Having Torticollis And Raising A Child

parrot-898125_640Eight years ago I was diagnosed with Torticollis (or wry neck), three months later my son, Jay, was born. Whilst I am nowhere near disabled, it does effect my life and consequently how I can interact with Jay. And that’s what I wanted to talk about today.

First, for those who aren’t familiar with torticollis, a little info on the condition. There are 2 ways it can develop. The first is through an injury or other physical trauma, which can normally be rectified by fixing the underlying cause. I know of one person who had it from bad posture sitting at his desk, and all he had to do was rest for a few days and correct his posture when sitting. The other cause is genetic and is passed down through the family. This can not be fixed and will be a continuing condition for the rest of your life. This is what causes my condition and every 3 or 4 months for the past 8 years I have had around 20 injections into the muscles on my neck and shoulders to reduce the tension and relax the muscles there.

Torticollis causes the muscles in the neck and shoulders to contract constantly, and in my case my head is tilted to the left. On good days it isn’t that noticeable and I can move my head up and down and rotate it relatively normal. On most days though the muscles are stiffer and I have trouble moving my head, and tend to turn my whole body when I want to look from side to side. As you can imagine there is also a fair amount of pain and discomfort from the muscles constantly working. I do have pain killers and muscle relaxants that I take, but I try not to take them to often as I don’t want excessive mediation to effect me in other ways.

So how does this effect my relationship with my son? Basically it’s a limiting factor, not so much in what I can do, but how much I can do. So far we haven’t come across any activity that I flat out cannot do, but there have been times when I couldn’t do it at that time. For example, we go swimming, bike riding, bowling, play soccer and so on. But there have been days when I couldn’t bowl with him because of the stiffness and pain. I did go with him to support and encourage him, but I just couldn”t bowl alongside him.

In most cases though I can do the activity with him, but afterwards I’m stiff and sore, which limits how much we can do on any one day. Weekdays are usually the worst, since by the time I come home I’m already tired, more tired than I used to be from a days activities prior to the condition. But even then I’m able to spend time with my son around the house, playing games, watching TV and helping him with his homework. I just can’t be as active as I’d like.

And how does Jay react? He’s normally very understanding and will ask about Daddy’s sore neck. On days when I’m exhausted and just want to lie down, he’ll look after me and offer to get me drinks or things, and make sure I’m comfortable. Fortunately I’m not that bad very often, and most days I can do things with him in the afternoon. And weekends we try to do all the things that most families will do.

Overall I think I have a good relationship with Jay and we’re as close as any father and son, but there are times when I wish I could be more normal and do more to make him happy.

When Should You Tell A Child They Are Adopted

If you asked five different people that question, chances are you’d get five different answers. The funny thing is they could all be wrong, or all be right. Even if most adoption workers claim the best time to tell your child they’re adopted is between the ages of 2 and 4, I personally think this is a question that the adoptive parents have to answer for themselves.

Why? Simply because a lot of the way that the child reacts to the news is based on the parents comfort level in having that discussion. If the parents don’t handle the topic positively, this can rub off on the child and they will receive a negative view to the news they are adopted. Even if they don’t comprehend what adopted means, they can get negative connotations to the word.

Of course, if you have a very strong negative reaction to telling your child they are adopted, perhaps you should reconsider the decision to tell them. That could lead to other problems of course, and I have discussed this question elsewhere.

Before telling our children that they’re adopted, I think we have to be totally comfortable talking about it and prepared for whatever questions our kids may have regarding the adoption. Of course they may not have any immediate questions, and if they are very young probably don’t fully comprehend the situation or can’t form the questions they want to ask. But the questions will come and I think we should be fully prepared and comfortable in answering them.

There’s no point in telling them they’re adopted and then refusing to answer other questions about it. Or avoiding questions that may be uncomfortable. Think about how you will tell them why you decided to adopt. Or questions about the birth parents, why did they give up their child? No child wants to hear that their biological father is in jail and their birth mother is a drug addict. Try to answer truthfully, but positively. Say they weren’t in a good position to raise a child. Be prepared with something that is honest yet positive.

