Media Addiction and kids

We live in the age of media addiction. Find me a person who isn’t addicted and I’ll show you someone who was born ninety years ago. Whether it’s TV, computers, smart phones we all want it. So what about the next generation? They look to be primed to experience instant media gratification at any time. Thanks to Youtube and smart phones, if you have a whinging child you can just chuck their favourite show on and plant them in front of it. Is this a good thing though?

My first daughter is a media addict despite our best efforts to avoid it. If it was up to her she’d watch her favourite show all day long. When she watches she really watches too. I’m not talking about having it in the background. She is glued to that screen. As a parent you may think that sounds fantastic. What a great babysitter. It’s not though. Three months ago we were having a constant battle about it. She’d beg for one episode of her favourite show. We’d relent. At the end of the show she’d scream and cry for another episode. If we relented again her behaviour and attitude would visibly get worse. It was obvious to us that the more she watched the crankier she got. It made no sense to us to let her watch anything.

Zero tolerance didn’t work. She was cranky about not watching TV and worse after watching it. What to do? Our child is now two and a half. She’s reached the stage where she understands cause and effect reasonably well. It’s such a difference. So we’ve been using media as flat out bribery. We wanted her to go to bed early and get up early mostly because we wanted a break after 9.  We told her if she gets up before 7am she can watch two episodes of Peppa Pig, 5 minutes per episode. Now at about 8.30 she says to us If i go to be now and get up early i can watch Peppa pig. Actually she says it in Japanese which is only four or five words. The next adjustment we wanted was toilet usage. She was going well with her toilet training but suddenly stopped using the toilet in the house. She was fine everywhere else just not in the house. So we made a chart. Every time she used the toilet we’d draw a picture of Anpanman on her chart. When she gets three of them she can watch an episode of Anpanman, 10 minutes. That means she should be able to watch at least one episode a day. On the weekend she gets a free episode of Moomin, 30 minutes. So far it’s worked really well. She says it’s time to finish watching herself and rarely asks for another episode. When she does we don’t relent no matter how cranky she gets. To my wife and I the TV is a babysitter who gives our kids alcohol and cigarettes.

For our second daughter we’re trying for zero exposure to media for her first few years. After all if you don’t get exposed to it you don’t feel the need for it. What does a one year old gain from watching TV? For that matter what does a two year old gain? How about a three year old? Before you say they are experiencing language in use, think about what you are doing when you watch TV. What are your thought processes? If you are anything like me your brain is running purely on cruise control if that. Anyone who’s tried to have a conversation with me while a TV is on can attest to that.

Funny thing about all this is that it makes me feel like such a strict parent. Everything you do for your child though should be factoring it what it is doing for their development. What’s better, her watching TV or her playing with her toys or with one of us? The answer is pretty obvious to me.

Toilet Training – What we did

So we’ve been toilet training our little two year old for a while now. It’s been reasonably successful. accidents still occur but generally our girl is good. So what did we do?

1. Made the toilet an interesting place. I covered the walls with paper and drew pictures for her. Every time she sat on the toilet i would draw a new picture or stamped her hand

2. Bought her pants when we started the training; this may seem counter intuitive but by getting her pants we were preparing her for the next step. Of course she still wet the pants but the discomfort of having wet pants gave her incentive to go to the toilet.

3. Went to the toilet with her. Infants mimic adults. If they never see us using the toilet then why would they go. We have to model the behaviour. Show her it’s all normal.

4. reassured her when she had an accident. It’s counter productive to yell at a kid for peeing themselves. This is just common sense

5. Read her kids books about going to the toilet.

6. took her to the toilet after she had an accident, cleaned her up and sat her down on the toilet. It’s an opportunity to get her used to what you are meant to do in the toilet.

I’m sure there are other things we did that I haven’t recalled. Our girl isn’t perfect about the toilet but she gets the idea. That’s the main thing anyway.

