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Tze Yeng

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So it’s the time of year where families usually take time to reflect on the year that has gone and review aspirations for the year to come. Here are some suggestions that families might want to consider.

1. Take Time Out To Be Silly

Take time out to crack jokes, turn up the music and do silly dances, make up funny songs about each other. This temporary break in parent and child role will lighten the mood and show your child a different (fun) side of you.

Show your kids your fun side! Image credit: iStock

2. Exercise

Encourage and support each other to pursue or continue taking on a sport of their choice, and congratulate ourselves for just turning up! If you are trying something new, there are training apps available like couch to 5k that got me pounding the pavements. Or better still,  find a sport or an outdoor hobby that the whole family can enjoy together, and get moving!

Who knows where your new hobby will take you? Image credit: 123RF

3. Walk, scoot, bike, use public transport

We love our cars despite it being bad for the environment and our waistline. Think about walking or cycling to run that small errand; or taking the train for that trip into town. Travelling together will give some time to focus on the children as we are not concentrating on the traffic, especially when we are taking long trips.

 

4. Start a new family tradition

Families are what they are because of what they do together, in their own quirky ways. It is the comfort of routine that provides a sense of security to the children. Simple activities such as Friday movie nights at home, exploring a new place a month, a family book club, or trying out new recipes are rituals that will bond as the family discovers together.

Movie nights at home is more fun when each family member takes turn to choose the movie. Image credit: freebiemom.com

5. Eat Healthy

In our harried life, we rely on tahpaus and eating out. Eating more vegetables, salads and fruits is one way to eat healthier; as is eating less meat or cooking our own food. Again, start small by refusing that second helping and having fruit instead, packing your lunch a couple of days a week, or having a meat-free day.

 

6. Reduce waste

Plastic pollution is a problem that our children will be unfairly burdened with. Taking a container for your tahpaus, using reusable shopping bags, refusing free samples and straws will bring down consumption. There are online groups sharing ideas on how to reduce waste such as tips to pack food for the whole family from the hawker stall without plastics or styrofoam.  Why not take it a bit further by also starting your own compost bin!

Reduce, reuse and recycle. Image credit: iStock

7. Share the work within the family and community

The organising and doing to run a family can be shared in many ways with spouses and children. They could take on roles such as planning holidays, routinely cooking meals, or doing the grocery shopping. The more work gets spread out, the more everyone feels a sense of belonging because of their contribution, especially the children. This sense of collectivity can be extended to volunteering at the children’s school, a non-profit, your neighbourhood’s gotong-royong and becoming a part of something bigger.

 

8. Buy less or buy nothing!

Everyday, we are inundated with seductive messages to consume that is environmentally unsustainable . There is a growing movement in Malaysia to reduce consumption through swapping or selling preloved items through online Facebook forums or freely giving it away. Instead of throwing it away, why not learn new skills to repair your own electronic items? Or make your kemahiran hidup (living skills) teacher proud by mending that dress? Need a baking tin but only bake occasionally? Why not pinjam kejap (borrow for a while) from your friend? If you are feeling convinced, how about trying to buy nothing for a year?

Are we being consumed by our consumption? Image credit: tinycabinbigdreams.com

9. Take care of yourself

This one is the for moms. Pencil in a day without the kids every month. If it is not possible at the moment, try a couple of hours. And please use that time only for yourself. Read, run, journal, catch up with friends, take a bath, watch a movie, eat cake! Sit in silence. Tell your family that it’s “mummy’s me time”.

 

10. Reflect

Reflection provides opportunities to learn from mistakes, make sense of our thoughts and feelings, to accept ourselves, to be grateful and to do better. It need not be done once a year, as we usually do with resolutions, but integrated into our daily lives. Some people do it while driving, praying, exercising, and some journal. The key is to provide the quiet in your mind, go inwards and connect with yourself, and resurface to connect with your family. For example, we try to talk about our day, what our mistakes were, and what we appreciated. We could do it more frequently, and that’s one of my daily resolutions!

Reflection allows us time to be with ourselves, so we can be better with others. Image credit: www.upliftingcontent.com

The past year has been one of great inspiration for us all Malaysians, with renewed hopes and aspirations for our nation. May we all continue to develop ourselves, so we can better our families and our communities. Here’s to another amazing year ahead!

