Ask Amma

Archive for the ‘Why’ Category

Why is my baby so calm?

In Why on 17 October 2012 at 8:10 pm

Every one around me wonders, when I say, my son doesn’t cry much or he just wakes up only once during night for a feed and never cries for milk. I have seen him cry a very few times from the time he was born. The maximum he does while he is hungry is put all his fingers in his mouth or keep rolling and turning right and left.  My dad came 2 days ago and was astonished to see that he doesn’t cry while having bath. He seems very active otherwise. 
Does such behavior and gestures reveal the personality of of my little one when he is grown up? Will he be a shy and a introvert personality? 
– Amma of a 3-month-old in Baltimore
     Are you keeping a journal of these observations and questions?  What a rich experience it will be to revisit them. I am no behavioural scientist so I will start with the obvious – your observations are coloured by your expectations.  One person’s shy is another person’s gregarious.
     Now to your first question.  Crying is a form of communication.  Putting his fingers in his mouth or rolling and turning seem to be other signals that you have learned to read.  Eye contact, squirming, tense fists, craning neck, can all signal needs.   If he is able to communicate in other ways then he has no need to cry.
Dr Sears says:

 We have been led to believe that it is “normal” for babies to cry a lot, 
 but in other cultures this is not accepted as the norm. 

So one answer could be that he is not crying because he feels heard and is content.
     But if you feel that he is not only not crying but also not communicating very much, then I would suggest being more receptive.  Just as adjusting the tuner on the radio can make the sound come through clearly, there are ways you can tune in to the questions, concerns and messages your baby conveys.  The more you listen, the more baby tells you.  The more baby is involved in the happenings of those around him, the more he has to talk about.
     One lesson offered to modern society in Jean Liedloff’s groundbreaking work, The Continuum Concept is to let the world of babies be integrated with the world of the adults around them rather than keeping them in his “baby spaces” e.g. bed / cradle / playpen and with baby paraphernalia.  Some new parents are so concerned not to disturb baby’s feeding and sleeping that they separate baby from the rest of the family, household and social activities.  This often means missing out on all the fun – and remember that for baby, your work is a big part of the fun.  If you have to leave what you are doing in order to attend to baby, the atmosphere may be stifled.   Why not drop the formalities, carry on while carrying baby and let the ideas flow freely? The sling helps parents do just that.  Babywearer-in-chief, Dr. Sears, writes:

 Because baby is intimately involved in the mother and father’s world, she is exposed to, and participates in, the environmental stimuli that mother selects and is protected from those stimuli that bombard or overload her developing nervous system.

– Dr. William Sears, “Benefits of Babywearing
     The sooner a mother gets comfortable nursing anytime, anywhere, the easier life will be for both mother and child.  If one feels the need to go to a separate room or cover up every time baby nurses, it limits one’s mobility – no fun for mother or child.  While Ask Amma does not endorse any diaper, she offers for your amusement this advertisement for Lugs featuring a mother nursing freely in public.   No special clothing is required to nurse in public but if a nursing top nursing makes you feel more comfortable, by all means get one and nurse away.  Jivika nursing kurtas are zipper-free, making for discreet latch-on and latch-off.
     The sling and the nursing kurta are two garments that helps moms stay involved in various activities, even while attending to little ones.  This attention and involvement allows children greater exposure into the social behaviour of adults and also gives them a safe space to talk, listen and think.
     In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain describes how she came to embrace her quiet nature after a lifetime of trying to conform to social expectations to be the opposite, and invites readers to recognize the often overlooked strengths of introverts.  She contends that contemporary American society has over the decades, come to presume a higher degree of extraversion than in the past, and than is comfortable for a large part of the population that thrives on solitude.  She urges everyone to nurture environments that accommodate diverse personalities.  When allowed to blossom on their own, introvert and extravert qualities will develop along with other aspects of one’s personality.

Why is my toddler never still?

