Shelling Peas

There is something delicious and sweet about fresh, juicy peas that frozen peas can never offer. Shelling peas may seem futile for many adults, but the young child absolutely enjoys the challenge. There is enough stimulation to hold their attention and refine their fine motor skills, not to mention the sheer joy in discovering tiny peas hiding in each pod. 

Who is this for?

I would begin around 22 – 24 months 

Things Required

  • 2 small bowls – one for the pea pods and one for the peas
  • 1 plate – to save the pods for later use
  • Access to more pea pods in case child wants to shell more

Preparation

Sometimes, the pods come along with the stalk. In that case, we need to show the child to pull the stalk along the seam before we shell them open. I have used peas without the stalk in this. I generally prefer to use firm and plump pods because these are easier for the young hands to break open.

As always, you are the best judge of what works well in your kitchen for your child!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Remember, we bought some fresh snap peas in the market? Let’s shell them.” Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what we need and gather them together.

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Show the child the seam that runs along the pod on both sides.

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Place the pod on the table to give more support (for the child). Using the support of the non-dominant hand near the opening, press thumb of dominant hand into the seam to create an opening. 

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Use both thumbs  in widening the opening.

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Point to the peas in the pod.

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Child and you can pull each pea out and place in the bowl for the peas.

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Show the child to put the used pods in the compost or save them for later. Let the child press and open the pod however they can. Alternatively, you can give support by creating the first opening for very young children. 

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Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash. 

Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Remember, we bought some fresh snap peas in the market? Let’s shell them.”
  • Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what we need and gather them together.
  • Show the child the seam that runs along the pod on both sides.
  • Place pod on the table to give more support (for the child)
  • Using the support of the non-dominant hand near the opening, press thumb of dominant hand into the seam to create an opening.
  • Use both thumbs  in widening the opening.
  • Point to the peas in the pod.
  • Child and you can pull each pea out and place in the bowl for the peas.
  • Show the child to put the used pods in the compost or save them for later.
  • Let the child press and open the pod however they can. Alternatively, you can give support by creating the first opening for very young children.
  • Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash. 

Around the World with our Little Globe Trotter : From One Mamma to Another

Travelling can be exciting for many adults – seeing new sights, trying different cuisines and experiencing new cultures! But, how does it work when you travel with young children who thrive on routine and consistency?

Let’s ask a Mamma of a chirpy 24 month old how she manages to make travelling the world memorable for the whole family.

Hi Apoorva, tell us about yourself and your family.

I’m a new mom who loves to travel and explore new places. My husband’s job requires him to travel across the globe and country. Our 2-year-old daughter, Abirami, loves going to new places, so we never miss the opportunity to pack our bags and go exploring. Traveling with an infant has never been an issue with our daughter being people-friendly and fuss free.

When was Abirami’s  first travel?

Our first travel with our daughter was our trip to our hometown from Coimbatore, where she was born. She was only 4 days old when she traveled by car for about 1.5 hours. Car travel at that age is easy with a baby seater at the back of the car. She just needed a feed or two for which we used to slow down the car. She slept peacefully through out with music in the background.

Her first flight travel was when she was 42 days old. I carried her in a topponcino which kept her warm and cozy. I have figured that the best way to keep my baby calm in the flight is to feed her during takeoff and landing. This helped avoiding ear pain or blockage that usually happens when children fly.

How many countries have you visited together in the last 24 months?

In the past 2 years we have been thrice to Singapore, Australia, Cambodia, Paris, Switzerland, Germany and the UAE. We’ve also made local trips from Chennai to Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore and Mangalore. We’ve traveled in all modes of transportation from airplanes, trains, ferries, gondolas to cars.

The Little Globe Trotter 2
Little Abirami of the famous “Abirami & Daddy”

Can you share with us Abirami’s diet during travel?

I make sure that our daughter’s diet doesn’t change much whether she is traveling or at home.

Breakfast:

For breakfast, she usually has a traditional South Indian meal of rice, dal, boiled vegetables and yoghurt. I carry a small electric cooker wherever I travel and purchase local fruits, vegetables and yoghurt. Sometimes, I give her a bowl of wholesome cereal with fruit purée (which any chef at any restaurant is glad to make). I also offer her some bread and cheese to add some variety to the mix.