In the case of our son we don’t really know anything about his biological father, and his birth mother was to young and poor to raise him. We’ve always been honest with him about this and whenever he’s asked questions, we’ve told him the truth. We started this when he was very young and I feel it was the right decision. Occasionally he will ask something about it, but it becomes rarer over time. And he seems to have accepted it as just another fact about himself. He has no hangups about it and is a well rounded normal 7 year old boy. He know he has 2 loving adoptive parents and he loves us back, and that’s the most important thing.

My Son Wants To Avenge Me

Okay, reading that title probably makes people think my son, Jay, is avenging my death. Even if it’s just a death in a game. Well, I guess thaqt’s half right, it was in a game, but I didn’t die, I was kicked from a server we were playing on together.

I suppose a little background is needed here to clarify what happened, and also to help non-gamers to understand what happened. We were playing a mini game in Minecraft on the PS4 where the idea is to break blocks out from under other players to make them fall and die in the lava below. The last person standing wins the round and the first person with 3 wins, wins the game. There’s also the ability to kick players who are disrupting the game play or are cheating in some way.

For example, some players will remove blocks in such a way as to make themselves a little island that can’t be reached by the other players. And so what happens then is a stalemate where they can’t kill other players, and others can’t kill them. There is a mechanism built into the game where after a period of time they’ll be able to use snowballs to break the blocks instead of shovels, so they can be killed from a distance.

The problem with this is that it disrupts the flow of the game, which is normally fast paced and ends quickly, and the surviving players just stand around doing nothing until they get the snowballs. Meanwhile the players who have already died and are waiting for the next round have nothing to do but stare at unmoving players.

When this happens I have no problem with kicking the player that isolated himself, because it’s ruining the game for everyone and doesn’t give them any real advantage either since the isolated player is killed in the majority of cases anyway.

To get a player kicked there needs to be 3 votes for them to be kicked, and once 3 others have voted they are disconnected from the server and can’t join again. I believe the makers have released an update that changes this system, because it was being abused by juvenile players who kicked people for no reason, but I’m not sure how it works now.

Which brings us back to what happened to Jay and I. We had just joined a server and started playing by trying to drop other players into the lava. In other words doing exactly what you’re supposed to do in the game. But, in less than 10 seconds (No that is not an exaggeration) I had been kicked from the server.

Annoying as it was that I was kicked for no reason, Jay made it better by telling me he was going to get revenge on the other players (yes he really used the word revenge). And believe it or not he did, he won the next 3 games by winning 9 rounds and only getting dropped into the lava a few times. He really is quite good at that game and watching him is very exciting in itself, and he would have played the same whether I was kicked or not. But it does feel good knowing that Jay loves me enough to get revenge on those who hurt me.

Now, I need to sit down and write a list of people who have wronged me in the past and set a 7 year old on them.

Are We Rewarding Or Bribing Our Children?

As a conscientious parent I’m wondering where the line between rewards and bribes is. When we give something to our children for something they’ve done, does it constitute a reward or a bribe? How do we know the difference? Is it just a matter of perception? Or is there some quantifiable way we can determine it?

I’m thinking of this now because my son, Jay, is on school holiday this week and while he’s at home we’ve made him an offer. Basically we’ve bought him 2 books to do extra practice with, 1 mathematics and 1 Chinese. They’re supplementary books for what he uses at school, and will help him to get ahead with his work. He said he wants to do them, but the problem is he can become distracted by games and books. What we need is an extra motivation for him to put down his toys and do some study. We’re not asking for much, and have told him we only expect him to do 1 hour a day. So how do we motivate him to do the extra work?

What we’ve offered him is that for every 2 chapters he completes, we will buy him a pack of Pokemon cards. There’s a total of 9 chapters in each book, so if he completes everything he’ll get 9 packs of cards (they’re $4.50 each if you want to do the math).

If you’re wondering what Pokemon cards are, they’re a trading card game. There’re are several different ones out there and seem to be quite popular, especially with the Pokemon go game being released recently.

The problem I face now, is whether this offer constitutes a reward for performing the action, or whether it’s a bribe for doing what we want. Should we consider it a part of positive reinforcement where we give a reward for positive behaviour? Should we really reward this type of behaviour? Or should the reward of gaining knowledge and proficiency be enough?

