home and gradually, I increased this to three feeds. I used to pump and store the excess milk in the fridge. I wanted to give her milk as fresh as possible and so would pump and store in the fridge only for a day. The most important tip I can give a working mother who wants to breastfeed her baby is to never change the timing for pumping milk. Once you fix a time and routine and stick to it, even during weekends, the flow is consistent. Although, this might get stressful, it is better than not having consistent flow.

Eventually, I asked my husband and my mother or mother-in-law to begin feeding Mila from the bottle. Just a week before I went back to work, we began transitioning her to this routine.

What steps did you and your husband take to help Mila adapt to a new environment and caregivers? And, what steps did you take to emotionally support yourself from being away from her?

This was the most challenging phase for us. My daughter was with my mother and mother-in-law soon after I went back to work, which was when she was around 19 weeks. So, she was still with family members at home. But once they left at around 32 weeks, we had to send her to a daycare. I was able to trust my family even though I had to go back to work but it was not easy for me to leave her in a completely new environment with many other babies. I could not imagine how she would sleep peacefully or eat well and this used to worry me a lot. Thankfully, we found a place that is literally a 2 minute walk from home. The daycare centre had a transition phase where I could spend a couple of days with Mila. We could also observe how they took care of the other babies. This gave me a lot of confidence and I began to have trust that she was in safe hands. Mila did cry a lot initially after the big separation from home and I used to cry on my way to work, but gradually, she settled down with all the fun activities she could do at school like singing, painting, outdoor walks and was happy to go.

Pumping milk at work is not an easy experience both physically and emotionally. How did you deal with this and what kind of support did you receive?

I made it a point to pump milk regularly at work at the fixed time and thankfully, I had the support to do so. Although, initially, I used to miss my daughter and our skin-skin bonding, I used to watch her videos and pictures while pumping at work. We both fell into a routine; Mila used to drink milk around 8 times a day. Three meals were from a bottle with expressed milk and the other meals were directly from me at home. I would feed her from my breast at 7 am, then leave for work at 7.30 am. I pumped consistently at 10am, 1pm and 4pm. I used to store the pumped milk in the fridge at my workplace for her next day meal.

For interested parents, I used the Medela swing maxi double electric breast pump which worked like a charm. And for storing milk, the lid on the bottles came with labels to mark the date and time. They also came with a tray which helped me organise them by time and date in the fridge.

Did Mila find it difficult to transition between breast and bottle everyday? How did you address challenges around this?

Right from the first day, luckily, Mila never had difficulty transitioning between bottle and my breast. I did notice that she used to wake up a lot more in the nights and feed directly from me. Gradually, as I started weaning her, she used to feed from my breast only in the nights. I started replacing every ‘expressed-milk’ meal with solid foods. By the 7th month, I stopped pumping milk at work. However, until she turned three, she used to wake up in the nights to feed from me. I attributed this to her longing for skin-skin contact and bonding with me and enjoyed it.

How did you manage to strike some kind of balance between healing after a cesarean section, being available for Mila and also working both at home and outside?

I have to thank several people for this. My husband is my biggest support and shares all the household chores with me. There is no task in the house that is done only by me. I also have to thank my work environment as I never had to bring back any work home. In the initial months, my mother-in-law and mother helped me a lot. I definitely have to thank Mila’s caretakers at her daycare who gave me the trust and confidence.

dhivya

We made this work by always waking up and going to bed on time. We tried and planned ahead. For example, it would take me only 5 minutes to come up with a meal plan, but this saves time and energy instead of worrying what to cook and what to shop everyday. I also learnt to listen to my body and never pushed myself beyond a certain limit. When I knew I couldn’t handle something, I learnt to ask for help and look for alternative solutions. On those days when the routine becomes mundane, we helped each other or just went out as a family to break the repetition. I also helped my body and mind heal by engaging in activities like swimming and running, watching movies once in a while and taking breaks to relax when needed. All of this helped me rejuvenate and get better.

Many working mothers go through a lot of emotional turmoil for not being with their baby the whole day. Did you also experience this? 

Yes, of course I did. Hundreds of thoughts ran in head. “Did I dress her appropriately for the weather?, “Will she eat?”, “Will she be happy?”, etc. I used to chat quickly with her guides at drop off and pickup. I started noting down what she ate, how long she slept and how she was. In the mornings, I used to update the guides at daycare on how her morning was so far, which helped them plan better and I used to ask them the same at pickup. I had an open and honest relationship with the guides at daycare which helped me communicate my needs clearly with them.  At home, my husband participated in all household chores and has been my biggest support. It was he who took care of Mila during most of her sick days. Only because it is a 50-50 partnership, we have been able to keep the family going smoothly. 

