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Discover the secret of childhood from 0-3 year old:

Posts Tagged ‘Ms. Lam’

Ms. Lam’s Interview Series 1: My Child (2.5 years old) Hits Other Kids. What should I do?

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 3:38 pm | By Stephanie Woo

My mother, Ms. Lam, brought Montessori education to Taiwan 28 years ago. She has since opened five Montessori schools. The children who attend her school range from 18 months – 6 years old. Ms. Lam holds both the AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) Infant-Toddler (ages 0-3) and Primary (ages 3-6) diplomas. Every Thursday, Ms. Lam meets with parents who have questions or concerns about their children. On these days, parents bring their questions and Ms. Lam sits down to offers them some heart-to-heart advice.

These interviews take place in Taipei, Taiwan and have been translated from Mandarin Chinese.

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Mother:

My child is now 2 years and 7 months old. Before he turned 2 years 4 months old, his grandma looked after him, but when he started to hit people, I decided to quit my job to take care of him myself. He’s generally a good kid, and maybe because he has type A blood, he’s very careful. But I can’t stand the fact that he is hitting other kids. I’ve read lots of parenting books, but everytime I finish reading a book, I have to change my parenting style, and this just confuses me further. Last month, I read this best-selling parenting book, I decided to follow the advice in the book. So last month, I was very strict with him, but I realize that style doesn’t work with him. The stricter I am, the more he’ll deliberately do something to make me mad. Actually he really likes other kids, whenever he sees them, he always wants to hug them, but the other kids don’t necessarily want to be hugged. I feel his ability to communicate is poor, he doesn’t really know how to speak yet.

Ms. Lam:

Can he say short sentences?

Mother:

Yes, he can say, “I’m up. It’s nice today (weather-wise). The sky is blue.”

Ms. Lam:

That’s very good.

Mother:

Maybe because I’m comparing him to other kids, but when I take him to church, other kids his age can say all sorts of things. They can even carry on a conversation. My kid just wants to hug the other children, but he can’t SAY what he wants.

He has a really strong personality. For example, when we buy him a toy, if he doesn’t know how to play it, he’ll push us aside and hide in the corner till he figures it out by himself. 

Ms. Lam:

That’s great!

Mother:

What’s great about that? It makes me worried about him. Don’t you think he has serious problems?

Ms. Lam:

How so? This is all normal. Up to now, I haven’t heard any problems. All children are like this.  

Mother:

He’s very stubborn!

Ms. Lam:

All 2-year-olds are stubborn. Stubborn is good. It means he’s got character.

Mother:

He’s so stubborn sometimes I can’t stand it.

Ms. Lam:

If he doesn’t have character, then you should worry.

Mother:

For example, whenever he washes his hand, after he washes it, he insists that everyone smell his hands and say, “Your hands are so clean and they smell so good!” I feel like he’s controlling all the adults around him.

Ms. Lam:

Up to now, I haven’t heard a real problem yet. They’re all problems you’re projecting. You’re looking at him through an adult’s perspective. Anything else?

Mother:

Well, it’s mostly small stuff. If he’s with me, he’s good because I don’t really limit him much, so he can spend really long periods of time playing and reading books by himself in his room. The problem comes up when we go out. When he sees other kids, he’ll just go over and hit them.  

Ms. Lam:

That’s considered pretty normal. Some children even bite.  

Mother:

But all the kids I see at church are so good. Some of those moms also think there’s something wrong with my child!

Ms. Lam:

So you’re just worried that he hits people.

Mother:

Yes.

Ms. Lam:

That’s a small problem. What you need to do now is the following. First of all, stop reading parenting books. Every book has a different angle. Some moms spoil their children, so the books will advise them to be stricter. Some books tell you to let your child go completely. But every family background and situation is different, so the way you parent will be different. Grandparents raising kids isn’t a problem either. I can tell you whether your child is okay just by looking into his eyes.

Mother:

Do you think my child’s eyes are okay?

Ms. Lam:

Yes. I can tell by looking at his eyes that he can concentrate. He doesn’t have shifting eyes that look this way and that. His only problem is that he hits people, but many 2-year-olds have this problem.

Usually, when moms encounter this problem, they’ll say, “don’t hit.” But “hitting” is a reflex for the child, and when he hears you say the word “hit,” it just reinforces his action. It might take him 30 seconds to comprehend the words “don’t hit.” But by then, he’s already done it. So don’t say to him, “don’t hit.”

Mother:

So what do I say? “Don’t do that?”

Ms. Lam:

You want to use positive language, for example, you can say something like “I see you want to play with him! You can touch him gently.” Don’t say the word ‘hit.’ If he hits, say, “No. Touch him gently.”

For a two year old, when you see him running, if you say, “Stop running,” he’ll run even faster. You have to say, “Walk!” or “Stop!”