For me I’m leaning towards classifying it as a reward, but I’m aware not everyone will think this way. I’m also conscious of limiting any rewards we give for this type of behaviour so that it doesn’t become something that is expected in the future, and hopefully he will develop a passion for gaining knowledge and getting more proficient at these things. I’d also like to hear thoughts from others who have thought about these things, so leave a comment below and let us know your opinion.

11 Things To Say To Your Child Everyday

I was recently sent a video with 9 things to say to your kids everyday. I thought it was a good list so I thought I’d put the list up here, with a couple of additions that I think are just as, if not more, important to say to our children (or at least in their presence).

And even though the title says everyday, I think the problem with that is that we run the risk of losing the emotion and thus the results if we try to say all of them everyday, as they lose their meaning when repeated to often and at the wrong times. Some, like the first on the list, I try to say everyday, but others are more of a weekly thing.

So, without further babbling, here is the list:

1. I Love You

What could be more important than letting your little one know you love them, and whilst we may show them our love everyday, I think it’s also important to say the words. This is something my wife and I do everyday, usually multiple times, and Jay also says it to us without prompting.

2. I Like It When

This is straight up positive reinforcement and can be used to modify or encourage good behaviour. But more importantly, it tells our children that we are paying attention to what they’re doing and care about what they do.

3. You Make Me Happy

This is a great, and simple, way to tell the little one they are important to you. This can also be used similar to number 2 above, such as “you make me happy when…”, but I think just saying it without the qualifier can be just as important. If I’m asked “how?” my response is “just by being you”.

4. I’m Proud Of You

This is great to use when my son is struggling with something, he doesn’t have to be succeeding for me to say it, as long as he is trying hard. It’s also something positive to say when he admits he did something wrong, it encourages him to tell the truth, without condoning the bad behaviour.

5. You Are Special

No matter what happens, our children should always feel that they are special, at least to their parents if not to anyone else. This is another way of saying we love our kids and that’s why they are special.

6. I Trust You

If we want to have a trusting relationship with our children, we have to give trust if we want to receive it. This will encourage and develop a trusting and honest relationship that will help them with further relationships down the line.

7. I Believe In You

This is a great way to encourage our kids, provided we also combine it with an acceptance that success is not always possible. The last thing we want is to create shame or a sense of failure when they don’t succeed. There are no greatly successful people who have never suffered defeat and it’s a lesson that should make them stronger, not weaker. By believing in my son I’m telling him I know he will do his best, and when that’s not good enough, he will work so that next time he will do better.

8. I Know You Can Do This

This is pretty much the same as number 7, but this time there is a certainty in a positive outcome. A great way to encourage and motivate.

9. I Am Grateful For You

This is similar to number 3, another way to say our children make us happy. But there’s an extra dimension to it, something that says you are happy they are part of your life, and you’d be lacking something if they weren’t there.

10. I’m Sorry

This is a great way to teach humility. And I don’t just mean saying to my son, but having him hear me say it to others. We all make mistakes and admitting them is part of growing up. The best way for little ones to learn that is by example. It lets them know that we all make mistakes and we can all take responsibility for them.

11. Thank You

A common courtesy that is all to often missing in today’s world. It’s a simple gesture that is the basis of a polite society, and I do want my son to be part of such a society. A way to let others know we value their time and efforts and takes nothing from us but can mean a great deal to others.

My Son Wants To Be A Scientist

Is it just me or is 7 a bit young to decide what career you want to do when you grow up? Yeah, yeah, I know he’ll change a hundred more times before he leaves school. But then, a lot of us probably do know people who decided young and kept on track to the career they wanted. And with the Olympics just ending, we know that a lot of those competitors have been training from an early age.

The real question for me though, is how much should I encourage his choices at this stage? Especially when there is a high chance he will, like most kids, change his mind again and again. For me, I think I’m going to encourage and support him as much as he’ll take. That way he’ll really know whether he has a real interest in that area, and he’ll know what it’s really about.

Perhaps we should take a step back and look at how this all came up though.

Last week Jay (my son) had Thursday and Friday off school because of the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Exams) that all grade 6 students go through. As a side note, do any other countries have major national exams for Primary/Elementary students? I know we didn’t in Australia, and as far as I know they still don’t, and I’ve never heard of any other countries doing it, but I guess there could be some doing it.