From your experience, what kind of support do you think working mothers require from family and society?

I strongly believe that fathers play an equal role in raising a child. We did not have a baby-sitter. We just used to take turns in being with Mila and did our best to balance it all out. Our society must understand that fathers are important figures in children’ lives and willingly offer emotional and physical support to mothers and fathers who work both at home and outside. Of course, every family has their own style and there really is no right or wrong way in parenting. We need to figure out between each other and go from there.

We all do what is best for our children. It is important for us as mothers, as women, to be strong, positive and have faith in what we are doing. Everybody likes to advise us but I have learnt to take what makes sense to me. 

dhivya-2.jpeg

Can you please share a word of support and love to other mothers in similar situations?  

Dear Mammas,

Please speak out when you think something is not correct and ask for help when you cannot do something. There is no shame in asking for help!

Don’t blame yourself and think that it is always ‘you’ who is responsible for your child. Many of us hold onto our children tightly; we must learn to let go and find trustworthy people to engage with and interact with our children. Being with different people will help our children socialize better and grow.

Take some time for yourselves. Be grateful when people around you respect your feelings and, again, speak out when you need something. You get only when you ask for something. Lastly, stay positive and pat yourself on the back once in a while for doing the best that you can!

Dealing with a Child who Bites

The word biting brings distressing memories to many parents of young children. Biting is a common phase that many young children go through as they navigate their initial interactions with the world. Through these interactions, they understand that they are independent beings capable of having an impact on the world. They explore limits around what is acceptable and what is not and gradually learn to communicate better.

While this is a process for young children, biting as a phase comes with a lot of stigma and shaming around parenting and the child itself. Understanding why biting happens might make it easier for us to look at is as part of a child’s development and address the issue instead of blaming and worrying. 

What triggers Biting?

Some common physical triggers 

Teething: Children begin teething anywhere between 3 and 12 months of age and by the time they are about 3 years, they usually have their full set of primary teeth. During the this phase, they experience sensitivity which makes them want to bite.

Oral Stimulation: When we look at biting, it is helpful to look at the diet we offer. Often,  food for children are overly soft and mashed which give the sprouting teeth hardly any work to do. This leaves the teeth unsatisfied and children look for things to bite such as their toys, another child’s hands or even an adult.

Some common psychological triggers

Attention: Many children bite in order to get attention. This is quite frustrating for parents who feel like they already give enough attention to their little one. When there are many guests, especially other young children, at home, your child may feel like she does not get the attention she usually gets.

Lack of Vocabulary: When children lack the vocabulary to communicate their joy, frustration or excitement, they may bite to say “Hey, this is my toy” or “I don’t want to play with you!” but may not have the words to articulate this intent. Biting is a way of communicating this intention.

Asserting Power: In situations where toddlers feel like they have no control, biting helps them assert their power. They do not have the capacity or brain development to rationalise the consequences of biting. By biting, they simply try to communicate that they are in control.

Exploring Limits: Most of toddlerhood is spent in children trying to understand what is acceptable and what is not. They constantly try and do things and look at us to see our reaction. This is their way of understanding how the world works. With biting, which often gets remarkable reactions, children love to see what happens and how far they can go.

Understanding Group Play: Many of us have observed toddlers having difficulty sharing their toys or even their space. This is not because they do not know what sharing means, but merely because their brain is not yet fully developed to practice sharing. The prefrontal cortex of the brain which is responsible for actions such as self-control is still developing in young children, making it hard to share. 

Biting 2.jpg
Doodle Credits : Abirami & Daddy 

Anxiety: Toddlers also bite when they are anxious. They may bite because they feel threatened or uncertain. This can be observed especially when they start at a new school or have some guests at home, birth of a sibling or a dog.

So what can we do about all the Biting? 

  • Firm not Loud

It is important to be firm but not loud. When a child has bitten, go down to their level, look into their eyes and say “NO”. This no will always remain a no and the more firm and consistent we are with it, the easier it is for the child to let the idea sit. They understand that we will not change our minds and that when they bite, we will stop them. 

  • Distract or Divert

Another helpful technique is to separate the two children. Sometimes, the child may just be overstimulated or excited, that they may end up biting. Taking the child for a walk or to a different place to calm down helps diffuse the tension. 

  • Breaking the Habit

Many children get into the habit of biting and this becomes second nature to them. It is important to observe what triggers the biting and try to step in before it begins. This will slowly lead to the child looking in our direction when they want to bite and we can then tell them from afar that they should not bite.