In Why on 17 October 2012 at 8:09 pm
Our son only wants to play outdoors.  From the moment he wakes up he has his morning outdoor time  — a walk, going to get milk, neighbour’s shops and houses etc.   After which we have to attend to various chores at home and outside. Whichever one of us is going out – there’s a massive scene and howling because he wants to be out (which we do sometimes but its not always possible to take him everywhere).  We try to involve him with some of the chores – like cleaning together or work in the kitchen but he gets distracted and starts throwing things around and wants to make a mess till the whole place looks like a war zone. The only thing he is happy doing indoors is bathing. So we have two long sessions in the bathroom (which can only be done in the summers).   Apart from that he just wants to be with mud, stones, puddles, running up and down the roads.  Even with other kids, he prefers outside play. 
So here are my questions:
  • Are any other mothers of toddlers who are experiencing this?
  • What do we do to make the home environment (and us) more suited to this highly energetic kid?
  • What do we do to calm him down/relax, get him to sit and play? Is it asking for too much?
– mother of an 18-month old in Palampur
     Reader, Amma begs your indulgence for including the entire question with little editing, because, being long past the toddler stage, I simply found the description delightful.  I do hope you are keeping a journal.

     My daughter also wanted to be outside every waking moment, from day one and I don’t think it eased up for several years.  She even bathed outside at times.  When we were inside we had to make it worth her sacrifice.

Can you put on music and dance?  Do you have stairs?  Can you invent a game that involves lots of going up and down? How about playing hide and seek?  If you run out of hiding places for people, first of all, remember that little ones are happy to hide in the same place any number of times, provided you struggle dramatically to find them.  (Or even in visible places – see Ollie all over.)  Another option in small spaces is to play hide and seek with objects rather than people.  Is there a porch where he can safely be outside while you are at home?  Can you get the mud, stones, puddles right there?   Chetana Amma describes her daughter’s exploits on the Terrace in Chennai.

     My modus operandi in the early years was always to try to “tire her out.”  Obviously this is easier to do outside.  Sometimes other parents and I used to meet outside while our kids ran around … what used to go through my mind was, she needs to play enough to get hungry enough to eat enough to fall asleep.   I saw others engage the help of a young woman or teenage student to take the kids outside sometimes – usually for payment but it could also be in exchange for help with homework.
     Even more fun then play was of course, work.  I first learned the entertainment potential of laundry when my 3-year-old nephew came to stay with us for a summer.  Every stage of soaking, swirling, brushing, beating, wringing, drying, removing and folding was a game in itself.  (What, you don’t swirl your clothes in the bucket?)  So the entertainment was ready when my daughter came along.  See her dry.
      Is there is some way that you can incorporate the clean-up component into the game that he plays when he throws the stuff around (instead of being work that has to be done after the game is over)?  If there is too much stuff and you are feeling burdened to keep up with the work of cleaning up, I would consider relocating some of it so that it is not accessible.  When you do this, don’t think of it as a sanction imposed for not cleaning up, but simply as a way to stay organized. You can cheerfully explain, for example, that the toys need to go home now and they will be back later, after some other toys go home.
     Evolutionarily it makes sense for kids to be accustomed to the freedom of going outside whenever they want.  Till recently adults have also been outside. Moreover, young children were not constrained by the need to have their parents accompany them at all times.  Other adults or older children would do.  In rural areas I have seen children as young as 5 out and about on their own.  If we find ourselves reining in our little ones on a shorter leash, the shortcoming lies in our society and not in their desire for a wider range of freedom.
    Rather than try to contain this in the home, we should work to create a society where kids can fulfill their need to be out and energetic .   At least we can acknowledge that their need is legitimate and try to overcome our limitations in fulfilling it.  Once we work from this approach, we can take small concrete steps that at least meet this need halfway.

Why is my baby not playing with toys?