Giving Birth in Japan

We have two kids. My wife gave birth to our first in Australia and the second in Japan. To me the procedures for both births looked about the same. I’m sure there were differences but I couldn’t tell. One thing that is a major difference though is drugs. My wife gave birth to the second baby with nothing but a sports drink and an oxygen mask. What’s more remarkable about this is that it is standard. Women in Japan tend not to have epidurals. Before anyone says their babies are smaller. The average size in Japan is around 3.5 kilograms. Not massive I know, but not tiny either. So are they built of sturdier stuff? Probably not. I’m not sure what the difference here is. Why for the first kid my wife had everything they had to give her and the second she needed little. My wife was impressed by the way they went about it though and swore she’d only ever give birth in Japan from now on. So there must be a difference. Perhaps I’ll write another blog on that one when I find out more. What happens after birth in Japan is more interesting though.

After birth the mother stays in the clinic she gave birth at for a week. You get your own private room and three meals a day in very generous and delicious portions. Of course there are also showers and toilets you can use. The baby is cared for for three days by the midwives at the clinic fed on bottled milk. They also pump breast-milk from the mum so the baby gets what it needs from that too.  On the third day the baby is brought into mum for full time care. Of course the midwives are still all there if the mum wants help. At the end of the week mum can go home. When my wife and I tell Japanese people what happens in Australia, one day and you’re out, they can’t believe it. My wife said the experience was fantastic and really helped her adjust to having the baby at home when she got out.

Another difference in giving birth is the first month. In Japan it is common wisdom to not take your baby out of the house for the first month. I’m honestly not sure if this is a good idea or not. At first it seems a little tough on the carer if they can’t go anywhere for a month. The logic behind it though is pretty reasonable. There are two reasons for it. First is to make sure the baby isn’t exposed to any illnesses. Secondly to unsure the transition to outside the womb living is stress free and simple. Perhaps there is something to it.

Parenting in Japan and Australia

Perhaps one day I’ll write a thesis on this but not today. Today it’s just some observations on differences I’ve noticed between the two countries.

Recently we had our second baby. She is two months old. As you’d expect from a baby this age she tends to cry a lot between 9pm and 12pm. She then wakes up every three hours crying. My wife and I started doing research on what we could do to help our baby settle. The results were quite surprising. Almost all of the English sites on the topic said the same thing. Just let them cry. The Japanese sites though were stressing the importance of giving the baby comfort and be patient until they settle. All sites both in Japanese and English said this is just a phase and in the third and fourth month the baby will adjust to day night patterns. Either way the baby will settle after a month so which is better? For us letting the baby cry is impossible. This kind of response is only possible if you have a wide open spaces perspective. In Australia the baby has it’s own room away from yours. You can’t hear the kid cry anyway unless you set up a two way radio or a video. In Japan the baby is right there with you. I couldn’t ignore the baby’s cry if I wanted to. The other thing about this though is that I don’t want to ignore the baby’s cry. I want to comfort the baby and honestly I think that’s important. The baby in its first few months is only just adjusting to the world. I don’t need to lay down the law with it tell it this is what life is. I want the baby to know that it’s surrounded by love and happiness. If that means occasionally getting up and walking back and forward in my kitchen rocking her back to sleep I’m OK with it.

As hinted at we sleep in the same room as both our babies. Well one is two years old but she still wants to be babied sometimes so I call her our baby. When we had our first one everyone from doctors and midwives to parents and friends said ‘Don’t sleep on the same bed as your baby, you’ll crush them.’ Honestly I don’t see how this is possible but a little research revealed that this has happened. In Japan the opposite is the case. Doctors, midwives, parents and friends all recommend sharing the bed with your babies to better cater to their needs at night. Two years in and neither my wife and i have ever come close to rolling over onto one of our kids. That said though if you aren’t so sure about your ability to wake up don’t try it or test yourself by putting a doll in your bed and see if you wake up after rolling onto it. Interestingly enough it isn’t so rare to people to keep on sleeping in the same room. Our neighbours all sleep in the same room and their kids are seventeen and twenty. I don’t think we’ll be doing the same.