  • Opportunities to Bite Food

It will help to give the child enough food to chew on such as apples, carrots, chapatis, beans, etc. Eating fibrous vegetables or fruits will give their teeth the much needed work and satiate the need to bite.

  •  Attention

Typically, when a child has bitten another, we divert all our attention to the one who has bitten and this gives them attention. Instead, attending first to the child who has been bitten may take away the attention from the child who has bitten.

  • Stories

With young children, stories of children their age, with whom they can relate to, are helpful. These can be oral stories or stories from a book. It is helpful to have some books on biting that we can regularly read to and discuss with the child. Instead of having books that say what not to bite, we can choose a book that shows them the different foods that they can bite. This helps in positively shifting the focus to what to do instead of what not to.

biting 3
Doodle Credits : Abirami & Daddy

 What to avoid?

  • Biting back to prove a point

Sometimes, we are desperate that we end up ‘pretending’ to bite the child in hope that this will make them understand how we feel. This is very confusing for the child and often funny because, as discussed earlier, it is not that toddlers don’t know that biting is wrong but the self-control is still emerging.

  • Isolating

Isolating a child who has bit or giving them a time-out not only makes them feel cornered but also helpless. Instead, we can engage with them and show them what they can do. As adults, we do not like to be put in a corner and children are no different. Just as talking kindly helps us resolve our issues, talking to the child kindly shows them that we do not want to corner the child itself but only the action.

The most helpful tool for us as adults is patience and observation. As upsetting as it is for us to watch our child go around biting others, we must understand that this is only a phase! When we show children how to handle situations that trigger biting, they will learn to communicate better. Our biggest tool is observing their interactions. When we observe, we will notice when the biting happens and why and how it happens. This is the starting point as having the information is always helpful in handling the situation. 

Kanaa’s Winter Cream Adventure: In the Words of her Mamma

The work of a child is hidden in the form of play. Through innocent and mischievous play, little children understand much about themselves and the simple lives that they lead. However, adults often fail to pause and understand the intent behind these acts and view them as behaviour that need to be reprimanded. Without comprehending why and how the innocent play began, we swoop in and rearrange the child’s play to restore our idea of order.

This story is narrated by a tired mother who recollects her little child’s innocent play and shares with us the events that ensued. Between the lines of this story, there is much left for us learn from the mischief, the innocent 2 year old behind the mischief and the mother who witnessed the mischief!


It was a usual weekday noon. I was busily preparing lunch while Kanaa was occupied in a rather quiet activity. Usually, I have to plead with Kanaa to find something to play on her own but that day seemed easy. She had found something to busy herself with and stayed unusually quiet. Since I was a first time mother, I hadn’t fully realised what it meant when things were quiet in a toddler’s room. I was happy and relieved that I had avoided a power-struggle with my toddler and continued to cook peacefully. It had hardly been minutes since I began feeling a sense of zen when Kanaa came running out with her hands and face WHITE! They were completely covered in layers of thick, winter moisturiser. 

My first reactions were speechless! I was absolutely dumbstruck. The tired mom in me began to wonder how much cleaning would have to go into this. This particular winter cream is extremely thick  and used for harsh winters that we experience in Switzerland. The box recommends a very thin layer which stays on and shows clearly. So, you can imagine! But before I could react, I just stopped to notice the pride on the two year old’s face. She was smiling wide and her nose was up in the air feeling ever so proud of what she had achieved. She broke the silence by saying excitedly, “Amma, look I applied cream all by myself. I also applied for Georgie.” Yes indeed, she had perfectly applied moisturiser for herself and her favourite plush toy ‘George’ – curious George, the monkey. 

I just began to laugh. I laughed incessantly and grabbed my phone to take a photo before the scene could change. I just wanted to freeze the moment, before the tired mom in me woke up again. This photo still remains precious to our family. I knew at that moment that I should cherish this for it will never happen again. I simply stood there and listened carefully to her endless explanations of how she had achieved her dream goal! 

IMG_5285

She then took me by my hand and walked me over to her room to show HOW she had achieved this feat. She took me around the room and described the whole process to me. To my surprise, there was hardly any mess at all. Imagine a two year old had opened a box of cream that she could dip her whole hands into! There were no marks or white patches anywhere. The box of cream was open, it was as good as new just a day earlier, but now it was almost over. 

She wanted to come clean with me. She pointed out the areas where she had accidentally smeared the cream on while applying for herself and Georgie – the bed sheet, the side table and the mirror. She then narrated a long story of how she had used the roll of tissue, which I usually kept handy in her room because of how it gets with toddlers, to wipe out the messy areas. They were hardly visible since she had wiped them out quite well and neatly collected the used tissues by the side of the bed. 