Mother:

Really?

Ms. Lam:

It’s not that they don’t understand, but they don’t react to ‘Don’t’ as quickly as adults do. For an adult, the words “Don’t hit!” takes 1/10 of a second to register and understand, but for a child, it might take 10 second. When something is happening, by the time the child understands the command, the thing has already happened. So with a two-year-old, you have to speak to him in the positive.

Mother:

And use a positive attitude, too?

Ms. Lam:

Yes. And when you say “No,” your tone has to be certain. Speak to your child with clarity and simplicity.

Mother:

Some people say you have to talk to your children a lot. So if a child asks a question, the parents will give them long, drawn-out explanations. Should I do that too?

Ms. Lam:

When you talk to a child, the most important thing is to have eye contact. Some moms talk to their children while they are walking next to them, that’s incorrect.

Mother:

Yeah, so many moms do that nowadays!

Ms. Lam:

A lot of books will tell you that will increase a child’s IQ, that you need to talk to your child constantly. Actually, children need more time to observe, think, experience – UNINTERRUPTED. Some people play CDs constantly for their child. In Japan, some parents even put a speaker in the child’s room so they can talk to them constantly through a microphone. This is overdoing it. Of course, we need to teach them things, for example, teaching your child the correct names of things, rather than ‘flower’ teach them ‘lilies,’ ‘roses,’ ‘daffodils,’ etc.

Mother:

What if I don’t know the name of something?

Ms. Lam:

Then say, ‘I don’t know what kind of flower this is. We can look it up when we go home.’ Don’t become a walking dictionary because knowledge needs to be discovered by the child himself and not through the parents. It’s NOT your job to be a knowledge bank. Just be natural when you’re with your child. Think, what did your mom do?

Mother:

In the past, moms were so busy. They didn’t have time to spend all this time with their children.

Ms. Lam:

Yes. Children nowadays are overly taken care of. They have no sense of independence. They never get a chance to develop their ability to concentrate, think or make judgments.

Mother:

I feel like I’m not overly taking care of him at all, but my mom still says I’m too protective. She says the neighbor’s kids run around in the streets, but I get worried if I don’t see him for a second.

Ms. Lam:

Even if you’re worried, you can’t act worried in front of him. You say he gets scared easily, it’s because the adults have scared him into being that way. Kids are all bold.

Mother:

He never climbs on anything.

Ms. Lam:

Because when he was little, every time he tried to climb, you said, “Be careful, don’t climb! Get down!” When a child hears a lot of warnings, eventually, he gets scared.

Mother:

I thought maybe it’s because he’s a Pisces so he doesn’t like to climb. He doesn’t even jump on beds.

Ms. Lam:

Some children are born that way, it’s true. But every child will try to explore their environment and they should not be limited. The children in the Infant Community of our school (1.5-2.5 years old) use needle and thread, cuts fruits with knives – they use REAL things. Everyone has the awareness and desire to protect themselves. If we teach children to use these things properly, they won’t get hurt.

Mother:

When he sees me using scissors, he gets very curious.

Ms. Lam:

Then buy a small pair of scissors for him.

Mother:

I worry…

Ms. Lam:

Of course you have to consider his safety. So buy a round-headed one.

Mother:

I have another question. Is it true that we have to educate our children before three? A lot of books say 0-3 is the prime time for developing the brain.

Ms. Lam:

It is true. For children who have learning disabilities or autism, doing therapy with them before they are three will make a big difference and the time window should not be missed. But for normal children, if you miss the time window, he’ll just be harder to teach as he gets older, because before 3, children do not experience frustration or feelings of failure. He’ll just keep doing something till he gets it. But for an older child, if he doesn’t get something, he’ll get frustrated and it will affect his confidence. Children nowadays get frustrated very easily.

Mother:

Yes, they do.

Ms. Lam:

That’s because parents don’t let the children experiment and develop their capabilities. They over-protect them. If children do things too late, when they fail, they will feel frustrated.

Mother:

But I don’t know when to let him go and when to keep him safe.

Ms. Lam:

You have to give children REAL things. Let him drink from glass cups and eat from bowls that will break. He has to learn that things will break. Breaking is okay, we’ll just clean it up, but we have to be careful. Slowly, he will learn how much strength he needs to exert in order to do certain things, he’ll start to understand what his body is capable of.

Mother:

I need to let him know things will break.

Ms. Lam:

If he’s ever been allowed to cut a banana or a cucumber, he’ll know that they feel different. What does it feel like to cut an egg? How much force do I need to exert? He has to do it in order to know. The way you shell a peanut versus peel an orange, the amount of force and type of force are different. A child under three needs to begin to understand the strength of his body.

Mother:

Can’t you just tell him?