Another interesting difference between the two is the question of teething. In both countries there isn’t even a question. In Australia teething is an accepted theory for why babies cry. All sorts of goods can be purchased to combat this discomfort. There is no such theory in Japan. People I’ve mentioned it to look at me as if I’m totally crazy. They ask me ‘Why would teeth coming in make them cry?’ As far as I can tell I’m going to agree with Japan. Why would it be a problem? I don’t remember my teeth coming in ever hurting. I also don’t remember losing my teeth ever hurting either except when they were being pulled out by the dentist. A dentist pulled four of my teeth out believing it would stop my teeth from being so crooked. Shakes head. Those poor four teeth, you aren’t forgotten. The point is that my wife and I haven’t done anything in regards to teething neither has a whole nation. Japan is probably not the only one either. Perhaps there’s another thesis here. Whether or not teething is a thing or just made up to make parents feel better. I suspect it’s the later.

There are probably more differences. I suspect I’m just scratching the surface. I’ll keep a log of it and perhaps one day there’ll be a great big book about it. I think I’ll call it How to make an Australian or a Japanese person. Or perhaps something simpler.

Tiredness and Parenting

This is probably more for myself then anything else. A mantra to stay in control and get it done.

I’ve been kicking this idea around in my head for a while. When your a parent you get tired. Real tired. It comes with the territory. This article is about how you act when you’re tired. So far I’ve spotted three different reactions when tired. I’m sure there are more.

The first reaction I’m going to call explosive. This is the one where as long as everything is going well and sweet you are your usual self. As soon as something goes wrong though, and in his state something goes wrong has a very broad spectrum, you explode. This reaction is not a good way to react especially when you are around children. The reason is simple. Up until the breaking point your child was probably showing model behaviour. One thing goes wrong and the entire night is out. If this is a reaction that you know you go to regularly when tired I strongly suggest you become aware of when you are feeling that pressure build and try and change the situation. Perhaps go out for a quick walk.

The second reaction I’m going to call too tired to care. This one you just couldn’t be stuffed doing anything. Everything seems too much hassle. The kids are going berserk and you’re just happy they are playing by themselves and giving you a chance to drink your tea. It’s true that you want your child to be playing by themselves. It’s something they need to learn. If they are misbehaving though and you are too tired to care this can establish a dangerous precedent. I would consider this reaction worse than the previous one. The first one at least establishes boundaries. It’s not an ideal way to establish them but they are there. The too tired to care reaction lets the kids go wild and that they will do. Have this reaction long enough and the situation is going to get much worse. You’ll be fighting an uphill battle to gain control. Basically this too tired to care reaction will beget more tiredness. If this is your go to reaction when you’re tired be aware that you could be teaching your kids they can do whatever they want.

The third reaction I’m going to call getting it done. This is the one where you make a quick list of everything you need to get done before you can rest. When it comes to parenting the list is something like; play with kid, feed kid, give kid bath, read books to kid, get kid to clean teeth, put kid to sleep, clean the dishes, wash the clothes, clean your own teeth and go to bed. You go through the steps that you’ve laid out in your head and you get it done. Each step may take longer than you thought but you’ve got a plan and your body is giving you what you need to do it. This reaction is ideal. There’s minimum stress and because you’ve got a plan if you keep it up every night you’ll make yourself a routine. Keep on egging yourself. Tell yourself, just gotta do it and then I can rest. Next thing you know you and your kid are asleep.

Of course it’s not as simple as saying there are three different reactions. Often the three go hand in hand in one night. You’ll be going along with your night time routine and your kids wants to watch TV instead of going through your carefully laid out plan. Suddenly your get it done persona slips and your explosive persona comes forward. Or perhaps you just don’t care this night and you let your kid watch TV. Suddenly it’s way past bed time and you’re still only on step two of the list. To conclude when you’re tired it’s hard to make sound judgement calls. Stay in control, stick to a routine and you and your kid can get to sleep early. Slip and your probably going to get tireder.