The tired mom in me, which had wanted to giver her a piece of my mind about all the cleaning that I would have to do, had just disappeared. I was thoroughly impressed by ‘the process’. In the photo, on close observation, one might notice how neatly she has applied the cream. She had intended to make no mess. It wasn’t a joke to her. It was serious work. Kanaa’s goal for that afternoon was to impress herself and her Amma by giving her one less thing to do for the day – apply moisturiser by herself! And, IMPRESSED, I was. 

Nevertheless, I did spent the next three days giving her thorough showers and soaks in the tub to get the thick layers of winter cream out of her hair and face. As for Georgie, he went into the washer for two full wash cycles. 

My little baby is now five years old and applying cream might never impress her, or me, the way it had, three years ago. I’m so happy that both of us could live in that moment and enjoy it. It is so hard as a parent, to choose the right way to react to situations like these. I learnt then to remember to stop, think, re-think and make the choice and then react. 

Choosing Snacks Wisely : From One Mamma to Another

A snack can be a bag of chips, a fruit or a bowl of nuts. With more of us finding it hard to manage cooking our major meals, we have delegated the snack department to supermarkets which sport rows and rows of heavily processed snacks that are high in salt, sugar, unhealthy oils and other, far more complex ingredients, that have no business being in the food we eat! Since most of us don’t even realise the snacks we eat, it is time we pay attention to those silent fillers.

Let’s hear more about snacks and how we can choose snacks for our children from a Mamma of an adorable three-year old from Chennai.

Hi Hamsika, tell us about yourself and your family.

Hi, I am Hamsika, a working mother. I live in Chennai, India with my husband Lalith , our 3-year-old daughter Naabhya and my parents-in-law.

What are Naabhya’s meals like? Tell us a little about how you plan and prepare these meals.

Naabhya has a very regular meal pattern. I don’t prepare anything specifically for her. She eats the menu of the day at home.

Breakfast – A glass of porridge and a banana – I should mention here that the porridge powder is made from multi grains such as black urad dal, moong dal, roasted gram, wheat, sago, peanuts, almonds and cashews. When Naabhya turned two, I started adding millets such as fox tail, horse gram and pearl millet. This is prepared with milk and jaggery and is a wholesome breakfast.

Mid-Morning Snack at School – I usually pack biscuits or fruits, boiled vegetables and nuts.

Lunch – Rice with ghee and vegetable with an option of Rasam or Dal or Spinach and definitely a cup of curd.  

Evening Snack – Banana chips or Peanuts or Puffed rice or Papad with a glass of seasonal fruit juice or tender coconut. I would like to mention that in our family, we use gingelly oil for our regular cooking and prefer either groundnut oil or refined oil for fried snacks.

Dinner – I usually give her options – Roti, Dosa, Pasta or Poha and give her what she asks for. I also offer her a glass of milk before bed.

When I was a kid my grandma used to give me lunch before I rushed to school. She wouldn’t mind compromising on the last spoon of food, but not on the  ghee and curd which I believe are important to making the meal wholesome. So, I hold on to this for Naabhya. One specific thing that I have followed since she was a baby is I don’t give her white sugar. Instead, I replace with jaggery or palm sugar.

How do you define snacks and how big a role do they play in Naabhya’s daily life?

Snack for me is a simple quick  food, very easy to prepare and less messy to eat. Snacking helped me bring in the “eating by herself” habit with Naabhya. I usually choose something dry and easy to pick, so she can have it by herself. She has two parts for snacks in a day, her mid morning snack which is at school and thankfully, they have a set pattern. The evening snack is where she eats what she likes and it is between her juice and dinner.

hamsi-snacks-.jpg

What kind of snacks do you offer Naabhya?

I usually buy biscuits made from a local bakery, carrot cake or banana walnut cake, homemade fries (வடகம் in Tamil, पापड़ in Hindi) masala peanuts, puffed rice, roasted gram(chickpeas gram) banana chips, peanut & jaggery chikki, rusk, popcorn or nuts.

Tell us about the snacks you definitely stay clear of and WHY?

I would say no to any snack that is vacuum sealed like chips, fries that have a lot of salt and oil and anything with artificial colour and sugar like gems, jelly etc. I also say no to aerated drinks and flavoured, colourful drinks and prefer fresh juice or tender coconut to it.

I am completely open to store-bought snacks as long as they are freshly made and have a very short shelf life.

Everywhere around us, we find heavily processed snacks that are high in corn fructose syrup, sodium and oil. How do you choose snacks from all these options? 

