E.Q. and I.Q.

EQandIQWalk into a bookstore in Asia, and you will soon notice a difference. Sure, there’s a plethora of cute and practical stationery items, but the children’s section is also quite different from that of Western bookstores. How so? On my recent trip to Asia, I went into a bookstore in Singapore looking for vocabulary pictorial flashcards and children’s books written in Chinese for my toddler. I found both in the children’s section, but was surprised to also see many story books marked with a bold ‘E.Q.’ on the front cover. It turned out that these books contained collections of simple stories all with the same theme: moral character building. The stories within these books had different characters, plots and storylines, but each had a specific teaching or moral point at the end. Examples are: do not steal, covet, litter or waste food; put toys back or clear up properly; the importance of not being lazy; being courageous…you get the point. I also saw that many of these children’s story books contained a little parent message at the end of each story, talking about the key message of the story and how to discuss this with the child.

What is E.Q. and what is I.Q. ? One definition of Emotional Quotient or E.Q. is this: a (notional) measure of a person’s adequacy in such areas as self-awareness, empathy, and dealing sensitively with other people. Intelligence Quotient or I.Q., on the other hand, often refers to a score derived from one of several standardized tests designed to assess human intelligence. Yes, in English culture there are such well known stories as ‘Peter and the Wolf’, but other than a few select stories, I haven’t really seen as many books composed of collections of stories all focused on specific character building traits. In libraries, there are plenty of genres like fairytales, fantasy, and science fiction, but I have yet to see a section of children’s books specifically on moral character building. In the English language, I’ve also noticed some nursery rhymes and songs which sound great but don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense (and frankly slightly scandalous!). A few of these come to mind–think of ‘Queen  Queen Caroline who washed her hair in turpentine’, the old woman in the shoe who gave her children broth then ‘whipped them all soundly and put them to bed’. and finally goosey goosey gander who met an old man that wouldn’t say his prayers and so he ‘took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs!’

In both western and eastern cultures, intelligence is very highly regarded and sought after. But perhaps there needs to be a greater emphasis on building awareness of E.Q. in our children from young in the West? Just a thought to ponder.


Hair Update: Did Shaving Work?

Some might be puzzBaby's Earled by this post title, but for those in Asian cultures wondering whether they should shave their baby’s head of hair in the first month of life, it’s a legitimate and often important question. It was for me. In early parenthood, I had posted an entry on this (see post To Shave or Not to Shave? That is the Question…) because it was a real dilemma at the time. Neither my husband nor I sport a thick head of hair, so we didn’t want our child to be the same. Not to mention there were all these anecdotal reports of the benefits of hair shaving at the one month mark (and some negative reports of course). In the end we decided to do it, even though it was difficult to say goodbye to that first head of hair.

Now 21 months later, what’s the result? I’ll like to say it made a huge difference in our daughter’s hair quantity and quality, but unfortunately I can’t. Honestly, my husband and I can’t see any difference. Our toddler still has a good amount of hair on her head, though the hair remains rather fine and thin—just like us. Like us, she is also starting to shed a fair amount of hair. Unfortunately, it seems that hair is still more or less determined genetically. I’ve also talked to friends who have shaved off their babies’ hair at one month of age, and all so far agree it didn’t make much of a difference. The conclusion I’ve come to is that if a parent really desires to see a difference, a baby may need to undergo multiple hair shavings that first year of life. Indeed, thinking back, the people that seemed to report this method really worked all had shaved their children’s hair at least 2-3 times that first year. So should you try this? I think only if you are really ready to try this method multiple times! Otherwise it might not be worth the effort and anguish of seeing those lovely first locks of hair go. Hope this update helps you in your decision making process!

Allergy Alert: Things Are Not What They Seem Overseas

Whether you or someone in your family has a food allergy, this adds a layer of risk and vigilance to your trips abroad. This is especially so if you or your child has a very severe food allergy that could result in an anaphylactic shock reaction. And having just experienced a few harrowing adventures in the food allergy realm during my latest travels to Asia, I thought I’ll take a moment to share a few tips to help you and your family travel more safely when overseas:

Do the Basic Prep Work

  • Find out more about the destination’s culture, diet, common foods/dishes eaten and how these are prepared. This will let you know how likely you will need to avoid ordering or trying certain foods depending on the severity of you or your child’s food allergy. It may be too late if you wait till you land in a new destination with a different language.
  • Find out how to say ‘I (or my child) has a food allergy to _____ specific food’ in that language. Better yet, have a few flash cards with the text written out in the destination’s language with visuals to show the restaurant/wait staff, hotel, doctor or another other person when needed.