Mid- morning/Lunch:

I follow an age-old recipe that has been passed down from my grandmother which is a serving of multigrain cereal (made with finger-millet, corn, pearl-millet, nuts and rice) mixed with water and a serving of milk. This cereal is wholesome and very filling and is also easy to prepare. I usually add a spoon of brown raw sugar to it and serve it in a bottle with a few ounces of milk.

Supper:

I make a variation of a whole grain millet porridge by changing its consistency. I make it thick and chewy and alternate it in taste by adding raw brown sugar one day and a pinch of salt and a few spoons of rasam the next day. 

Dinner:

Dinner is typically any Indian tiffin with less spice. My daughter loves to eat Idly, Dosa, Upma or Rotis. I try to serve it with a less spicy version of our side dishes. I also make it wholesome by adding carrots, beans, beets and peas to them. I typically include a portion of fruits like banana, apple, orange, pomegranate and pear before or after dinner. When we are travelling, I also try to make soups and pastas depending on the produce available locally. If not, I always have the traditional dishes to fall back on.

How do you manage air travel and jet lag which are major challenges for most parents?

The secret is to book night flights! That way when you fly out from home, it is the baby’s natural sleeping time. Try booking a bassinet seat so that both of you can rest comfortably  for a few hours. The other secret to stress free travel is to keep the baby engaged while traveling. I carry a lot of light weight books, and her favourite toy and puzzle set along. Paper and colour pencils always come handy too. I try to keep phone usage minimum but when nothing else works, I allow my daughter to play age appropriate and interactive games for not more than an hour. Once she is well rested during the travel, jet lag doesn’t pose much of a threat. My daughter is always up along with me or a few hours after. Jet lag typically hits when we are sightseeing or during the later part of the day. I try not to disturb her when it hits and allow her to sleep in the stroller or the baby carrier making sure she is fed and has clean diapers.

What’s your secret to helping her sleep on the go, in-car seats and in new places ?

The best thing you can do is to feed the baby and make sure the diapers are clean. The other best thing on the go, is the baby carrier. I use Ergobaby carrier which is ergonomically designed and comfortable for the baby. Lucky, my daughter sleeps well on a moving vehicle. Car seats and prams have always been helpful but I make sure she is not in them for more than a couple of hours.

How do you deal with health issues like fever, cold and diarrhoea?

The most important thing while traveling with a baby is not to panic when they fall sick. I keep a set of prescription medications handy. I consult and talk to my pediatrician regarding dosage and administer the medicines. To avoid cold and fever, we make sure she is properly layered while traveling by plane or to cold places. Taking an umbrella, hats and caps is a must while traveling to tropical countries. I constantly let her sip liquids like water and juices when we travel, especially during flight travel, where the body gets dehydrated easily. I try to offer fresh food and give her lots of boiled vegetables and fruits to keep stomach bugs at bay.

Can you share some  interesting travel experiences from which you learnt abundantly?

I believe that travel is the best teacher and it teaches one to be modest and shows the tiny place we occupy in this big world. It it is the best thing we give to our daughter as the experiences can never be taken away. She enjoys traveling as much as we do and loves the little things we don’t find amusing, be it a flying cockatoo or the dirty sledge and snow on top of the alps. I loved watching her get along with our friend’s son who is French. It was amazing to watch them play and converse, despite their language barrier. She even called his mom “Tina Athai” on her own!(Athai meaning Dad’s sister)

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A few tips to other mammas on navigating global travel with young children?

  • Do not stress about traveling with the baby!
  • Make a checklist of important things to carry and ensure you have them when you travel.
  • Invest in a good quality baby carrier. Believe me, it makes your life so much easier!!
  • Carry extra clothes for you and the baby and try to limit the number of diapers you carry. You can always buy your brand in other cities and countries.
  • Try to carry your own food for the baby. That way you are sure about what goes in the food you give your baby.
  • Plan your visits and sightseeing keeping in mind the baby’s schedule.
  • Keep an open mind  about germs and let your baby move around, whether in airports or airplanes. After all, that’s how they improve their immunity. 