Snacking can be healthy if we make a little effort. My husband snacks more than me but ever since Naabhya has started eating, we both choose snacks with a lot more care. Children learn a lot from us! We always make sure to have a couple of options of what she likes (that are also healthier) at home. It is very easy to buy something off the shelf but takes a little more effort and planning to make something simple at home.

As parents, how do you create awareness in Naabhya on snacks and how to choose wisely?

We simply don’t introduce them to her in the first place. We took it as a task not to buy the heavily processed snacks, so now she knows the real taste and doesn’t like the salty or sugary stuff. There are mothers who tell me, “Oh!! Sad you are not giving her anything” but trust me she wouldn’t say no to cup of ghee dripping badam halwa from her grandmother or  freshly made murukku (twisted gram flour crisps that are popular in South India) from a local store.

A request to share with us three simple and healthy snacks that you make at home?

Puffed rice : You get plain puffed rice in the store and I just roast it in a heated pan and add salt and chilli powder to taste. You can also add a garlic pod for flavour.

Roasted Gram Laddus : You can dry roast one cup roasted gram, grind it along with one cup of jaggery in the mixer. Then, transfer the mixture to a tray and add ghee and make small laddus. They can be stored in an airtight container. This laddu works very well when Naabhya has a cold since it helps remove phlegm.

Raw banana chips : Just heat oil in a pan and fry the sliced raw banana and add salt and spice.

hamsi-snack-2-e1568396716998.jpg

Can you share a note to other Mammas on the importance of choosing healthy snacks and some tips on how  to make it possible in their busy schedules?

Snacks can actually play an important role in managing kids hunger. Always give a small quantity so that the snack does not become their meal. I find that the young kids derive great satisfaction in finishing their bowl of snack. I have also observed that avoiding artificial flavours and preservatives have a lot of impact on their behaviour. A snack can be as simple as a roasted papad from the tava and does not have to be anything fancy.

I also generally follow the traditional method when it come to food because it is already tested by our ancestors.

Shifting Positively from NO to YES

Words are a powerful human tool that have the capacity to evoke either a response or a reaction in another person. They can create a mindset that influences our approach to the world. When someone repeatedly uses negative words, we begin to look at the world through these lens and doubt ourselves, the environment and others. On the other hand, hearing positive words inspire us to act, be kind and open to the world. Yet, with such power at our disposal, how often do we truly pay attention to the words we use and wonder how they impact others in our lives? 

Babies spend the greater part of their first year soaking up life in its entirety. Since they are observant little beings, they occupy a lot of their time watching how the adults around them interact with their environment. This creates in them a fascination and an eagerness to get to know the world. So, naturally, when their bodies are finally able to match their intention, they move towards this wonderful environment they have been eyeing for months, only to hear adults say the word NO! 

What is this NO?

Initially, babies do not comprehend the meaning of this word NO. They look at our facial expressions and hand gestures and stop. When they go back to reaching for the same object and hear the same word a second time, they begin to see a pattern. The curious ones usually try and reach for the same object or a different one, yet again, only to see the adult’s reaction remains consistent for a third time. When our tones and hand gestures become stronger and firmer, some babies start crying because this is not their experience of how we usually talk to them. Some other babies find the whole thing rather amusing and do it repeatedly, much to the annoyance of many adults. Soon enough, all babies begin to understand that more things in their world are NO than YES and begin to grapple with this reality. 

Saying NO

Why is NO a Problem?

To understand this, let us look at what this word actually means. The word NO comes with a lot of power. We ideally use it when we do not wish to persist a situation any longer. It literally means Stop! End! NO! Considering that this two letter word carries so much power, it seems that we use it too casually, too loosely in circumstances that do not even require such authority or intensity. Our children hear the word NO countless times each day. By repeatedly using the word NO, not only are we crushing their spirit but also taking away the real value of this word. So, the problem with NO seems to stem from the frequency and context of usage and not the usage itself. 

According to Dan Siegel, Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, “NO leaves you feeling reactive, making it impossible to listen, make good decisions or connect with and care for another person. A focus on survival and self-defence kicks into gear, leaving you feeling guarded and shut down when it comes to interacting with the world and learning new lessons. Your nervous system initiates its reactive fight – flight, freeze or faint response : fight means lashing out, flight means escape, freeze means temporarily immobilizing yourself and faint means feeling utterly helpless.”

