Junya is almost one and a half years old now and parenting is getting increasingly challenging.
He is tall enough to reach more and more cabinets and he is strong enough to open more drawers and the fridge. His fingers are getting defter in twisting, bending, unlocking and opening every single cans/bottles/jars.
But obviously it is also time he takes “no” for an answer less and less.
It is frustrating. Getting frantic at your toddler who is holding a glass bottle of soy sauce (they will not hesitate to be ruthless and drop it just to see how you react), not knowing to use the hard approach (firmly say no and grab it by force and let him cry) or soft landing (asking nicely for 10 minutes to a vigorously shaking head).
A few times i snapped and yelled or snatched stuff from his hands out of time pressure/urgency. He of course wailed like i just kidnapped his true love.
Then i regretted it. The more i do it the less willing he will give in to me. I mean, there has got to be a better way than saying no 500 times a day and constantly grabbing an unsafe objects from your toddler who is hugging it like their new found treasure. Of course i tried distracting him (oh look what’s Champon doing?) or trading (hey this empty container is much cooler than the nail clipper! Wanna hold it?), but it doesn’t always work.
So i’m really dreading the imminent Terrible Two that everyone has been warning me about. They are all like, “You just wait. Now he’s still at his most adorable stage”. Right. Another half a year of sanity, yay!
So to get myself prepared for it, i read this parenting book written by a full time Japanese housewife + Parenting Blogger. The title is “How to: A Calm Mama and Happy Parenting” (loosely translated). And it made me rethink my own parenting style all over again.
I think i am already quite the lenient parent when it comes to disciplining a toddler, but the author shocked me with her Japanese way of parenting. First few pages through the book and i was almost in disgust.
She gave me the impression that anger does not exist in her life and her love for her kids is so unconditional to the point of godliness and almost obsessive. Basically the level of commitment is pretty much inhumane. It’s like her entire life is dedicated to her children and nothing else. It was the complete opposite of the popular French Parenting style (Bringing Up Bebe) trending a while ago that i have read.
She is the mother everybody praises but secretly hates. Are you kidding me? Such parent exists? Is she sure she’s not writing this book just to paint herself a goddess and boost her own ego? In my heart i thought, this will never work and she is going to end up having ultra spoilt kids.
But as i read further along, a lot of things made sense. A lot of tips gave me the “wake up” moments. Most of the time parenting is hard, not because your toddler is being difficult with their emotions, but it is because we cannot control own own emotions.
And when i think about it again, most of the Japanese mothers i know adopt an ultra gentle approach. I have almost never seen any Japanese mother raise their voice (at least not in public). And one would assume kids under such parenting would be selfish and spoilt. But no. Japanese kids are so far the most shockingly well-mannered kids i’ve ever seen. So most of them must have been doing something right.
I was greatly inspired by the book the moment i flipped over the last page. I concluded that her parenting style (and most Japanese parenting styles) generally breaks down to these three things:
Patience, Gentleness and Effort.
Patience is probably a necessity regardless of any parenting style. Most parents i know are gentle, although some are firmer/sterner than the rest. But effort. Nobody does it like the Japanese mothers. It’s like they have “effort” programmed in their DNA.
This explained why Japanese mothers make kyaraben (character bento). Although nowadays it has become very commercialized and it’s almost in a form of competition (let’s see who is more effort mom!!). But the original intention stems from their creativity to get their children to enjoy meal times, especially for difficult eaters.
There are a few things i learnt from the book and applied to my family, and i thought i would like to share them:
The author encourages giving your toddler the power to choose what they want (from among your approved choices: do you want broccoli or carrot? lolol) so that it satisfies their urge to be in control.
This one is easy!! I started letting Junya pick his choice of clothes, shoes, bath salt scents, cutleries, amount of snacks, etc etc etc ever since he can point and choose. it’s just so wonderful to see his face light up every time i praise his good sense and tell him “Great choice!!” (dark blue shirt over bright blue pants, urgh.)
Everyone knows effort pays but it’s really up to how much we are willing to put in. Junya has his ups and downs when it comes to meal times. During good days he can self feed like a champion but on bad days he can’t even get on the high chair without screaming.
Most of the time i tried 2-3 times over 30 minutes. Let him off, play a while and get back onto his chair again. But if he still refused his food, i thought, ok, suit yourself, i’m tired of trying! He’ll come to me when he is hungry again.
I lamented to the danna, and he said “it’s all about efforts, right?”