Inform Others

  • Inform family and friends traveling with you and also those at the destination so that they can (being likely more familiar with the destination’s language/culture) help you avoid the food allergens you need to, and help communicate with wait staff at restaurants for you.
  • Call up and tell the airline about your food restriction/food allergy especially if you will be going on a long haul or international flight. This will help ensure that the right meals are available for you or your child onboard the plane. However, you may need to give the airline at least 24 hours’ notice so that they can make adequate preparations.

Be Extra Aware

  • Don’t take foods at face value! It is easy to get complacent if you have been to a country before many times and so you think you are familiar with that culture and know what to expect. But it is important to not make any assumptions but to approach each dish objectively. For example, I have been to Taiwan at least a dozen times since my childhood. However, this trip was the first time I noticed the extent to which seafood has been added to nearly every dish in sight. At a buffet, what seems at first sight to be a seemingly innocent Chinese vegetable dish turned out to have small tiny dried shrimp added to boost its flavor. Chinese pasta or fried rice also had the tiny dried shrimp added. Then we found the stewed chicken dish (which looked like just chicken legs in a brown sauce) had dried flakes of cuttlefish mixed in to improve the look and flavor of the dish. Know that in Asia too, often many different sauces are used in food preparation including oyster sauce, fish sauce, fish paste, sesame oil, and soy sauce. So it pays to be extra careful and always ask about the ingredients in a dish if you are unsure!

Be Prepared for Slip Ups (Even with the Best Caution!)

  • Look into the health care system of the country you are visiting, and find out the location/contact information of 1-2 hospitals/food allergy clinics near where you are staying. This is especially important if the food allergy is severe in your family.
  • Bring the names and supplies of all needed in-date medications on your trip.
  • If you have these, bring copies of your food allergy action plan (also known as a food allergy anaphylaxis emergency care plan) to help guide decisions prior and during a food allergy reaction.
  • Look into your existing health insurance to see the extent that they cover overseas travel. If medical costs are not covered, then look into travel insurance options as these may cover doctor visits or hospitalizations when abroad.

Lastly, know that even with your BEST intentions and the assistance/support of friends, you may not be able to completely avoid a food allergen. This is due to issues like packaging, inadequate communication, different food labeling laws and requirements for displaying allergen information  on packagings etc. Once I was in Paris on a group trip led by a Frenchman. We told him that I wanted to avoid nuts, and he helped to communicate this with the waiter and to check that the menu item I was ordering did not contain nuts. Well, when the dish arrived, I took one bite of the greenish colored mousse covering the entrée and knew immediately that it contained pistachios!

But don’t despair and let all this spoil your upcoming vacation. Just take the precautions and make preparations as best as you can, and then go on to enjoy your traveling!



Sleeping Patterns Do Differ…

From my sojourning in different countries, I’ve noticed that general sleeping patterns seem to differ between young children (namely toddlers) in certain Western countries and Asian countries. I’ve already mentioned in a previous post (see ‘A Matter of Philosophy’) that I’ve observed differences in attitudes towards how and when babies should sleep during the first year of life, and the noticeable pressure in western countries like the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US) of whether ‘babies are sleeping through the night’.

In regards to bedtime, however, there do seem to be cultural differences. In western countries like the UK and US, much emphasis is usually placed on ensuring a child ‘sleeps enough’ and goes to bed early at a fixed time. An early bedtime is more or less strictly adhered to, often around 6:30-8:30pm at night for a toddler.

In Asia and certain European countries, however, there is generally a more relaxed approach. Children tend to go to sleep later. In Singapore and Taiwan, I’ve noticed friends and relatives have children whose bedtimes are closer to 10:00 pm or so. This seems to be a product of a more evening social environment with family members wanting to share a meal or time together after work and before bedtime in the evenings. Both parents may also be working, so the child ends up being in child care much longer if no extended family members can help to care for the child. To compensate for a later bedtime though, toddlers may have a longer nap in the afternoons to compensate (possibly 2-3 hours long) and children may be allowed to sleep in later in the mornings.

Is there one approach that’s better? Not necessarily. The most important thing, which I think we all agree on, is that the toddler gets enough sleep overall. I know there can also be much individual variability as well in regards to the total number of hours of sleep a child needs in a day. I think the take home message is this: if your child/family practices a different routine or sleep pattern from the societal norm around, you may not need to fret as much. It’s possible that there’s another part of the world that practices a similar sleep routine as the cultural norm as your child!


When Can I Give Baby Kimchi?