What NO does to a Child 

  • Since young children understand their world through exploration, repeatedly using the word NO subtly tells them that the world out there is not for them to explore and understand. Instead of letting them form their own ideas and views of the world, we are essentially passing on our prejudices and preferences.
  • Everytime we unnecessarily stop our children by using the word NO, we are feeding them this notion that the world is a place that holds many threats and dangers. This not only creates too much reliance on another person to navigate through life for them, but also curbs exploration altogether because of fear.
  • The more we throw in the word NO, the more our children begin to feel that they are incapable of handling the world. This leads to low self-confidence, self-doubt and an uncertainty about themselves. 

Dan Siegel, in the book, The Yes Brain : How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child says, “Anything we give attention to, anything we emphasize in our experiences and interactions, creates new linking connections in the brain. Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows. And where neurons fire, they wire or join together. If you’ve been focusing a lot of attention on No! No! No! this is where neural firing flows, a No Brain reactive state.”

Shifting Positively from NO to YES 

  • Fill our children’s vicinity with more YES objects and experiences

Young children are fascinated by the interactions that adults have with their environment. This fascination stimulates action and they gravitate towards these objects. However, we constantly curb such exploration either out of fear or because we cannot manage the mess. Instead, if we rearrange the child’s environment with more objects that they can freely explore, we will make an immediate shift towards a YES environment. Instead of curtailing exploration, we will be aiding exploration and play.

  • Become Mindful of our Words 

When we begin to watch our words and reflect on them, we can take control of the environment we are creating for our children. The next time we are tempted to revert to NO, we can just pause for a moment and ask ourselves why we want to say NO. If a child is moving towards something dangerous, we need to instantly stop them. But, in most other situations, we can divert their attention to something that they can do instead of telling them what they cannot do. A moment of reflection will give us a world of perspective and inspire a more positive response to our children. 

  • Create a YES mindset! 

Our attitude matters! By overusing NO, we not only take away its power but create a NO mindset that holds our children back from the world. By shifting positively from NO to YES, we instil in children’s little minds an attitude of positivity that stimulates openness. What’s better, they begin to trust that they are capable of tackling the uncertain world out there and run towards life with josh, enthusiasm and joy!

Akanksha’s game of Hide & Seek

Here is a story of little Akanksha who lives in San Jose with her parents Akshay and Shyama and her younger brother Dhruv. Akanksha turned 6 last month and has been going to public school, or as she calls it “big girl school” for the past year. Her parents sheepishly remark that dear Aaku is quite a bossy little one who thinks it is her responsibility to boss everyone, just like she does with her brother!

Apart from bossing her brother around, little Aaku enjoys playing hide and seek. It started off as an innocent game when, as a toddler, she used to hide herself in the same spot and giggle away even before she was ‘found’. However, these days she has upgraded her games from hide and seek to just hiding and then for hours after that, her desperate parents have to seek her. Aaku’s disappearing acts are definitely not something that Shyama or Akshay or even Dhruv for that matter, look forward to.

Her father recollects a particularly nightmarish incident which happened last August when they experienced one of the hottest summers. The entire family had to regularly treat themselves to some water-play in the evenings when the dryness and heat would reach its peak! Aaku in particular had been complaining of the heat and much to her parents’ dislike, had started sneaking some water balloons indoors on those really hot days. One Saturday evening, in late August, the family had some guests over for the weekend and spent the evening relaxing in their backyard while the kids ran wild playing with water-guns, rolling on the grass and jumping on the hammock together. None of the adults slowed the hyper children down and, in fact, were quite excited that they were exhausting themselves without any help from their end, because they had all made a plan to watch a movie together later that night.

After a lot of screaming, giggling and plenty of water-play, Shyama took both the kids to the bath and after a quick shower and an unexpected second-innings of water-play in the bath, brought the kids for dinner with the family. Dhruv was dozing off at the table and made no fuss to go to sleep, but Aaku, who was overtired, decided to jump on her bed and ask her father to read not one, but three books. Akshay had obliged and finally tucked her in to sleep and joined the group for the much awaited movie-night!

The movie was so gripping that all of them were completely engrossed in it and had not realised how late it had become. After the movie, Shyama decided to check in on the kids while Akshay attended to their guests. As Shyama took a quick peek into the kids’ room, she saw Dhruv sleeping soundly on his bed, but Aaku was missing. Shyama immediately checked the bathroom and also took a look under the bed and on the side, incase she had fallen down, but Aaku was nowhere to be seen. She panicked and immediately came outside and informed Akshay. They checked the kitchen and every other room, including all her favourite hiding spots – behind the blinds, under her parents bed, in the bathtub and even in the pantry, but Aaku was no where to be seen. At this point, Shyama was hysterical and the whole house had been woken up, including a half-asleep Dhruv who separately went to each room shouting “Aakshu akka, Aakshu akka” (akka for big sister)  without understanding fully what all the noise was about. Akshay was ready to call 911 for help, when Shyama suddenly remembered to check in the backyard. And there on the hammock, sleeping quite soundly despite all the noise, was little Aaku. On being woken up and asked why she even came outside the house and if she wasn’t scared, little Aaku cooly replied that her room was too hot!! They realised that their naughty little first born had gone out through the kitchen door into the backyard and since all of them were pretty engrossed in the thrilling movie, they hadn’t noticed.