But it is true. I tried doing things differently. Instead of just white rice, i tried to wrap them up with seaweed (Junya looooves seaweed) and make mini onigiri yesterday. And from refusing lunch flat out, he finished the whole plate on his own. Sometimes i put extra “toppings” on his food. Sometimes i feed him with chopsticks (novelty!!) instead of spoon. Sometimes i let him feed Champon snacks while i feed him. Of course he gets bored after a while if i repeat the same tricks, but it’s all about getting creative. It is a lot of work, but if i try hard enough, something will work.
In the book, the author’s children prefer snacks to rice. So she wrapped up mini onigiri in cling wraps like a candy and drew smiley faces on them. The kids love them. It’s also about ideas.
But to be honest i also feel that she is overboard with her effort (like, really need to do until liddat meh!!!!), for example, to make her kids to enjoy bath time, she thinks of a new game every single day. Bathing their soft toys, bringing unusual things into the tub like an umbrella to reenact the Totoro scene, pretend to make miso soup with bath water, draw cartoons on kid’s body…..
Imagine the extra work she has to do. And she has no helper. I mean, my effort also has a limit ok lolol.
2. Make everything fun
This is also part of effort. A lot of kids dislike supermarket visits cuz they just get strapped in the stroller feeling bored while mommy spend a good half an hour walking from aisle to aisle.
Junya has not reached the age where he will protest a supermarket visit yet, but i thought, why not make him like grocery shopping before he dislikes it??
Before we go, i’ll tell him we are going to the market, and i ask him what he wants to buy. (His answer is standard. Always Potato, Banana and Tamago lolol.) I’ll also tell him what i want to buy, and then ask him to find them for me.
Instead of limiting him in the stroller, i started letting him walk and explore (it is a paaaaaaain but it’s good training for my patience lol), and name every item he touches. Usually he will grab everything he can and put it in the basket and i’ll have to frantically return them to the rack (No baby, we don’t need 5 packs of carrots).
In the book, the author also recommends that for slightly older kids, you can also play the “Which is better?” game. Getting your kid to pick the fresher daikon, a prettier tomato, a bigger orange… Instead of telling them to “Stick to mama!” “Don’t run away!” “Don’t touch that!”. It’s good education too! (Provided the mom knows how to choose better vegetables. Erm, i don’t. I just grab whichever nearest within my reach lol.)
Every chore can be fun time if you get creative enough as long as you don’t pose any inconvenience for other shoppers/customers. Well i obviously need more training for that because Junya just bit into a banana skin during the last supermarket visit -_-.
This one strikes deep into my heart.
I never thought about being grateful for my child. I mean, i do, but in the sense that i will say silently to myself “thank you for being my baby”, or “thanks for making my life so fulfilling”, or in the form of manners – “thank you (for returning my necklace, although broken).”.
But i never, ever thought to thank him for being the way he is. For behaving nicely. When he does, i praise him, but i never thank him. I have completely taken it for granted. I expected him to behave the way i wanted him to.
In the book, after every super market visit (or errands), the author will make sure she tells her children this:
“Thank you so much for doing the grocery together with mama today. It was really fun! Thanks for being so helpful, it really made mama’s shopping so much easier. Please help mama again next time ok?”
(In Japanese it’s exactly like that cuz you know how insanely polite they are lol. But one can always adapt it sweet and short in their own way.)
Even if it wasn’t exactly a fun day, she still does it the same. “Today’s shopping was a little boring, right? Sorry about that. >.< But you guys behaved really well and waited patiently for mama, that’s why it ended really fast. Thank you so much.”
I was humbled. It was respect. I forgot to respect and be thankful.
I tried it on Junya few days ago. “Junya! The market was really fun, right? Thank you for…” and before i could finished he disappeared to chase Champon. -_-
Oh well. But i’m sure one day he’ll be grateful for a grateful mama. 🙂
4. Calming down a toddler in tantrum
I have read about soooo many different approaches in regard of this topic. There didn’t seem to be a perfect and fool-proof solution. It really depends on your belief and what you think may work for your family.
Junya’s tantrums so far have not escalated to that level where i was tested to launch a time-out/ignoring/lecturing session (phew!).
But it is frustratingggggggg. He wants to open every single thing in the house. No? Cry. He wants to take everything out of every single box/container. No? Whine.
I usually will tell him firmly, “No Junya, you can’t open this because… (reason)”. But when they are throwing a fit they hardly ever hear what you say. Explanation is futile.