 

Gift-giving season is here! Throughout the years, we have been lucky to receive well-thought-out gifts for the children. Through that, I have also learnt to be a better gift-giver. After all, gifts are expressions of love, care, and connection with the child and their family.

1.Books! Books! Books!

You can never go wrong with books. Books are great presents because you can bulk buy age-appropriate best sellers during book sales for the children you will be gifting throughout the year. My personal favourites are poetry books for children. Books that encourage children to try new things creates opportunities for quality family time – origami books, children’s cookbooks that have great fail-proof recipes, gardening books are also top of our list.
If you are concerned that the child may already have the book, here’s the secret, it can be regifted or donated. A book is never wasted!

2. A day of play

It could present itself in a ‘voucher’ where the holder of the voucher is entitled to a whole day hanging out with [insert best friend’s name].  I used to stress over making it the perfect playdate until I realised that the children were just happy being together. The house, the park, the swimming pool is their ‘happiest place in the world.’  Getting them to pop their own popcorn is an additional memorable treat. For ideas of where to go, you could check out our lists of outdoor spaces or 50 Top Things  to do in Malaysia with Children.

3. Legos

For many hours of creative building and play, Legos make age appropriate gifts that can be bought  online for the time pressed. For the environmentally conscious gift giver, you will be happy to know that these blocks will soon made from plant instead of petrol based materials! If you search early enough, you may get sets on preloved sites on Facebook or Carousel  for a fraction of the price.

4. Board Games

These are great gifts that will help  develop children’s collaboration and communication skills. Apart from mastery and strategy, another life skill children learn through board games is  the art of winning and losing gracefully. Well, most of the time.

There are many games to suit the child’s interest.  Pictionary for drawing,  Mathmagic and congkak for numbers. Scrabble is a fun game for the whole family to learn new words. Just as Uno, Connect Four, and chess  is great for strategy. A mega compendium of 30 games will definitely keep them occupied for ages.

5. Gardening starter kits

Who know where the spark will lead to? Perhaps an edible garden project?

There are many  benefits of gardening for kids, from encouraging them to eat healthily to doing their bit for the environment. Thanks to Daiso and Mr. D.I.Y,  spades, pots and watering cans need not be expensive. Seeds are also easily available in supermarkets and hardware shops. Or you can just save them from your fruits and vegetables. The Free Tree Society  organises plant giveaway days where you can get free saplings. The gift of lessons in  care and appreciation of the environment is one that the child will carry for life.

6. Cooking starter kits/equipment

An apron, a baking tin, a set of cooking utensils will be a surefire way to ignite a sense of curiosity in the ‘adult world’ of cooking. Throw in a cookbook and ingredients to make a meal, the meal they made  will give the gift of pride and confidence. It is also a great way to create some  quality family time.

7. Scooters

Photo credit: Micro Scooters Singapore & Malaysia

Scooters are a good starting point for kids to be comfortable with being on wheels. When shopping for one, ask if the spare parts are easily replaceable. A good scooter can be handed down and be the source of joy for many kids, for many years, in the family.

8. Bicycles

Photo credit: Stryder Malaysia

The children spent many hours zooming around the park and the neighbourhood with bikes bought by their grandmother.  Getting them second hand, and a trip to the bicycle shop will also do the trick as my mom did for those bikes. And please remember to get a helmet!

9. Sports Equipment

Footballs, basketballs, badminton rackets and shuttlecocks are gifts that will get the kids outdoors. With stores like Decathlon and Sports Direct providing good quality equipment at a reasonable price with delivery service, your gift might just create our next Nicole David!

10. A gift of experience

Photo credit: Sunway Lagoon Malaysia

I once mentioned to my son’s godmother that he was interested in tying knots and that a challenging solitary activity would benefit  him. She thoughtfully gifted my son rock climbing classes and also a book about tying knots.

Other gifts of experience could be tickets to a musical, the science centre, zoo, waterpark, a movie outing. There are many free activities in the Klang Valley as well that you can take the kids to. The key is to listen, and appreciate the interest of the child and gift accordingly.

What matters to those receiving your present is not the size of the price tag, but the gift of presence, effort and thought. Happy gifting!

Finland gave us Nokia and Angry Birds. Recently, they showed us how to raise the best students in the world.