Ms. Lam:

If he hasn’t experienced it, his muscle hasn’t transmitted that message to his brain, he doesn’t understand what you’re saying. Just like someone who has never played tennis before, if you tell him how to serve the ball, how to hit harder, how to hit further, he has no idea what you’re talking about. Children learn about time, space and distance from experience.

Mother:

He’s been loving this one game where he will run from one end of the living room and bang himself really hard against the sofa. He’ll do this over and over again.

Ms. Lam:

He’s trying to understand his own strength by repeating this action over and over.

Mother:

I mean, I wonder, doesn’t it hurt? Because the distance is not that far, he’ll do it over and over, each time he’ll bang his body harder and harder.

Ms. Lam:

That means you need to take him to the park and let him do some vigorous running.

Mother:

But once we get to the park, if there are no kids, he gets sad and then he won’t play

Ms. Lam:

Mom and Dad can run with him!

Mother:

But he’s so little, can he really run?

Ms. Lam:

When a child repeats an action over and over, he’s trying to tell you that he needs to further explore this area, so we have to give him the opportunity. If you don’t want him running in the living room, then take him to the park. He’s doing these things to develop his gross motor skills. With children you don’t have to worry about his language development. The fact that he can say, “I’m up. I’m hungry. The weather is nice,” for a 2 year 7 month child, that’s plenty. Don’t ask for more. And you don’t need to envy others.

Mother:

Actually, I think if he can express his needs, that is enough.

Ms. Lam:

It’s more than enough. Can he eat by himself?

Mother:

Yes! He always eats by himself. But when he eats up to a certain point, I can’t take it anymore and I just have to feed him.

Ms. Lam:

Does he eat large pieces of meat or vegetable?

Mother:

I’ll cut it up for him.

Ms. Lam:

Don’t cut it up. Let him chew. Let him use his teeth to bite through the big pieces. For a 7 month old, I tell parents to give them an entire apple or an entire guava. Because at first they can’t bite into an apple, so you don’t have to worry that they’ll choke on it. They’ll start by using their two front teeth, that’s how children learn to bite.

Mother:

I see. When we go out, I don’t bring scissors with me. But I’ve never seen him bite into anything. I’ve never seen him bite off noodles, for example. If he thinks the pieces are too big, he’ll just spit it out.

Ms. Lam:

When he drinks water, let him drink directly from the cup. Don’t give him a straw.

Mother:

What about a sippy cup?

Ms. Lam:

Don’t use a sippy cup. A sippy cup is pre-controlled. But when a child is learning to drink from a cup, he has to learn to control how much water to pour into his mouth and how to take sips after sips. The younger you start him on a cup, the better. This seems like it’s a small detail, but actually it’s very important for myelinization of the brain, muscle control and experiencing bodily sensations. Maybe you’re thinking, well, I’m sure he’ll be able to do it when he’s five. But one is learning from experience, the other one is learning through concepts. The learning takes place in different parts of the brain.

When babies are 3-4 months old, as they’re learning to crawl and walk, adults shouldn’t try to help. When you see your child learning to roll over, it seems to be hard work. Well, it is. And he needs it. This is called developing will power. If you help him, he will lose the opportunity to develop his will power. This goes for crawling and walking as well. Don’t help him.

Mother:

What about walkers?

Ms. Lam:

Not good. Once he starts using a walker, his nervous system will start to think that his body is the size of the walker. One day, when you remove the walker, his body has become much smaller, so he has to reevaluate and relearn the distance between his body and the environment. In the process, he’ll fall and get hurt very easily.

Mother:

I see.

Ms. Lam:

It’s like if you’re used to driving a small car and suddenly you have to drive a truck, it takes a lot of time to adjust. For a child, it’s a lot of extraneous hard work.

Mother:

It sounds like adults are inhibiting children.

Ms. Lam:

For example, with bottles, when a baby can hold his own bottle, let him. Once he starts sitting, he may not be able to drink the milk, so he has to lift his head or tilt his body to one side to drink. Slowly, he will discover that he can control the milk flow with his body. That is learning through experience and discovery.

Why do children nowadays experience so much frustration? It’s because he’s lost that opportunity to build will power. So the hardest part about parenting children is when they are struggling, you cannot help him. In the past, mothers were very busy, so they don’t have time to help their child. And slowly, the children figure it out themselves.

Mother:

No wonder, I had a client whose child was outstanding. I asked her how she did it. She said, she didn’t have time to teach him anything, she was so busy, all she did was carry the child on her back or let him run around on his own.

Ms. Lam:

If you want your child to be creative, then teach less, interfere less, let the child figure it out for himself.

Mother:

What about listening to DVDs

Ms. Lam:

That’s the worse. Learning through listening, without working his hands, he is using only one sense to understand the world.

Mother:

But he loves it.

Ms. Lam:

Because he’s used to it. He’s used to this way of learning. So if you can look inside his brain, you’ll see his listening is probably very developed.