Anyway, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, last Thursday and Friday Jay had no school. So on Thursday my wife, SO, took the day off and took him to “KidsSTOP” at the Singapore Science Centre, which is aimed at children up to 8 years of age, and introduces younger kids to the world of science. Luckily Jay is 7 so he can still go there. They apparently enjoyed it and when they got home Jay told me he wanted to go to the main Science Centre the next day, which caters for older kids and teenagers.

So Friday came and, having taken the day off to spend with him, we set off to the Science Centre to learn about sciency stuff and hopefully have a bit of fun doing it. We ended up spending about 5 hours walking around the exhibits and learning about all the different types of science and playing with the contraptions they have on display. It was tiring, but we had a great time, and I’d like to do more things like that with him in the future.

At the end of the day, on the way home, Jay told me that he had decided he wants to be a scientist. If this had been the first mention of it I probably wouldn’t have taken it that seriously, and figured it was just because he’d had fun, but he’s mentioned it a few times in the past. Which is why we wanted to take him there in the first place.

So now, even though he won’t start studying science at school until next year, we’re already on the look out for things we can get him to jump start his interest in science. We’ve talked to him about the periodic table and he’s excited, as only a 7 year old can be, to get one and start learning all about the elements and how they interact. Time will tell how far he takes it, but as long as he’s interested I want to keep feeding his interest and we’ll take him back to the science centre to further explore what they have there. Oh, and if you’re interested in what’s at the centre take a look here.

My Son’s Addicted to Pokemon Go and it’s Slowly Killing Me

I’m sure everyone’s heard about the new Pokemon Go game that’s so popular right now. You go around in the real world and collect pokemon, gotta catch em all, right?

The thing is, when I first heard of the game, I wasn’t really interested in getting it. Sure, the concept sounded good, and it seemed like an interesting game. And for fans of the show it was obviously a must have game. But see, that’s the thing. Whilst I’ve seen quite a few episodes with my nieces and nephews, and one or two with my son, neither my son or I are what you’d call fans. Sure, when we watched the show we enjoyed it, but it’s not one of the shows we go out of our way to watch.

So what got me to download it and get Jay (my son) to play? We happened to be talking to our doctor (we’ve all been a bit sick lately) and he mentioned how his daughter was playing it and using it as a way to go out and get exercise walking around. And that’s what did it, what better way to get Jay out and exercising than as part of a video game he was playing.

And it worked. Too well as it turned out. The first day we had it (I downloaded it at lunch time), we went out collecting pokemon twice, covering around 5 kilometres. The second day Jay had school, and I was supposed to be working, so we couldn’t go out during the day. But that night he insisted we go out and look for more. So we did since he didn’t have school the next day (national day holiday), and went a couple of kilometres.

And so everyday since has been the same, going out trying to catch more. Except for yesterday when he had school and since today was a school day we didn’t go out at night. But he still went through what he’s collected and upgraded and evolved what he could.

But the extra exercise isn’t the only benefit. Whilst we’ve been out collecting he’s spent more time playing in the local playgrounds, while I sit and watch and collect pokeballs and things from the pokestop. Plus, he’s become more interested in going out to do other things instead of staying home and playing or watching TV. Like going to kick the soccer ball around. In fact when we went out to do that I took my phone out so he could try to catch a pokemon on the way to the field, but instead of playing he told me to put it away.

Overall it’s been a success, Jay’s getting more exercise and actually wants to go out. And I’ve even been taking longer walks when I go out so that I can try to hatch eggs for him (which will hatch after you’ve walked a certain distance). My biggest problem is that it’s wearing me out, my body aches more than it has in a long time, and everyday I seem to be even more tired. The truth though, is that I’m also feeling better physically and it seems to be doing both of us a world of good.

Helping My Son Learn Chinese

Let’s get this out of the way first. I don’t speak Chinese. I don’t read it. And I don’t write it. But still I help my son, Jay, with his Chinese homework. How? We’ll get to that in a minute.

But first some background. Here in Singapore it’s compulsory for children to study their Mother Tongue, which is based on what the Father speaks (don’t ask me, I didn’t write the rules). So even though my wife, SO, is Chinese, we could’ve chosen a different language for Jay to study as his mother tongue since I’m just a white guy who has English as my native language.