Finally, let go of your worries and enjoy the moment. The little mischiefs and loveable smiles are all you will remember after your tiring travel!

The Difference between Unstructured Outdoor Play and Outdoor Play Structures

What is Play?

The word play brings to mind exploring something with an open mind, discovering its properties, understanding what it can or cannot do and forming new ideas. For the child under six, play is a bridge that links them to the world. This play is the work of the child and through it, they form many new ideas about the world while also understanding themselves and their endless capabilities.

Outdoor play is an important aspect of play that introduces to the young child the wonders of the natural world. 

“Play is motivated by means more than ends. Play is constantly evolving and developing into new forms of play and play schemes. Play is also not passive but requires constant assessment and engaged minds.”

Angela J. Hanscom, Balanced & BareFoot

Unstructured Outdoor Play

The word unstructured by itself removes limitations on the child’s exploration of the outdoors. The outdoor environment has so much sensory stimuli that unstructured play allows the child to choose which stimulus they would like to be drawn to.

  • Bonding with Nature

In today’s world which is crowded by tall buildings, endless traffic and busy schedules, outdoor play provides a respite to the young child. It slows down time just a little bit, allowing them to freely play in the natural surroundings. This kind of play in the outdoors without all the layers of human touch is vital for the child to form a lasting relationship with nature.

  • Dynamic Challenges

When we leave the child to freely explore the natural world, they can set their own challenges depending on the stage of development they are in. A baby might simply be on a patch of grass, crawling and watching a butterfly or grasping a flower while a toddler might choose run on the grass, feed birds and pick fallen leaves. Older children with more controlled movements are free to set more complex challenges such as climbing trees, hiking up a steep slope or running and playing with the dog.

This kind of structure-free play frees up the mind to set challenges for oneself and devise strategies to overcome them.

Structure-Free Outdoor Play
  • Sharpening Judgement

Imagine the young child in a natural environment and think of the endless possibilities for building judgement. As adults, we sometimes forget that the child is building judgement through play. Every interaction such as crawling to a leaf, trying to catch a dragonfly, getting pricked by a thorn, feeling the prickly grass, falling down while running or jumping high for the branch with the fruit calls for calculation. These are essential for the child to hone and a structure-free natural environment will do a lot to constantly challenge the young child’s judgement.

  • Vivid Imagination

Because of the range of sensory input the child receives by playing outdoors, the abstractions they form are diverse. These lay a strong foundation for the budding imagination. An older child will begin to show signs of this imagination when they use leaves as medicines in their imaginary play, twigs as huts, straw for water boats and so on. This imagination which is more manifest in the older child has its foundation in that small baby who plays with the outdoor environment and understands it.

Outdoor Play Structures

Outdoor play structures on the other hand are specially designed structures to challenge young children’s gross motor skills, their vestibular sense and overall mind-body coordination. Some commonly found structures are swings and slides, merry-go-round, jungle gyms and climbing domes.

  • Fixed Challenges

Each of the play structures are created for a specific challenge. For example, the slide is designed for the child to climb/crawl up the ladder using calculated movements and then slide down at full speed. While sliding down, the child’s vestibular sense is stimulated.  The same goes for most other commonly found play structures. They are designed for fixed challenges and do not hold the same openness as natural environments with dynamic challenges.

  • Not Exactly Outdoor Play

While swings and slides which are large equipments fit better in an outdoor environment, they are not necessarily outdoor play. There is no element of nature involved in this play apart from some fresh air which comes naturally by being outdoors.

  • No Room for Imagination

A swing or a slide or merry-go-round does not challenge the child’s inner need for exploration. Play is something that must show different dimensions with each exploration. Imagine adults calling a treadmill or an elliptical ‘play’. These are specific gym equipments designed for specific purposes. Likewise, the outdoor park structures are specific equipments designed to serve specific purposes and they do not do anything else to feed the child’s imagination.

Why is it Important to Understand the Difference?

These days, when we use the word outdoor play, it somehow immediately translates to play in park structures. As we have seen, outdoor play is so much more than playing on a swing or climbing a jungle gym. Although play structures help challenge the child’s gross motor skills, they do not necessarily feed other areas of development which a natural, unstructured play environment fosters. While it is necessary for us to take our children to the neighbourhood park to challenge their gross motor skills, it is also equally important to plan and take our children to natural settings with raw nature unfolding. The structured outdoor parks with plastic grass, wood chips and foam mats are not the same as the uneven outdoor trails,the hilly slopes with wild flowers and shrubs, the stones and gravel which make the play a lot more challenging.  