Parental Noir

I had to pick up the babe. It was raining so I had to go by car. She was inside waiting for me. She had short hair but you could tell she’d been trying to grow it out. Cute face and a laugh that could unfreeze even the coldest of hearts. She knew I was always due around this time. As usual she was glad to see me and happy to see the car. That changed when I accidentally bumped her head on the car roof. Clumsy me, Tears formed and she was screaming before long. I hugged her too me and climbed into the car. Fortunately she’s pretty easy to distract. I showed her her reflection and she was immediately mollified.I cruised off heading for home but get the idea it’d be nice to go to our favourite bakery. The wife had left some money on the table to get nappies. We could treat ourselves a bit. I took the back way to get there. No use driving on main roads. Too many cars, you never get to go beyond forty kilometres per hour. The babe started to get restless though. It distracted me and I missed the turn. I cursed. I’d have to take another street. It was always a risk in Japan. Take the next street and it was just as likely to add twenty minutes to your trip or put you on a road so narrow you weren’t even sure it was a road. I took my chances. I’d mollified the babe with promises that we were almost there. She seemed convinced for the moment. She was fine until I got to the next turn. I was grateful to see it. This road was going to link up. I turned in and almost had a head on with a four wheel drive. The road was two way but couldn’t fit more than one car. I backed up and let the woman go. She sat at the intersection not moving. I couldn’t figure out why she was just sitting there. Had she completely forgotten I was turning into her street and was waiting for me to go? Was she just stupid? Probably the latter. I cursed and babe started up again. The woman finally went and we got to the bakery.

The bakery is a nice little place nestled away in a little country town. It’s easy to miss unless you know about it. They’ve got a wood fire they use to cook the bread. I like this bakery. The bread is good and they give you free unlimited coffee. I had my fourth cup for the day. I should probably cut down. We snacked at the table they provided the babe satisfied that I hadn’t been lying. That she was going to enjoy where we were going. To top it off for her I bought a milk as we left. Dropping the change into my pocket. My wallet doesn’t have a coin section. It was a gift and looks nice but I’ve stopped carrying change for longer than a few hours. The next stop was to get the nappies.

Again the babe was getting annoyed at the trip. Annoyed enough that I promised myself I’d spend longer in the shop just to appease her. I found the nappies no worries but realised I was short two hundred yen. I couldn’t believe it. To get so close and be short two hundred. I cursed getting that extra milk. I wasn’t going to originally. But then I thought about it. It just didn’t add up. I was missing something. The bakery trip didn’t cost that much. The coins must have fallen out of my pocket while I drove. I went back to the car and searched like crazy. Checking every nook and cranny. To no avail. I turned up more coins but I was still short ten yen. Maybe they’d just let me have it. Not likely I sighed. I’d just have to except failure and try again. Have a conversation with lady of the house as to why there are no nappies and not enough money. I cursed. There had to be more money. I looked again. There should be a fifty yen piece somewhere. I know I saw it. I double checked under the steering wheel where a little ledge sat. There to my great relieve was a hundred yen piece. I gave a roar of triumph thankful that my mission wasn’t going to be a failure. I went back inside the shop only then realising that I had been narrating the whole experience to myself in the film noir style. I should cut down on the detective novels or maybe it’s just the coffee.

Getting our infant to eat

As the title suggests we’ve had difficulty getting our infant to eat. We had tried a wide range of things to no avail. This week we tried something  new and it seems to be working. Firstly we bought a whole dinning set with our girl’s favourite character Anpanman on it. Now she always wants to use them and happily says ‘Anpanman’ while eating. The second thing we did was buy a toy food set. The set was the cheapest thing I could find and consists of a plastic frying pan and a range of plastic food. I never had anything like this as a child and didn’t even think that it would be a fun thing to have. Since buying it though it has proven to be our daughter’s favourite toy. She is now always ‘frying’ things in the pan and chewing away on the fake waffle. The final thing we did was a two in one combo. We served her very small amounts of food and praised her mightily when she finished it. Usually she asks for more so we give her a tiny bit more and when she’s finished that we keep on praising her eating.  These things seem to have worked for our girl as she’s been eating better now then in months. 

A baby is a blank slate

The thing that I have noticed most since having a child is that humans really are blank slates.  We have no instinct whatsoever.  This is so that we can adapt to any society that humanity makes.  We could be living in the worst imaginable society and we would adapt to it and even justify its existence to others.  That also means we could be living in the best possible society.  Society is what we make it.  It’s ridiculous that so much of our society is based on what has come before us.    That we do things because that is the way it’s always been done.  This is the worst excuse to do anything because it means we are doing it without thought or reason.  People even talk about human instinct as if it exists.  If we have an instinct it is to adapt to whatever society we are in.  That’s all.  Humans aren’t greedy we are born in a society that prizes greed so we become greedy.  Whatever we teach our children, whatever our society teaches the next generation is what society becomes.  With that in mind we can build a better society.