For those from a western background who are unfamiliar with this, Kimchi is a preserved vegetable dish eaten commonly in Korean cultures. In general there is no strict rule in terms of when you can give baby kimchi. In some cultures that use a lot of spices in cooking, babies are often already exposed to hints of some of these flavors and spices through the breast milk, and grow up accustomed to spices earlier on during the complementary feeding stages. However, here are some basic guidelines:

You may want to wait till baby is at least 8-9 months of age, and a bit more established on solids and textures, and when his or her digestive system is also more developed. Try very small amounts of the kimchi mixed into other foods to make sure baby tolerates the spiciness and the preserved vegetable well first without any digestive problems like excessive gas or tummy aches. You may want to grind or blend it down at first, as baby may not have teeth yet and may not be able to handle a tougher texture. As you try small amounts over a few days, you can slowly increase the amounts given so that baby can get used to the taste and texture more as your baby ages. The general guideline is to try small amounts of a new food one at a time for a few days before moving onto introducing the next food. Kimchi can be prepared a few different ways, so avoid giving your baby any kimchi that has been preserved using a lot of salt.

It seems that by 8-9 months of age, babies in general are more ready to try, and may even prefer, more flavored foods. So for those of you who don’t want to give kimchi but want to try other spices, starting at this time you can slowly begin to introduce more spices and salt-free flavorings to your baby’s food. My little one then didn’t even flinch when I gave her houmous spiced with cayenne pepper! So bring on basil, oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, tarragon, paprika, dill, mint and other herbs and spices! Of course, you may want to try to still introduce one spice or herb at a time to your baby’s repertoire to watch for any possible signs and symptoms of allergic reactions.

To Shave or Not to Shave? That is the question…

For those who have babies approaching the one month mark, this may be a question on your minds, “Should I shave my baby’s head?” This may seem like a strange question to some, but in some Asian circles like in Chinese cultures this is often a question that needs answering. There is this traditional practice, sometimes recommended by the older generation, of cutting or shaving off the first hair that a baby has when the baby turns one month old. It is believed that doing so would encourage the baby’s hair to grow out again much quicker and thicker, resulting in a thicker mop of hair later on in life. In western cultures though, shaving off a baby’s first head of hair is just not common practice.

I asked many of those around me, and got lots of different opinions and advice from others’ experiences. One friend (who had worked as a hairdresser) said I absolutely shouldn’t do it! She had tried this on her first daughter and as the baby slept on her back for most of the first few months, a ‘bald’ spot developed in the back of the head because the hair was unable to grow back as quickly there compared to the rest of the head. Apparently it took 3 years before the hair grew back completely (the mom ended up letting the baby’s hair above grow out to cover that spot since she was a girl). Others have said it was because they had shaved their babies’ hair multiple times when young that their children now have so much hair.

Well, here are my two cent’s worth to this debate. When my little one turned one month old, I decided to take the plunge. I took her to a baby hair salon (there are quite a few in Singapore!) to have her head completely shaved. She had been born with a fair amount of fine hair but it was in patchy spots on the top of her head, so I figured, even if her hair didn’t grow back much thicker, at least it might grow back more evenly (and at least I can tell my daughter I had tried this method to improve her chances of having a lusher head of hair)! She really looked quite funny for a few months—like a boy—and it took about 5 or 6 more months before her hair grew out completely all around, especially that ‘bald-like’ spot on the back of her head. In the end, I’m not sure if this really helped to give her a thicker mop of hair, but everyone who sees her definitely comment on how much hair she has!

Lactation Advice from Asia

In UK and US prenatal breastfeeding classes, much of the emphasis seems to be on how to initiate breastfeeding and get the baby latched on –- not much, if anything, on how to maintain the supply or boost milk production. It is often either implied, assumed, or taught that as baby’s demand on the breast increases, breast milk production and supply will naturally increase. You’ve probably heard this oft quoted mantra, “Feed baby on demand.” While allowing the infant to frequently feed at the breast is one of the most important ways of increasing breast milk production, there may be a few other simple things you could do to help your milk supply as well.

It’s always fascinating to me to find out what is being advised elsewhere, and whether practices are the same in different countries and cultures. When I was in Singapore, this was the lactation advice I received from a hospital lactation consultant:

  • Make sure to pump out the other side even though you are only feeding baby one side during a session
  • Drink some hot liquid one hour before the breastfeed session (e.g., soups, a hot drink etc.)
  • Hand massage the breast one hour before the breastfeed session (this is done by using the flat palm of the hand instead of the fingers, and going in miniature circles around the circumference of the breast tissue).
  • Get plenty of rest!

If you want to go more traditional, there is a certain type of soup called the ‘green papaya fish bone soup’ which is used widely for breastfeeding women in Chinese circles in Singapore (http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/papaya-fish-soup/). It is purported to help boost one’s breast milk supply. In fact, it was a daily staple on the confinement menu at the hospital I was in for all meals! After it is brewed, you would only drink the soup itself, and not eat any of the ingredients. I’m not sure how effective it is, but it probably helped that I was drinking hot liquids often!