I have then learnt to do this.
“Junya, you want to *do the thing he is not allowed*, right? You count to ten, okay? One… two… three… four…”
And miraculously he stopped crying/whining and listened to me. When i finished counting to 10, he is almost all calmed down. Then i will offer him a solution. The first few times i gave in to him so that he knows that mama listens to him and will give him what he wants after he has calmed down. Then slowly i try to outwit him by giving him alternatives (you want to squeeze the cream out of that bottle, right? Okay, i’ll squeeze one drop on your hand. And then we will go let Champon smell it, okay?).
Sometimes, when he is all calmed down, he doesn’t even want to do the thing he previously wanted to do anymore. I could easily distract him to do something else.
Of course it doesn’t 100% work all the time. But so far, so good!!
5. Gentle way to resolve a tantrum
A toddler is throwing a fit mostly because he couldn’t get what he wants. But a lot of time all he wanted was also attention (hence the tantrum), and mommy to really listen to him.
I used to take the easy way out as i have mentioned earlier (“No, Junya, that belongs to mama. You can’t have it.”). I get my things back instantly, but i also get a more cautious and resistant toddler.
One day Junya reached the top shelf of my drawer and fished out one of my prized Gotochi Kitty keychain and attempting to open the wrapper. There’s no way i will let him tear it apart. The moment he saw me approach him, he clenched it tight in his fist and started backing off like a Champon who has accidentally found a tasty chewy bone.
I remembered what the author wrote and i gave it a try. I sat down on the floor next to him without approaching further, and i said,
“Junya, i see that you are holding mama’s Gotochi Kitty keychain! That’s my favorite. It’s really cute isn’t it? Do you like it?” (with a biiiiiig friendly smile. Unleash the inner actress!!!)
He looked at me suspiciously, but softened.
“Oh *gasps* it says HAWAII and the Kitty chan is actually a musubi!! Can we have a look at it together?” (be very, very in awe!!! Keep the camera rolling!)
While he was staring at it curiously, i scooped him up and have him sit on my lap. And then we inspected the keychain together.
“Look at the black strip, it’s nori (seaweed). Your love nori don’t you? And there is a kitty face is on the rice! What does it say? …. (goes on talking nonsense for about another minute).”
He still held it in his hand, studying it intently.
And then i made the move.
“Now can you give it back to mama?”
With a twist.
“And then we can go smell the new hand cream. Do you like rose?”
And then, like a miracle, he handed the Kitty keychain back to me, willingly. As promised, we then sniffed a lot of rose scented hand cream lol.
All i spared was a couple of minutes to really “listen” to what he wants and share his feelings together, complete with a prompt and clever distraction while the timing is right, and i avoided a potentially disastrous meltdown altogether. It was really a few minutes well spent.
It’s time consuming if you have to keep doing this 500 times a day, but it preserved my sanity. I can’t handle tears very well (sometimes even my own lolol), having a wailing toddler only stresses me out immensely. If i am strong enough maybe i’ll try the ignoring, but i am not T____T so what i do is to avoid it as much as possible. And it made me soooooo much calmer and feeling soooo much more in control.
When the danna came back from work, i proudly told him about my breakthrough today, beaming and waiting for praises.
He laughed and said, “I’m glad it worked out well for you! But if i wake up in the morning and Junya took my Gotochi Kitty and i have 5 breakfasts and 4 bentos to make, i will snatch it from him without saying a word and go to the kitchen and cook the damn food first. It’s about priority isn’t it? Some people simply do not have even a few minutes.”
The danna has a very different parenting style. His is the 100% no-nonsense type of father. No means no and it is non-negotiable. Maybe he was brought up this way and still it made him a fine human, that’s why he believes that “sometimes you just have to suck it up and do things you don’t want to do” is also a great learning process.
I will avoid a crying episode at all cost, but he will let it happen and do nothing. Sometimes i tell him that Junya is going to grow up being scared of him. He said that’s fine, and said “he will also hate me, and that’s fine too, as long as he has you. But when he is my age, he will understand and appreciate it like never before.”
That is, of course, speaking from experience about his own father. And to me, i think that’s another level of sacrifice altogether. Even more the respect i have for this man.
I am so glad that we have never once argued over our vastly different parenting styles (apparently that’s one of the biggest causes for married couple’s fights), because we both know that we only genuinely want the 1000000% best for our own child (children!!!). And i think that makes a very good balance in our family.