“Playing in nature adds an element of adventure. Nature is unpredictable and exploring nature is always an exciting experience. Since playground equipment only serves a few functions, it often leaves little to the imagination. Having access to movable natural items, such as branches, rocks, sticks, leaves and pinecones adds a new element to play. Natural playgrounds tend to inspire creative play in children because there are endless play opportunities.”

Angela J. Hanscom, Balanced & BareFoot

When we expand our understanding of outdoor play, we will begin to look beyond the park fences and understand that outdoor play is the beginning of a lifetime of friendship, love and oneness with the natural world.

Shyam’s trip to the Zoo

Here is a story of little Shyam who lives in Mysore with his parents Santhosh and Nidhi. Five year old Shyam has loved animals ever since he was a toddler and over the years accumulated many miniature figurines in his home. He recently watched the Jungle Book with his mother and was thoroughly spellbound by Mowgli and his life in the wild. Ever since, little Shyam has played Mowgli in his imaginary world with the miniature figurines as his friends.

Because of his love for animals, Santhosh decided to treat Shyam by taking him to the local zoo where he could see some real life animals. Little Shyam had excitedly planned his trip, interjecting many questions like “Will we see Baloo in the zoo?” and how he will scream and run when he sees “Kaa.” What Shyam did not fully comprehend was the meaning of the word Zoo! 

On the day of the much-anticipated trip, Shyam and Santhosh arrived at the zoo. The entire ride was spent in Shyam asking questions about what animals they will see and if he could play and swing with them. A worried Santhosh had clearly told Shyam that he cannot go near the animals and must hold appa’s hand at all times. At the zoo, Santhosh purchased two tickets and the duo excitedly entered together.

Soon, they reached the enclosure with the grey langurs.

Santhosh : See Shyama! Here are the Langurs. They are monkeys. Let us count how many monkeys are there in this cage.

Shyam : Appa! Look at that monkey’s tail. It is so long Appa.

Santhosh : Yes Shyama, monkeys have long tails.

Without a pause, Shyam immediately asked “Why?”

Santhosh : Monkeys need long tails to jump from one branch to another Shyama. The long tails give them balance so that they don’t fall down .

Santhosh was very pleased with his informative reply. Little did he know what was coming next.

Shyam : Appa, there are no branches here. Where will these monkeys jump?

Santhosh found the question bemusing yet innocent and couldn’t help but acknowledge a tinge of guilt creeping up as he looked at the enclosure packed with monkeys. He brushed the thought aside and proceeded to answer his curious son!

Santhosh : This is a zoo Shyama. The monkeys are here only for us to come and see them.

Thankfully, Shyam hadn’t fully paid attention to his father’s reply and was swiftly shooting out his next observation, “Appa, look at this monkey. It’s holding something and eating.”

Santhosh was relieved at the move on the subject and responded, “Yes yes, monkeys eat nuts and fruits.”

Shyam : Nuts? Like the nuts in my mechanical set?

Santhosh : No no, nuts like palm tree nuts, figs and bananas.

Shyam : But there are no trees here. Where will these monkeys find their nuts?

Santhosh : Look over there! That is the zookeeper, he will buy nuts and fruits for these monkeys from the supermarket.

The educative zoo trip was proving to be more educative for Santhosh than little Shyam. They finally made a move from the monkey enclosure to an enclosure with colourful parrots.

Santhosh : Look, Shyama, at these beautiful parrots and cockatiels. Look at the colour of their feather and their beak.

Shyam was meanwhile distractedly observing a particularly loud and large crow cawing from a big bin.

He immediately giggled and said “Appa, look at this crow and the way its saying kaa kaa.”

Santhosh : What is there in a crow Shyama? Look at these parrots. They are special and beautiful in colour.

Shyam : The crow is also beautiful in colour Appa.  