In Why on 17 October 2012 at 8:08 pm
My son has a lots of toys (given as gifts), and we haven’t found the need of them so far. Is that a good sign or should we engage him with toys, just as a general protocol?  Every time he is fussy, we talk to him, make noises and try to interpret some sort of a conversation when he responds to our talk. He has gotten so used to this that, when we try to engage him with toys he doesn’t like it. He prefers being carried and talked to all the time. What is your take on this?  
-mother of a 3 month old in Baltimore
     His preference makes perfect sense to me.  Why would you want to change it?  My take on toys is that less is more. Or for a spiritual take – tat tvam asi – you are the toy.   (Or a Louis XIV take:  Le jouet, c’est moi.) In the early months and years of life, very few store-bought toys can satisfy one longer than the simple entertainments of being carried and talked to all the time.  Soon kids get busy in the kitchen, garden, or laundry room, and invent a number of other pursuits using pens, books, clothes, phones, utensils, and just about anything other than a toy.
     Those who give gifts are well-meaning, but remember it is the thought that counts.  You can appreciate that thought while carefully keeping the toy in storage, generously passing it along to someone in need, or gratefully exchanging it.  You can also be thoughtful when giving gifts to others – rather than giving toys, why not something that does not accumulate?  Fruit basket, art supplies, a coupon for a special storytime with you or playdate at the park.  Such gifts delight the parents as much as the child.
     To get the most fun out of toys, introduce them slowly.  To avoid having to throw out / pass along a toy simply to make space for new ones, get fewer toys and let your child decide when s/he no longer wants it.  I have seen my daughter play with the same toy differently over the years, and I could not have predicted which toy would have this lasting appeal and potential for versatility.   Don’t limit their use to the one intended by the manufacturer.  As Arvind Gupta says, with a gleam in his eye, “The best thing a child can do with a toy is to break it!”  Worried?  Try these toys!

Why is my baby not eating food?

In Why on 17 October 2012 at 8:07 pm
My daughter hardly eats anything.  She breastfeeds and has around 250 to 300 ml of milk a day –  that’s it. She just doesn’t want to eat any solids.  She sometimes obliges me but it happens only once in a blue moon. She used to have home made baby food earlier but now seems to have an aversion to anything and everything. She has not gained any weight in past 2 months. Please help me out …I’m so worried 😦
– Mama of a 1 year old in Delhi

     First, let’s talk about weight gain. Read the rest of this entry »

Cogito Ergo

In Why on 23 August 2012 at 3:30 am
My son doesn’t finish his schoolwork within the given time.  Why? 
From the archives of our young friend Sahith, we find this observation he made at age 6, regarding something that happened at school:
I think and that is why I am afraid I run out of time.

His Amma generously shares his wit and witticisms with the world at 5 … going on 12.

Crying for no reason

In Why on 11 August 2012 at 8:00 pm

My baby is crying, yelling without any reasons and wants me to play with her all day round.  Can’t do anything!  Help!

– Ma of an 18-month-old in Kolkata
La Leche League Pan-India: Breastfeeding Resource

Times when my daughter was crying or yelling “without any reason,” I thought back and tried to put myself in her shoes.  More often than not, the reason became apparent.  Maybe she had asked for something in a quiet voice but no one listened.  Maybe the day had been rushed.  I had a checklist I would use when in doubt: “Are you well-rested, well-fed, well-read, and well-hugged?”  It became a kind of calming routine that allowed us to troubleshoot.  Sometimes we used “well-worked”  or “well-played.”  You can substitute anything you enjoy doing together like “well-danced” or “well-bathed” or even “well-turned upside down.”  Even now, sometimes she herself comes and tell me, after observing her own anger or frustration, “I am not well-fed.” or “I am not well-hugged.”   There will also be times when we don’t know the reason – this happens to adults too.  You may not be able to make your child’s tears go away, but you can offer a shoulder.

Maybe, like you, she too is thinking, “Can’t do anything!  Help!”  My first thought when looking at the two pieces of the puzzle – her desire for more play and your need to do other things, is – involve her in the things you do.  At 18 months, my daughter was never happier than when at work.  She could water plants, dig in the garden, wash and dry clothes, rinse, dry and put away dishes, sweep and mop floors, dust tables, pour dal into jars (one of her top jobs), sort fruits and vegetables and wash them if needed (and even if not needed.)  Before cooking I would often give her a vessel with rice or dal and ask her to wash and mix it.  She would do this for a while and then I would cook it.  My memory is hazy with the ages, but “helping” make chapatis was also a favourite chore of hers, and by age 3 her creations were edible.

