Let’s play ball!

A few months ago, my 16 month old girl had the opportunity of spending a few weeks with one of her lively 2 years old cousin. It was amazing to see them bond despite the lack of words. The development I have observed in both of them made me wonder about what our city-raised children miss out on, playtime with their age-mates.

Do you know a toddler who doesn’t know the basics of operating a smartphone? What about a toddler who doesn’t know how to play with others her age? Nowadays, Children as young as one year old are able to turn on a phone and take a selfie but they are totally clueless when it comes to interacting with their age mates. Our fast paced lifestyle and the concrete jungle with its packed parking also used as a ‘playground’, thus the constant need to keep them busy with piano and painting lessons keep them from going out to play with their peers. Moreover, the improper use of digital devices in our homes are also keeping children as prisoners in their home. On the rare occasions that they get to play with other kids, it is usually difficult to make them share things and be considerate towards each other, in other words the culture of entitlement comes to the surface.

I believe extracurricular activities and digital devices are important for their growth and for their mental development but I also believe that there is so much to gain from the usual playtime with other children. Science also shows that when kids spend time playing outside with their friends, they develop fine motor skills, their social skills are sharpened, and their neurological development is boosted among other things. The common problems that young children have these days such as obesity, bullying, depression and anxiety can be attributed to lack of playtime and interaction with others.

It is also important to note that the size of a standard family especially in cities has gone down noticeably and couples with one child are very common. Therefore, the only time most children get to be with other kids is most probably on birthday parties or family events. Two or three decades ago, the idea of planning for a play-date for children might seem absurd but our lifestyle now sometimes requires that we plan for play-dates or playgroups with other parents.

Why plan for play-dates?

Children learn best from each other as they spend time together. Playing together helps them to grow socially, intellectually and physically. Here are some benefits of playing with others.

Develop different skills

Children have an amazing imagination and a lot of energy that is why they can play for long. The more they play together, the more they learn how to work together, how to share and take turns, how to empathize and, tolerate each other. While doing so, they pick social, problem solving, and, leadership skills.

Self development

What children need more of these days is how to self entertain when they are ‘bored’. Through their imagination they learn how to be creative. They also develop their self confidence and learn self regulation without the parent’s nudge.

For parents

Playdates are beneficial for parents too as they create opportunities to meet other parents and learn from each other. It also strengthens the child-parent bond because memories are created from spending time together and doing enjoyable things.

We are in a time where our diverse world is need of creative solutions for our problems, appreciation of differences, and respect towards each other and raising our children right is a big step towards that serenity. I believe playing is one of the easiest ways of teaching children these much needed values.

This first appeared on The Standard in September 2017.

Image source: The Mouth of the Kenai

Parenting in Kenya

I moved to Kenya in 2015 after my wedding. When my husband’s family came to visit us a few weeks later, one of my sister in laws had come with her youngest son who was around 18 months. When I served them soda from the fridge, she asked me to warm a cup for her son. It didn’t sound right to my ears so I asked again – she simply laughed at my expression and  went to the kitchen to warm the soda in the microwave! I don’t know if I should call that culture shock but I  was taken aback. I grew up licking frozen popsicles and running in the rain in Ethiopia so the obsession on giving only warm drinks to children and on top of that over dressing them with six jackets and pullovers (Okay, not six but you get my point) still makes me laugh at times. But that aside, there are a couple of good lessons I have learned while raising my daughter here and here are three.

It takes a village

I would say Africa shares this sentiment. Society is still entwined and children belong to the community. But I love the unity that a baby brings to a community. I am always touched with the overwhelming offer of help from our family, relatives, friends, and neighbors from the first day we brought our daughter home. My daughter has made a number of friends without uttering a word. I love the way they, along with their parents, call me ‘Mama Shiku!’  

I also love the respect of boundaries most people have towards visiting a new baby. You have no control of guests flocking in to visit and hold the baby in Ethiopia. My daughter has so many aunties, uncles and cousins and she has brought us closer than I can imagine. I am thankful for all the pampering I received since my pregnancy.

Mama and baby cuisine

I didn’t like the taste of fermented Uji when I tried it for the first time. But after I had my daughter, and I was desperately waiting for my milk to start flowing, I gulped in Uji several times in a day. It worked so well that it became my drink for months after that.

Another important lessons I have taken with me is baby food. I would say Ethiopia is very limited in what is considered as baby food for the first year. Giving pumpkin to a baby is unheard of, we also don’t have arrow roots and the different variety of beans like Kenya. I will always be grateful to my second home and my sister in law who came to our place just to teach me how to make Uji for my daughter.

Parenting tips

We didn’t buy diapers until our daughter turned four months. I was amazed when people made plans to come visit our daughter, they usually ask us which brand of diapers she uses. Almost every visitor came with a pack of diaper and that pushed us for a little over four months. It is a very helpful and kind gesture that I have adopted when I go visit a new baby.

From using cotton wool instead of wipes to how to carry a small baby on the back, from how to change diapers on my lap to how to breastfeed in public. I have learned quite a lot of tips from Kenyan mothers around me.

Each society has something to offer if one is willing to listen. And Kenya has given me a lot from  families, neighbors and moms groups but above all I love my new title Kenya has given me, Mama Ciku. (My dear Ethiopian folks, that is read as Shiko, an equivalent of ‘Ye Mimi Enat’ but Shiko is my daughter’s nickname.)

(This first appeared in The Standard Sunday Newspaper in September, 2017)

Image Source:  Pinterest