While Santhosh looked at his son amused and surprised, little Shyama continued to look at the crow, playing a game of caw-caw with very excited squeals and jumps in between. 

Washing Rice

Washing rice is a tradition that has been sacredly followed in many cultures for several generations. Children growing up in such environments watch this activity on a daily basis. This familiarity creates enthusiasm and since it involves water, they relish it. The texture of the dry rice as against the wet rice, the unique scent of each rice and their colour, along with the eye-hand coordination and muscle strength that this activity requires, contribute to an engaging and rich sensory experience.

Who is this for?

I would recommend this for children older than 18 months.

Things Required

  • 1 small bowl for rice (white, brown, black or red)
  • 1 medium pitcher for water
  • 1 rice washing colander 
  • 1 medium bowl for the starchy water 

Preparation

Usually, as adults, we wash rice at the sink by holding the colander in one hand and washing with the other. This is hard for young children who lack that kind of control. Also, most sinks at our homes are at adult height and for a toddler to stand on a step stool and handle the colander and water is inconvenient. For this reason, I find that having everything at a table frees the child to focus on the task in hand. An older child, who has more balance and control over water usage can wash directly at the sink.

Some families are sentimental about wastage of rice. In such a case, minimise the quantity of rice in the bowl or switch to a smaller bowl.

I also feel that we need to find a balance between child size tools and adult tools in the kitchen. For instance, in this recipe I have used an adult colander because I feel the child can achieve the purpose of the task with this colander. These are also ways to communicate to the child that our worlds can meet and merge in the kitchen! As always, you are the best judge of what will work in your home for your child!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Come, let us wash some rice for dinner.” Introduce everything at the table else tell the child what is required and gather them together.

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Show the child to feel the texture of dry rice and take in the unique aroma.

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Show the child to transfer the rice into the colander.

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Fetch water in a pitcher and show the child to pour into the colander.

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Mix and draw attention to the change in colour of the water.

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Let the child mix and wash the rice however they can. Show the child to pour the starchy water into the medium bowl. 

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It is helpful to draw attention to the water flowing through the holes. 

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Let the child repeat by fetching more water and washing. I generally use the starchy water to feed the plants or pour in a bowl for birds and squirrels. Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash.

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Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Come, let us wash some rice for dinner.”
  • Introduce everything at the table else tell the child what is required and gather them together.
  • Show the child to feel the texture of dry rice and take in the unique aroma.
  • Show the child to transfer the rice into the colander.
  • Fetch water in a pitcher and show the child to pour into the colander.
  • Mix and draw attention to the change in colour of the water.
  • Let the child mix and wash the rice however they can. 
  • Show the child to pour the starchy water into the medium bowl.
  • It is helpful to draw attention to the water flowing through the holes. 
  • Let the child repeat by fetching more water and washing.
  • I generally use the starchy water to feed the plants or pour in a bowl for birds and squirrels.
  • Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash.

The Wisdom of Skin-Skin: From One Mamma to Another

Skin-to-skin is a wonderful way to bond with your baby in moments, weeks and days following birth. It is reassuring for the baby to stay in the arms of the mother whom they know from life in utero. For the mother, nothing is more soothing than to hold, protect and provide for her baby. 

Lets hear more about this from a Mamma of two from Switzerland. 

Hi Uthra, tell us about yourself and your family.

I am Uthra, a stay at home mom. My husband, Adithya, and I have been married for five years and we have two beautiful daughters Kanaa (4.5 years) and Kalki (9 months).

How was your birthing experience with Kanaa different from Kalki?

My first child, Kanaa, was born in Palo Alto, California. Well before Kanaa was born I was very sure that I would want to take an epidural for the birthing. Kanaa, although, seemed to have a different plan for us. Even before I was induced with pitocin, I had begun to experience severe contractions, this was followed by a full dose of epidural. Labor lasted only for five hours and she was ready to be pushed out very soon. Given that I was on a full dose of epidural I couldn’t feel anything below my hip. It also did not help during the final moments of pushing. She popped out at the sixth hour of labor. My experience of birthing Kanaa was 100% painless.