Different kinds of parent

Based on observation, thoughts and a little idealism

There is an amazing park near our house.    A good park makes me feel like I’m living in some Utopian society or at the very least like society is moving along in a positive direction.  A bad park though is a bleak and depressing place.  It makes you wonder what is wrong with the world that they can’t provide a nice playground area for children.  Fortunately I live in an area that has gone to the trouble to provide a good park.  I go to this park with my daughter regularly and enjoy people watching.  Since this is a nice park is seems to bring out the best in people.  By in large I see very happy families.

I live in Japan which is famous for its absent fathers so it really warms my heart whenever I see fathers spending time with their family.  It’s interesting to see the different types of father.  There is the father that has a one year old child and brings a soccer ball along.  The father who stands back and watches stopping the child every now and then if they are doing something dangerous.  Another father is playing with their kids.  Another one is there helping the children navigate the playground equipment.  Then there is the father on his mobile phone the whole time.  There are probably more but these are what I’ve observed at the park.

The soccer ball bringing father is the most curious one for me.  Maybe at home the infant goes crazy for the soccer ball so the father brings it along.  I guess I should clarify the situation.  There are two types of soccer ball bringing father.   One brings a soccer ball and other stuff and instead of being in the playground  are out on the ground.  That soccer ball bringing father has crossed over to the playing with their kid father.  So what about the soccer ball bringing father who isn’t playing with his kid?  For a long time I wondered why would they bring a soccer ball.  Then I realised that they aren’t bring the ball for the child.  It’s for them.  You can see these fathers doing ball tricks in the park while the child runs around doing something else with the mum.   No one seems to actually be watching these ball tricks.  The father is apparently just there at the park.  I have a number of theories about this father.  The first theory is that the father is being given some rest time.  A bit of unwind time to just chill and rehash his old hobby.  My second theory is that he was always in a soccer club growing up and doesn’t really know how to play with a child.  My third theory is that this father is overwhelmed and has no idea how to be a dad.

The get in there and plays with the kids father and the playground navigating father are two aspects of the same style.  These fathers are obviously motivated to interact with their children.  Perhaps it’s to show them the world or perhaps it’s just because they find it fun.  Maybe its just because there sure that’s what they are meant to do at the park.  The plays with their kids father is the most enjoyable for me to watch.  These fathers are clearly having fun.  You can see them pant and sweat.  You know that they are exhausted but the smile on their face is almost as big as the smile on their kids face.  This is the happy family ideal you see in commercials and TV shows.  This is the style of parenting I most idealise and aspire to.  Perhaps I’m a victim of mass media or perhaps I’m just the type of person to get in there and do it.

The stand back and watches father is the strangest to me.  Probably because it is the opposite to my style.  I wonder how they do it.  How do you become the parent that just sits back and has the children play?  I’m not asking in a critical way.  I’m genuinely curious.  My wife recently pointed out that I’m a 100% attention dad.  When I’m with my daughter I’m with her the whole time.  There is no break.  It’s exhausting and makes me wonder how do parents become the watchers while the kids do their own thing.  Perhaps that is the key.  Perhaps just watching is enough.  I actually tried to ease off the amount of attention I give my daughter.  I found that she could handle it some days but other days she’d just be grumpy wondering why her biggest toy wasn’t playing with her.  I just find standing back and watching boring.  Seeing these parents impresses me though. Their are obvious advantages to it for both sides.  The child learns to play by themselves, an extremely important lesson, and the parents can rest.  I wonder though at the cost.  How do those children see that father?  Do they see him at all?  Is it the same as being an absent father or is standing there enough.  Do they remember that as dad taking me to the park and think of their dad fondly?  Watching the interaction with one watcher dad and his child I noticed that he would say “No, that’s dangerous.” and the child would immediately say “No, It’s not.” and go ahead and do it.  So does this way lead to a more independent child?  Perhaps it just means that dad is going to have a tough time when the kids are teenagers.  Bringing it back to my way, am I raising a dependent child? One who won’t be able to just entertain herself.  I guess we are always trying to get the best outcome for our child playing fortune teller but making it up as we go.