Well, on one side, the parents were relieved on finding Aaku but reprimanded her and put a little fear into her about coyotes and bats in the dark. However, Akshay wearily says that knowing his daughter, he wouldn’t be surprised if she decides to make another disappearing act. Saying thus, he recollects another traumatising incident back in India, when Aaku had accompanied her grandpa to the vendor selling watermelons and while her grandpa was picking the watermelon, had climbed into a random school bus.  He also mentions another incident when Aaku had gone and hidden herself in a dog’s kennel in their neighbour’s house while the entire family was searching for her. He yawns and says he will reserve those stories for another day!

 

 

Play with the Natural Environment : From One Mamma to Another

Today, we live in a society where children and adults are increasingly cut off from and deprived of time with nature. How can we expand our understanding of outdoor play and understand the importance of children playing with nature?

We have a Montessori Mamma of an 18 month old from Bangalore, India sharing how children can explore the outdoors and develop a sense of belonging with the natural world.

Hi Karuna, tell us about yourself and your family.

Thank you for having me on Srishti. I am from Hyderabad, India and currently settled in Bangalore with my husband and our daughter, Urvi. My mother was a Montessori guide and that inspired me to become a certified Montessori teacher. Being aware of the Montessori philosophy, my husband and I chose to adopt it at home. It is a way of life and has empowered us as parents in so many ways. 

Can you describe Urvi’s home environment with some details about different parts of her home such as the living room, bedroom, bath, kitchen and dining?

Living Room : At the foyer, we have a child-sized chair set up for her to be able to sit down, put on or take off her socks and shoes. We keep two pairs of shoes tucked under the chair and the socks come from her wardrobe. Adjacent to the living room, we have an entertainment room with a few age-appropriate activities and an indoor slide set up for her. 

karuna-2-e1553799142668.jpeg

Bedroom : Although we co-sleep, ever since she was mobile, we moved her onto a floor bed to facilitate independence. We have a small area set up with books and 2-3 activities for her to choose from while she is getting ready to tuck in for the night. We also have a changing station that includes a child-sized chair, a laundry basket, dustbin and a table with all the necessary supplies for her to access. At the dressing area, she has access to her comb, tissues to wipe herself, bindis and a few  hair bands if she wishes to wear one. 

Bathroom : Our bathroom setup is still a work-in-progress. At the moment, we are in the toilet learning phase and the door is always open for her to access. We have a floor potty chair, if she chooses to sit on it. As she has been showing interest in the water closet, we have a training seat on it as well. We are yet to set up a stool for her to be able to wash her hands independently. Meanwhile. we help her up at the wash basin to wash her hands. We’ve also kept a small towel for her to dry her hands once she is done. 

Kitchen & Dining : We converted an old step-stool into a kitchen helper in order to facilitate independence in the kitchen. Few of her utensils such as plates, glasses and spoons and snacks are arranged in an IKEA play kitchen. We also have a few cleaning utensils like a dustpan, brush, mop cloth and mopping stick handy for her to use when there is a spill. 

At mealtime, she has a choice between eating at her child-sized table and chair or at our table. She sits on the high chair or bar stool when she is at the table. 

Tell us a little about Urvi’s daily routine.

On a typical day, Urvi’s day starts between 6 and 7 am. Changing her diaper, offering to sit on the toilet and brushing her teeth are the three things that we try to be consistent with. If she resists, we come back when she is ready. 

Mornings are usually rushed, but she is involved in meal preparation, if it is simple (like idly or rice roti). She spends time with her father either reading books, listening to music, putting away laundry or going outside. Between 8 and 9 am, she has her breakfast followed by a bath. 

Between 10am and 12 pm, we do a sensory activity, listen to music or if the weather permits, we explore our outdoors and have a snack in-between. By 1pm she has her lunch. Usually, she takes a nap for an hour or two between 2 and 4 pm. Post 4pm, we run errands, do household chores, visit a park or do an activity at home like art, food preparation or dance. By 7pm, she has her dinner and bath around 8.30pm. Before going to bed, we spend sometime reading or singing a few songs. 

What constitutes Urvi’s outdoor environment?