Interestingly, Finland’s schooling and child-raising focuses more on a child’s happiness and health rather than academic achievement.

And now, the world is getting a glimpse of the amazing support system they have in place for parents and families.

We talk to Finnish mothers Sanna and Kirsi, who share just how the Finnish people do parenting.

It is all about what’s best for the child

The Father often takes care of the baby’s hygiene whilst the mother focuses on the breastfeeding. Image credit: The Guardian

Finnish society has organised itself so that parenting and raising children is according to gender equality principles.

It all begins at birth. Most hospitals provide family rooms for both parents to be with the child after the delivery. The idea is to encourage the mother to focus on breastfeeding. Meanwhile the partner (typically the father) takes care of the infant’s hygiene.

Once settled at home, this arrangement continues. The father will usually take care of the cleaning and cooking. Visitors bring food to help temporarily lighten the load.

The Baby Box

The Finnish state also provides comprehensive maternal child health services.

Since the 1930s, expectant mothers who attend ante-natal appointments are entitled to a baby box  which becomes a cot with a mattress for the infant.

The baby box contains practical items such as baby clothes for the seasons, bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, nail clippers, diapers and even contraception!

Families however, can opt for cash.

Sanna shared that “most first-time parents opt for the box as the value of the items is more than the cash. As the items are of good quality, I reused them for my second child and took the money instead”.

The box that comes with a mattress also turns into a bed for the baby. Image credit: www.bbc.co.uk

It doesn’t stop there…

Sanna, who worked as a maternal health nurse, said that hospital staff provide post-delivery support through home visits.

A nurse is assigned to the mother and she follows through from the time of the mother’s pregnancy until the child’s seventh birthday. This provides continuity of care.

They measure the baby’s growth, monitor the mother’s breastfeeding process and recovery, and more importantly, check how the family unit us faring. The arrival of a child and parenting can after all, be stressful.

The nurses are also trained to watch out for signs for possible domestic abuse and make interventions.

Kirsi shared that the highly trained nurses provided invaluable support to her, giving practical advice for all her “silly questions”.

They even help you make new friends!

Parenting is also supported through the joint 24 weeks parental leave after birth.

Coffee mornings for parents organised by the local authorities and churches are also important spaces for social support.

Both Sanna and Kirsi said that it was through these spaces that they made lifelong friends who journeyed with them in the trials and tribulations of parenting.

When parents share the load

Co-parenting is very much the care-giving model in Finland, where both parents are encouraged soothe, play, feed and clean the baby.

Kirsi explains that this arrangement often continues with school going children.

Children are also expected to be independent from young.

With both parents working, primary school children usually come home first. Whilst waiting for their parents (usually about 2 – 3 hours), they prepare their own snack, do some light chores and manage their time indoors or outdoors (which they do a lot of). The family will then cook dinner together.

And mother’s are freed to work

These arrangements and guaranteed public day care services has contributed to an almost equal number of men and women in the workforce.

Kirsi said that from her experience, work arrangements are also very flexible in Finland. For instance, it is common for parents to leave work early to attend to their children and pick up on the work later in the day.

A shared history that shaped the present

Sanna opines that the strong Finnish work ethic, where women and men worked side by side in industries to repay the debt gained from the post war food shortages  contributed to a gender equal environment, and a sense of pride from being financially independent.

“Although a woman can live off her husband, doing that is not something to be proud of. Finland’s women’s right movement is very strong”, she quipped.

It was the Finnish feminist groups that fought for universal day care and paid parental leave.

Gender equality also has roots in Finland’s government politics. Women could vote and stand for elections since 1907.

That election saw a total of 19 women elected to Parliament. Today, there is a total of 42% women members of parliament.

This was due to the reform of the Act on Equality between Women and Men.

The  Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has jurisdiction on matters pertaining to equality from a local to national level. It works to continuously improve gender equality matters.

The League of Finnish Feminists, founded in 1892. One of their members, Lucina Hagman was one of the first female members of Parliament elected in 1907. Image credit : Embassy of Finland, The Hague

A possible reality for Malaysian mums?

A new dawn has risen in Malaysia, and as more of us speak out, and get more involved, anything is possible.

Looking at historical trajectories of societies, I think this ideal of an equal partnership in families, could one day be a reality for us in Malaysia.