Letting her help will slow down the pace of your work, but it will meet her (and your!) need for play, which to her is not different from work.  The work is not only “your” work.  It is her work too.  As kids become verbal, these times of shared work become the setting for very interesting conversations as well.  If we think back to earlier times, or visit our rural cousins, we find that children enjoy the company of all ages, throughout the day.  They naturally take part in a range of activities, sometimes in the lead, sometimes in the background.  It can be difficult to provide such diversity of company or of activity in modern urban settings, but we can acknowledge that we are missing something important.  With a bit of creativity and if possible, help from extended family or neighbours, we can try to make up for it.

Cloth or synthetic diapers?

In Why on 26 May 2012 at 1:24 am

Cloth Diapers Vs Synthetic Diapers: My husband feels it is quite strenuous to deal with washing and drying the cloth diapers. I feel, at least during the day time, it would be nice to use to a cloth diaper to develop a bonding and increase the baby’s communication with the parents.

-mom-to-be in Maryland

I have never met a baby who liked to sit in his own waste. Not for a moment. I have often stood by helplessly as I saw babies protest having a diaper put on them.  My husband and I used diapers for months before recognizing, in retrospect, all the signals our baby was giving us to keep the diaper off and allow her to relieve herself in peace and with dignity. Read the rest of this entry »

Why does water put fire out?

In Why on 17 February 2012 at 5:23 pm

Why does water put fire out?
from Mothering Community

Ga-goo turns into "why? how?" faster than a speeding bullet! Once your kids learn to talk, be prepared for questions on everything under the sun. And beyond.

Why does water put fire out? Remember, this is not an exam. Your job is not to defend your thesis. Your job is to defend your child’s inquiring mind, which may be assaulted by any of the following responses:

"Don’t ask such questions!"
"Why do you need to know?"
"You are too young to understand"
"I don’t know / cannot explain. Do something else."

Gentle reader, as you read this you are no doubt thinking, "I would never say that to my precious little one when s/he comes to me with a question. I would embrace each and every question as an opportunity to listen and share and discover!"

Good. Now ponder. Would you …

– say fire needs oxygen, air has oxygen, water keeps air and hence oxygen away ergo, fire is out
– demonstrate by covering candle with glass, cutting off air supply
– show wood burning, point out the bubbles at the ends and describe how the heat releases gas that keeps the fire fed (thus creating more heat)?

– find books / websites to explain
– not answer and maybe keep making fires and putting them out and let child observe, think, unraveling further questions

What if answering the question pre-empts discovery? I often find myself wondering about this. Our heads are so full of facts. How do we keep quiet? (And even if we say fire needs oxygen, there is always "why does fire need oxygen?")

Let me recall a question that I did not readily know how to answer. For example when my four-year old asked me when the earth started turning, I was a bit stumped. In retrospect, I am glad I was stumped, otherwise I might have just said something like 4.5 billion years and then maybe gone on to talk about what a billion was and thought it was a great moment of spontaneous learning. Instead I slowly repeated the question and stayed with it for a little while but did not really answer it – maybe somewhere in there I said, "for a very long time." A year later when we were at the Museum of Natural History she saw some video about the collisions of heavenly bodies and exclaimed, "so that is how the earth started turning, and those collisions are still going on!"

Not an "independent discovery" since she saw it explained on a video, but what impressed me was that the question had stayed with her and she connected this information to it with gusto. How glad I was that I did not give a date in the past … even in that moment I had some inkling that the relevant part was the turning and not the age of the earth – because when she finally got her answer, she delighted in the ongoing nature of the process responsible for the turning.

Toddler Screaming?

In Why on 26 September 2011 at 8:32 am

My 17 month old loves to scream like the roof was falling, just for the “fun” of it! She might be seeking attention, but getting it doesn’t stop the outburst. It is quite brain numbing. Are there any positive ways of dealing and making things turn for the better, while the iron is still hot?

You must have heard the interpretations of toddlers dropping / throwing things to be experiments with gravity and the laws of motion. Likewise it seems that sound has awakened the scientist in your little one. If she is screaming for “fun” in places where quiet is expected, then are there things you could during such visits that would turn her attention to other interesting things? Snacks, songs, brain-teasers? Elsewhere, can you offer enough time where she can be loud without disturbing anyone, while you manage with earmuffs? Or go outside and shout right along with her? As you try to see things from her point of view, also explain your concerns about the noise and modes of expression – she may not understand everything now, but she will understand that understanding needs to be a mutual exercise.