The three languages available (if my brain isn’t failing me again) are Chinese (Mandarin), Malay, and Tamil. English is the main language for teaching so that’s not an option. As foreigners we could’ve applied for none (an exemption) or chosen another language altogether, but he would’ve had to study that outside of school, and the chances of approval are supposedly very low.

Since SO is ethnically Chinese (she’s Indonesian by nationality) we decided to choose Chinese. The thing is, her Chinese isn’t that good. Oh, she can speak Mandarin and Hokkien well enough to get by and have conversations in. But her reading and writing aren’t that good.

And, as for me? I know maybe somewhere between 10 and 20 words. Mostly family related, such as addressing brothers or sisters as “ke” or “jie”.

So how do we manage his Chinese education? First line of attack are extra Saturday classes, where he gets an extra 3 hours of lessons at a private tuition centre where they follow the school’s curriculum and reinforce what he learns during the week at school. Which works really well, but leaves the problem of his day to day homework. He can’t leave that till the weekend and ask his tutor for help.

So what do we do? Most of the time my wife helps with the Chinese homework, whilst I take the English, cause I is a good English talker, and she is fluent enough in Chinese. Which works most of the time.

Unfortunately, we sometimes end up having weeks like this last week, where my wife has had late meetings/functions to attend, and couldn’t be home to do the homework with Jay. So, after a period of panicking and trying to hide from him, it’s up to me to try and help him with his homework. Fortunately, he’s doing well enough that he can do most of it with me only encouraging him, and keeping him focused.

He does have weekly spelling tests though (for both English and Chinese, but the English is simple and doesn’t need commenting on (so why did I just comment on it?)), and to help him I need to read the words out for him so he can practice writing them. Fortunately the spelling lists mostly come with the pinyin version of the character. And when they don’t, we’ve found that Google Translate works really well. The problem though is that my pronunciation isn’t the best (in fact it’s terrible), and so, Jay has to go through the words with me before I start reading them to him. Otherwise he has no idea what I’m saying, although when I do get one right the first time he will give me a high five, which happens only once or twice for every list of ten words, but it’s nice to get a reward every now and then. So far, this is working well. And to be honest, I think it actually helps him by reviewing the words in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s him learning, rather it’s him teaching me, so he enjoys it and feels like he’s the smart one (okay, maybe he is the smart one).

Overall, his Chinese is going pretty well, and after his first year he was placed in the top 30% of his year. And considering a lot of those students he beat are native Chinese speakers, I think he’s doing fairly well. I won’t take any credit for it though, he is very smart and has a great memory, so whatever I do to help is only minimal. But I do have to say I’m very proud of him and all he’s accomplished, and maybe, just maybe, what little I do, is enough to help him in some small way.

Can You Play Hide and Seek in a Small Apartment

If you’d asked me a few years ago, whether we could successfully play hide and seek in our home (apartment, unit, whatever you want to call it), I would’ve probably laughed and said “No way”. Why? Well, let’s see. We live in a small 3 bedroom place. Three bedrooms, lounge/TV room, and kitchen. And that’s it. Well, okay there are sperate bathroom and toilet, but that really is it.

So how could we play hide and seek and actually have fun doing it? Where would we hide? Surely finding anyone, even a 5 year old, would be easy, and the game would quickly be over.

What we’ve found out though is that, even though it’s super simple to find people, and seriously I’m just under 6 feet tall how could I possibly hide effectively in our small home, we have a tremendous amount of fun playing. And it’s probably my son Jay’s favourite game.

How does that work? Let me give you an example. Just yesterday I was playing with Jay and he wanted me to hide. So I went to my bedroom and lied down pulling the cover up over my head. It barely covered me, and I’m pretty sure the top of my head was still showing if you looked from the right angle. Obviously it only took him a minute to find me, after thoroughly searching everywhere else in the unit. He may have actually realised where I was earlier, it just took me that long to know for sure he knew where I was.

Anyway, I knew he’d found me, partly from his sniggering, and partly that he changed what he had been saying up to that point. I should probably mention here that as we search we make a running commentary so that the other person (or people) will know what we’re doing and that we are actually looking for them. You know what I mean, “I wonder if he’s in the kitchen”, “I’ll check under the table”, “Let me look in the bathroom”. You get the idea.