We live in an ancestral house and are fortunate to have a back and front yard. The front yard has a few potted plants and a lawn. The backyard is mostly concrete floor with a patch of lawn. 

What are some ways in which Urvi explores the outdoors?

At present, she is drawn to movement, especially climbing, and loves climbing anything she can. An example being, the gate or stairs or a ramp. She enjoys following ants, butterflies and snails. At one point, she loved plucking leaves and flowers but now she prefers putting them in her mouth. Outdoor time has been an opportunity for trial and errors. Just the other day when we were outside, she put her thermic sense to use and started standing at different areas to check the heat. Our outdoor environment has been a wonderful source of repetition and concentration. 

What kind of outdoor activities do you set up for Urvi? How do you change them according to her needs and interests?

In the front yard, we have two buckets of different colours, a wheelbarrow and a watering can. One bucket is used to fill water for watering plants and the other bucket is for collecting dried or fallen leaves. The collected leaves are used for our fir trees as compost.

karuna-3.jpeg

In the backyard, we have rice flour for doing rangoli, bubble solution, primary coloured clothes pegs which she uses while drying clothes. We also use the pegs as an open-ended toy to form different shapes. We have some coloured chalk to go wild on the floor and refine her fine motor skills, a bowl and brush to paint with water on the floor and also a small scooter to scuttle around. 

karuna.jpeg

Our small patch of lawn has a concrete boundary and Urvi uses it as a balance beam. One of her preferred activities is to climb up the ramp, drop a ball and watch it roll. If there is something she is trying to master, I try to incorporate it in the outdoors or indoors. 

We love spending time in the outdoors doing sensory and art based activities. We spend some quiet time outside as well to observe and listen to our surroundings. We do sound mapping – since she still can’t put her thoughts on paper, we track sounds by pointing in the direction of it. If we find an insect, snail or butterfly that is idle, we try to observe it in proximity. 

How do you cultivate a love for plants and caring for them in Urvi?

The way she interacts with plants has changed over time. At one point, she had this strong urge to pull, pluck and yank flowers and leaves. Although, I gave her opportunities to satisfy her need to pull, my husband and I constantly modelled gentleness and mindfulness towards everything that needs to be dealt with care. Now, at 18 months, she is slowly aware of the fact that weeds need to be plucked, flowers can be plucked for use, herbs can be cut for cooking and everything in the garden needs nurturing. 

Do you regularly give her experiences of other outdoor environments that involve fresh air, plant care and natural exploration? How do you manage to find such places in buzzing, urban cities?

Almost 3-4 times a week, we go to different children’s parks in and around our locality. At least once a week, we go to the market to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. There are days when we simply go for a stroll on the roads near our home (you will be surprised with the amount of things that catches our attention). To be honest, living in the city is quite a challenge in terms of finding age-appropriate places to explore with her, but through friends and social media, we find interesting places and events to explore at times. 

In what ways, do you think Urvi has benefitted from the outdoors?

I feel that spending time outdoors has helped her to be physically active. All the experiences outdoors, from her crawling days to walking now, has helped her to develop good balance, agility and coordination. At times, I find her in bouts of deep concentration. She seems to be aware of her surroundings and has good observation skills. Most of all, I feel it has helped her to be a calm and collected child. 

As a parent, why  do you think it is important for young children to spend considerable time outdoors, amidst nature?

Having exposed Urvi to spending time outdoors since birth, I feel that it has been the best stimulus for all the senses. The child is constantly evolving and nature has the power to constantly cater to the child’s developing needs. Being in nature is the perfect opportunity to observe the natural habitat for animals, notice changes in seasons, enjoy the cycle of plant growth. Supporting the child’s experiences and exploration through precise language nurtures their learning further. The foundation for all the sciences is rooted in nature and the best thing we can do as adults is to give them the time and expose them to different situations and places. 

Can you share a few guidelines with other parents on how to set up an outdoor environment for young children? (both apartments as well as independent houses)

For most parents, the biggest challenge is knowing what activities to offer to their children when it comes to the outdoors. Although there is no particular list to refer to, I believe irrespective of age, it’s wonderful to expose our children to gardening and composting. For a lot of us, gardening can be quite intimidating but for young children all you need is a pot, soil, seeds and water. It may grow, it may not, weeds may come, worms can come, the plant might die – it’s all an opportunity to learn.

For the ones who do not have enough outdoor space, they can consider bringing outdoor elements into the indoor space. A few easy-to-maintain and safe indoor plants for the child to take care of or a few herbs by the windowsill, a bird feeder, art, water play and open-ended loose parts (chips of wood, stones etc.) to explore can be other things to consider.