My second child Kalki was born in Basel, Switzerland. The hospital was a four-minute walk from home. When the contractions began, my husband and I simply walked to the hospital with the suitcase and got admitted. Seven hours into the contractions, our midwife told us that we were doing so well and that I would very well be able to give birth without pain med. She reminded us that an epidural would only slow down the natural process. We decided that we would go ahead without any pain med this time and the pushing started after 10 hours of active labor. Of course there was more pain than I was already experiencing but, honestly, I realised how natural the process is, how the body automatically gains a whole lot of power and releases any amount of energy required in order to give birth. It was magical!

Both experiences were totally different but absolutely memorable.

How did they encourage bonding with your babies soon after birth? Was it different in California and Basel?

With my first-born, Kanaa, everything was new for the both of us. I had absolutely no idea what it was to feed, burp and put a baby to sleep. Only the day after my birthing, did the nurse introduce me to skin-skin. However, everything was different with my second one.The midwife made sure that I gave birth in absolute comfort. The hospital felt like home; as though I was taking a break from my routine to give birth to my child. The mothers especially, are expected to instinctively care for the child. There are no given instructions, no rules! All our questions were answered but unlike America where I was given a “feed routine” , a “how to burp and when to burp” lecture, the mothers were allowed to do what they thought was right to do. And the nurse would intervene if she thinks I could do something differently.

Representative photo of skin-skin moments after birth, not the family in the article.

Tell us about your skin-to-skin routine.

With Kanaa, after every feed I would burp her, lay her on my chest in a way that she could hear my heartbeat and nap with her. Thanks to my mother in law and mother, who were both there to help me one after the other, I had the luxury to simply feed and nap with Kanaa in the room. I would come out only to eat, and bathe. I continued this for two whole months.

With Kalki I would feed  and hold her for more than thirty minutes while she would sleep peacefully. I would then lay her beside me but very close to me and nap with her. Once I was home, my first one naturally expected me to be there for her usual morning routine etc., and it took her a little while to understand. During the night I would feed Kalki lying down on my side and let her sleep close to me feeling my warmth. 

Tell us how skin-to-skin helped you and how you think it helped your babies.

Feeling those tiny little fingers and toes and soft cheeks. Who wouldn’t like it ? And it’s every mother’s blessing to be able to have the opportunity to touch and feel their babies the most. Newborns usually feed and sleep in loop, and it would be just as easy to drop them in the crib soon after a feed, as it would be to hold them against your chest.  I love the feeling, the warmth of her against me and how I can wrap a tiny human being within my arms and watch her sleep peacefully.

The first couple of months are always stressful for the mommy. To be available at all odd hours to feed and to be able to put the baby to sleep at anytime. It is not easy. I believe that skin to skin helped lessen the stress. It gave me a lot of calm.

And the babies, who are so fragile and new, who’ve had the warmth and calm in the cocoon of the womb, look for the same kind of “wrapped” feeling in order to feel secure in the new world. No amount of swaddling will equal skin-skin. Once you have them on your skin the heat in your body is more than enough to keep them warm and comfortable during those first couple of weeks. It made a lot of difference.

Do you think bonding with the other parent is just as necessary?

Absolutely. My husband would hold them close and tight and have them sleep on his tummy or chest every time he could. He had the luxury of time with my first-born more than my second. It helps mothers a lot if the fathers also had skin-skin time with the babies as this helps the babies to get familiarised with the smell and touch of the fathers too. And when in distress, one wouldn’t have to always look for the mother, the skin-skin familiarisation with daddy could also calm the baby. 

Representative photo, not the family in the article.

Even siblings should be encouraged to do this. No matter how young they are. It’s every parent’s anxiety – whether the first-born would accept his or her sister/ brother easily. The sense of touch can do wonders. Kanaa was encouraged to hold Kalki a couple of times against her skin. She found it funny in the beginning but she slowly began to sing to her and feel Kalki’s new soft skin while singing. And she thoroughly loved it. I like to believe that this helped Kalki recognise her sister so easily. Kalki now enjoys Kanaa’s attention and waits for it everyday.

Can you share an encouraging note to every mamma out there to skin-to-skin?