So there he was in the bedroom with me under the covers, and he started talking about eating a cheese sandwich, sticking it in his ear, jumping on the bed, and so on. He was trying to get me to laugh, and I knew it. Eventually he jumped up on the bed and started slapping (not too hard) where I was, until I finally had enough and revealed myself.

Or what about when Jay hides? He’s got several places he likes to hide, and to be fair they are quite good and if you weren’t actively looking for him, you probably wouldn’t notice him there. Like under the table in the kitchen with the chairs pulled in. Or in the small bedroom behind the clothes hanging waiting to be ironed. Or under his study table in the middle bedroom. I could easily imagine him being in one of these hiding spaces and having us walk past him repeated without noticing him there.

But like I said, if you’re actively seeking then there’s no where, including these places that are very good at hiding you. At least not for very long.

We do like to have fun though, like trying to make the other person laugh so they reveal where they are hiding. Another thing we do is pretend that we can’t find them. My wife and I do that occasionally with Jay, just so it’s more fun. We each have a place that, if Jay is hiding there, we will continue searching becoming more and more confused about where he could be. Eventually we will give up and tell him we can’t find him and he’ll have to come out of hiding. He enjoys this thinking he’s got one over on us, although part of me wonders if he’s just humouring us and he knows we could find him but let him “win”. Either way, it’s all fun, and a game that he keeps wanting to play over and over and over again.

What Should We Do About Overweight Children

The topic of overweight children and in particular obesity, recently came up when my son, Jay, came home and told us that one of his classmates is only as couple of kilograms lighter than me. Now to put this in perspective, I’m an average height adult male (just under 6 feet tall) and at the high end of the average weight range for my height. The boy on the other hand is around 7 or 8 years old. I haven’t done the math but I reckon he’d be classified as obese.

The thing is, here in Singapore they have a system set up to help deal with weight problems in children. They didn’t do this in Australia when I was a boy, but hopefully they’re doing something similar now. And I’m pretty sure there are other countries that do have similar programs to Singapore, especially with the obesity problems being faced in many countries these days.

Anyway, as I was saying, here in Singapore all children have a health check-up at school (in public schools, not sure about the private/international schools) where the kids have their height and weight measured. They also have eye and teeth checks, but that’s another story.

After the health check, if the child is found to be overweight, they are sent to see a nutritionist and have to attend an extra class at school where they will learn more about health and nutrition and do extra physical exercises. In Jay’s school they have the extra half hour class before school, Monday to Friday, and most sessions involved physical exercise.

How do I know this? Jay was determined to be a bit overweight last year when he was in grade 1. He doesn’t have to go to the extra sessions any more but he’s still a couple of kilos over his ideal weight. Unlike grown adults who would need to lose the extra weight, we’ve been advised to maintain his weight as he grows so that he’ll gain height and get to the ideal height/weight ratio without actually losing any of his weight.

Since he’s not going to the extra classes any more, we have to do more with him at home. During the week this is a bit of a problem since the evenings are taken up by dinner, schoolwork, and then getting ready for bed. On the weekends though, we try to go out and do some physical activity. Our most common activities are bike riding, running, swimming and tennis. Fortunately Jay loves doing all of them and sees them as fun things to do, and not just something he has to do because of his weight.

As far as his diet goes, it hasn’t changed that much. Instead of white rice (we eat rice practically every day), we now use brown rice. We limit the amount of milk he drinks. And are more careful about his portion sizes, and how much meat and vegetables he eats. What about junk food? I hear you ask. Funnily enough, that’s never been a problem. Jay rarely ate it anyway. If he got chocolates or sweets as a gift he’d try one and then leave the rest, which usually meant I’d eat them. Which just goes to show, even when a child only eats healthy food, they can still end up with a weight problem. It’s also about how much you eat, and not just what you eat.

What about that other boy? Well, from what we know it seems his parents don’t care. Jay doesn’t know if he’s been to see the nutritionist, but he knows that the boy has never gone to the extra classes, even when Jay was attending them. And over the last year, the boys weight has continued to climb. It’s a troubling thing, and the government has put in place a system to help with these weight problems, but if the parents don’t care or can’t be bothered to do anything, we’re going to continue to see these problems in young children.

As for Jay, he’s doing well with his weight, maintaining it and continuing to grow taller (he’s going to be taller than me eventually).