If, however she is screaming in anger or frustration, then it is important to look for causes – they may not be related to what is happening at the time of the screaming. Life has changed so much for babies and infant bodies may still be expecting the kind of open spaces they have had for hundreds of generations before.   Though I sought to work by consensus, I recognized that the mere fact that our front door was closed was an authoritative restriction that severely affected my daughter’s ability to move about.  She always wanted to be outside, but depended on others to open the door. Because our modern urban world requires us to go outside along with our toddlers, she did not always get the door opened either.

I have seen that when my daughter did not have control over some important aspect of her life, she would express frustration over something that seemed like “nothing” in itself. I knew what others were thinking – that this baby is spoiled, fussy, throws tantrums if things don’t go her way. To address the frustration, however, one must see what one can do to increase the baby’s sense of control and of being respected in the big picture, and not reduce it to the thing that sparked the outburst.

A final suggestion – some amount of role play, modelling polite ways to get attention can help. For example, even before my daughter could say more than a few words, I would tell her, “when you want something, you need to say amma.” Likewise for the rest of the family she learned to say nanna, ammamma, tatayya etc. So when she carried her shoes to the door wanting to go outside, instead of kicking or screaming, she would say, “amma.” We also had a kind of sign language with signs for water, potty, book, open, over, and a few others that she used regularly.

Fruits vs. added sugar

In Why on 14 June 2011 at 3:20 pm

My dad says I am being silly being so strict about no added sugar while my daughter gobbles tons of whole fruit ! Any good argument other than the fact that fruits contain other nutrients and not just fructose too?:)

– mom of a 2.5 year old in Dallas

Obviously whole food is better than processed food. Because whole foods take time to chew, the body has time to feel full before one can overeat. Fruits contain fiber, and innumerable nutrients, not only the few that appear on the labels of packaged food. Michael Pollan writes in In Defense of Food that many nutrients that are available in the fresh, whole form are not absorbed from the processed versions (juice, jam etc). Nutrients are absorbed in synergy, chewing, etc. I have never heard of "overdoing" whole fruit but if you are concerned, I would look for foods from other food groups, rather than added sugar to balance the diet.

Most people, and most of our families a generation or two ago, eat food that was neither packaged nor processed, other than the processing done at home. Because this takes time, it is naturally limited. Now when processed sugar is far cheaper than whole foods, and packaged food is everywhere, how would we limit it?

There are a variety of approaches to food. Let me share my approach and why I believe it worked well in helping us have not only healthy eating habits but also healthy attitudes about food.

What I did was to avoid added sugar and refined grains entirely in the first few years of life. In the first year I avoided salt as well, This allowed my daughter to taste food on its own. Using these years to introduce a wide variety of foods, as close to their whole form as possible, set the foundation for a healthy and balanced diet. Introducing processed / sugary foods after she had years of experience with whole foods gave the whole foods an advantage – she didn’t like white bread or white rice – and allowed her to understand that different roles different foods played in our diet.

In the initial years we also avoided packaged food almost entirely – exceptions started with puffed rice / puffed millet and grew gradually. But mostly we cooked from scratch. Parents who followed this approach have told me that their child rejected "baby food" from the jar though when they made the same thing at home the child ate it quite happily.

By the time I was prepared to introduce refined / added-sugar foods, I was confident that my daughter and I could have a meaningful conversation about

– roles of a wide variety of foods
– limiting intake of refined foods e.g., after meals, not every day, not too much

– need to brush teeth (or in a pinch, eat a carrot / celery / apple) after sweet / sticky foods.

Above were guidelines we used in our family, yours could be different – the important thing is that you be ready to explain your guidelines, be answerable (why?) and also be flexible. [And feed them before birthday
parties ;-)]

In my experience, the "strictness" in the initial years makes restrictions obsolete in the later years. Incidentally I found the same approach effective with media as well.

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