Dear beautiful new mommies, the first couple of months after your newborn’s arrival are very important for you and the whole family. With a whole lot of emotions to deal with, first comes the happiness and excitement, followed by sleepless nights, stress and anxiety. There are times when one would just want to be left alone. Not having to care for a tiny human being all round the clock. But you’ll see how these babies return all your love and care multifold. They give back in numerous ways. So it is important to stop and take a second to breathe. Breathe with your baby against your skin. Give that time for them. You’ll see how much difference it could make. It really makes life calmer and easier during those first couple of months.

Share a Meal with your Child

What is a Meal? 

A meal is a coming together of a group of people, sharing their day with each other, valuing each other’s presence, being grateful for the food that they are eating and leaving everything else to just be there for one another! A meal is so much more than eating; a meal implies a family! 

In the book Cooked : A Natural History of Transformation, Michael Pollan says, “The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilisation: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences and arguing without offending.

When a meal carries so much value, why is it that children, who are learning what it means to be a family, have little to no experience of eating as a family?

The Real Struggle behind Eating

With young children, eating is a continuous and isolated activity that is done at a different time from the rest of the family. It always begins with a parent taking a spoonful of food to the child’s mouth and ends with the child turning their face away. This is when desperation and impatience set in and to somehow navigate this trying time, we devise techniques and strategies to ‘trick’ our children into eating. 

The first is to try and distract them with a toy or two, or point to different things in the room and feed them without their conscious involvement. If this doesn’t work, we resort to the Ipad technique and while the child is completely engrossed in the visuals, we quickly sneak in one too many spoonfuls. If neither of these work, we resort to threats! Now, threats always come in varying degrees of intensity, from denying them access to their favourite toy to telling them that they will be left behind while the rest of the family goes to the park. The other technique is chasing them around the house while they distractedly run from one object to another with no recollection of having eaten. If none of these work, we resort to pleading, “Please have just one more spoonful for me” or “See, I am sad now that you are not eating.” After much coaxing, cajoling, tears and threats, our children finish one bowl of rice only for us to realise that the same techniques have to be tried again, in exactly a few hours!

While these techniques that we employ may temporarily do the trick and even seem harmless at the moment, they leave lasting impressions. If we want our children to value meal-time as family time, eat more consciously and develop a holistic relationship with food, we need to first have a place for them at the table and share our meals with them!

A family table with a one year old and two six-year olds.

Share a Meal with your Child – Why?

  • Being Valued 

Having a place at the table communicates to children that they are an integral part of the family and that their presence is valued. Families must make the effort to eat at least one meal a day together. Regardless of the age of the child, we can seek participation at the table. Even a six month old can nibble on a piece of fruit while being a part of the table. By having a place at the table, we communicate to the child that meal-time is family time.

  • An Opportunity to Imitate & Imbibe 

At the table, children get to watch how different members of their family (& friends) eat, how they pass around food, and take turns serving. Eating by themselves at the table also gives them the opportunity to watch other members and practice repeatedly. It is important to remember that children learn purely by observation and repetition! So, the more effort we take to eat together, the more opportunities for them to observe and learn.

  • Seeing Food as a Whole 

Children often eat without ever knowing what they are eating. In chasing and running from one room to the other and watching the Ipad whilst completely unaware of what is going into their mouth, children never get to actually see food on a plate. At the table, they get to see rice and beans, roti and dal, the various eating utensils and cutlery all come together as a whole. Meal-time is also when we can give them tiny tastes of the different dishes and let them experience the variety of our culture.

  • Learning the Art of Conversation 

It is important for children to be part of the conversations that happen at the table. While eating, we can show them how to acknowledge the effort and love that has gone into cooking. As children grow older, they will also begin to participate and contribute, thus becoming grateful for the food and each others contribution. At the table is also where we can draw attention to the different dishes and the ingredients that have gone into it. Involve them and acknowledge their response whether it is a coo, a babble, a nod or a phrase. This elevates the experience of eating and makes it joyful and something to look forward to. 

We must help children create a healthy association with food and cultivate a love for it. When eating comes with conversations, a place at the table, an opportunity to taste different dishes, it becomes much more than a dreaded affair that ends in tears. By sharing a meal with our children, we not only show them what it means to be a family, but also give them the freedom to take food to their mouth! We respect and value their presence and gradually, they begin to associate food with family time, conversations and an opportunity to feed themselves.