The mobile phone dad is the least attractive to me.  The dad that isn’t really there.  Is this the same as the watcher dad though?  If just being there is enough to leave a pleasant and positive feeling towards the dad then perhaps this is perfectly justified.  Perhaps this is the busy dad that is making time for his child but can’t escape work.  Far more preferable to the dad that can’t make it to the park.  The one that makes the phone calls at home while the mum and child go off to the park.

In conclusion, there are many parenting models.  This isn’t an academic paper so I certainly haven’t talked about all the models or even presented it in an unbiased manner.  You may naturally fall into a model based on your own personality.  Really though I suggest to parents to think about the type of parent they want to be.  Discuss it with your partner.  Find out what each of you think parenting means.  Hopefully your ideas match.  Parents are instrumental in a child’s development.  It’s important to think about how you are influencing them and what you can do to feel at the end of the day you did a good job.

Travelling with a baby

Earlier last year I went to Korea with our baby girl.  She’s one and a half now so I guess I should be calling her infant instead of baby.  I went with my parents and my sister but was obviously the primary carer.  At the time I was going to write a blog about travelling with a baby but couldn’t think of anything particularly special to write.  My main feeling at the time was that it wasn’t really that different to daily life.  I did notice that I was a lot more worried about what I would feed baby but since I generally feed our baby what we are eating it ended up not being an issue.  Besides you can always go to the supermarket to get what you need.  We regularly stopped in to get bananas, milk and bread since those are baby’s favourite snacks.  Something to always keep in mind is; ‘what can baby do while I am there?’  One of the things I made sure we did while I was in Korea was devote a day to doing something baby would enjoy.  We found a kids land in one of the malls.  It was an amazing centre.  Overall she had a pretty good time.  It helped that I had my niece and nephew along.  They were a great help in keeping baby amused.

Last month we went to Australia.  It was a sixteen hour journey to get there; usually it’s a ten hour flight from Tokyo but we had to get to Tokyo first and that took six hours.  Baby handled it well.  She seems to like planes, this is her fifth time flying to and back from a place so she’s already a seasoned traveler.  I would give the following tips to anyone wanting to fly with a baby.  For starters its not like driving in the car or catching the bus.  You don’t have to buckle up except for on take off and landing.  Generally the trips are quite smooth so you can comfortably let baby walk up and down the aisles (or crawl).  Take a toy or two though since it can really help fill the time.  We did both a day flight and a night flight.  They’ve both got pros and cons to them.  If you are flying a night flight you can get the baby to sleep at their usually sleeping time and then hopefully sleep yourself or watch some movies.  That’s the dream anyway.  Day flights you’ve got to entertain baby for a significant part of it.  This doesn’t sound ideal but if you are like me and can’t sleep on planes it means you get to go to sleep at your usually time in a warm bed.  Not such a bad thing.  One thing I learnt which doesn’t seem to be well known is that you can designate a bag as a baby bag when getting on the plane and they don’t take out liquids.  You know as long as you aren’t crazy about it.  So flying with a baby isn’t so daunting.  I’d do it again.

As in Korea I found that going around Australia wasn’t so different as home life.  I had my standard baby bag with everything I need for an emergency; nappies, water, food, clothes and a toy.  Every place I met up with friends at in some way involved something that  baby could do.  Usually a playground with a swing.  This was a bit difference to my Korean visit since I didn’t know anyone there.  In Korea we mostly went to historical places and shopping.  Two things that aren’t exciting for babies.  In both these cases I just made sure baby knew we hadn’t forgotten about her and played with her on the go.  One huge difference I found was distances.  When you are travelling you tend to go that extra distance to do something.  Instead of doing a twenty minute car trip its more like an hour car trip.  This can make a bit of a difference for the baby’s experience.  Especially if they aren’t such a big fan of cars.  In my personal experience buses and trains are better for babies then cars.  You can give them more attention and they can share the experience with you.