Mother:

I don’t want him to watch too much TV because some of the characters are too aggressive. But since I don’t let him watch TV, I feel like I should let him do something else.

Ms. Lam:

Let him do something with his hands.

Mother:

I don’t know what to give him.

Ms. Lam:

Let him rip paper. Teach him how to rip. Let him rip the paper into tiny pieces. At first, he may not have the strength to rip paper, so let him start with tissue paper. Slowly, give him thicker paper. Let his hands gain strength. Let him understand where his strength is – how small can he rip the paper? It also works on his concentration. You can also teach him to use a knife, so he can cut carrots, string beans, bananas, etc

Mother:

Will children be interested in doing these things?

Ms. Lam:

 Children love it. And you can give him work that’s related to water all day long.

Mother:

Every time he bathes, he can stay in the tub for a long time, at least 30 minutes. But because of it, he catches colds a lot, so I don’t know what to do.

I’m afraid he’s missing out on his prime time, so I want to give him more things to do. I’ve noticed that he doesn’t even open books much these days, he just presses PLAY and sits down to listen.

Ms. Lam:

Why are you giving him so much information? If you can develop a child’s love for books, then he’ll be able to find information for himself. If kids have a lot of knowledge, he may be able to talk a good talk, but he may not have corresponding capabilities. What he ends up with is just more frustration.

Mother:

So no DVD’s either?

Ms. Lam:

If you must, don’t let him watch for more than half hour. He’s already over 2, so he can play by himself. Try not to play with him. Let him occupy himself. Creativity comes from discovery.

Mother:

But if I let him play by himself, he’ll just sit around and play with cars all day long.

Ms. Lam:

Then let him. That is much better than listening to DVD’s.

Mother:

What’s so good about playing with cars? He’s always pushing around those same old cars.

Ms. Lam:

Don’t look at him from the point of view of an adult. If you give him blocks, you’ll see that he just lines them up too.

Mother:

Yes, he just lines them up in a row and says that’s a train. I wonder how come he has so little imagination?

Ms. Lam:

At his age, that’s what they do. They put things in a row. If you give him a lot of cars, he’ll just put them all together in a row. That’s what they do at this age. If shoes are all over the place, he’ll also line them up in a row.

Mother:

Yes, he loves to line up shoes!

Ms. Lam:

And you’ll think, oh, he’s such a good kid, Well, at this age, that’s what they do.

Mother:

I thought maybe he likes to be neat like me!

Ms. Lam:

If you give him a puzzle, he’ll line them up outside the board, he won’t put them inside.

Mother:

I’ve given him puzzles. The real kind.

Ms. Lam:

Puzzles should have very few pieces, the fewer the better. 3-7 pieces max.

Mother:

The fewer the better?

Ms. Lam:

The fewer the better. And let him work on it slowly. Make it just a little challenging at a time. Don’t give him too many pieces, or else he won’t want to do it at all.

Mother:

He does like puzzles, it’s just that recently, he just loves listening to DVDs.

Ms. Lam:

Puzzles are better than DVDs. If he gets used to listening to DVDs his eyes can start to lose focus. As he gets older, when he listens to people talk, it’ll go in one ear and out the other.

Mother:

At what age can is it appropriate to give a child DVDs?

Ms. Lam:

12-years-old.

Mother:

12? My goodness!

Ms. Lam:

It’s best not to give it to him. Unless you are driving or you don’t have time to tell him stories, then fine. Otherwise, it’s best not to give it to him.

Mother:

I should’ve come earlier. Recently, I bought a Montessori parenting book. After I read it, I found that it’s different from any other parenting books I’ve ever read. Now after talking to you, I see that it really is another way of thinking altogether.

Ms. Lam:

Montessori books are not written to become best-sellers. They are written for teachers, to educate teachers. Next week, I’m having a speech for parents, you can come to that.

Mother:

Of course, I’d rather my child learn in the most natural and easiest way, but in this time and age, I’m afraid he’s missing out. So many of my friends give their children iPADs. I didn’t buy him one because I’m afraid it’ll be bad for his eyes. 

Ms. Lam:

Bad for eyes now, and bad for his cognitive skills down the line.

Mother:

I really worry a lot about the future.

Ms. Lam:

If you are really thinking about his future, you have to follow my advice: develop his will power, his concentration, his hand-eye coordination, his fine motor skills, let him come to know the strength of his body. These are the most important things for him right now. Knowledge is not important.

Mother:

Will he have any problems in pre-school if he starts at 3?

Ms. Lam:

No.

Mother:

Because sometimes when he goes to Sunday school, he sort of loses control

Ms. Lam:

He’s only 2! Don’t set such high standards for him. If you spend 20% of the time playing with him, telling him stories, and 80 percent of the time creating a good environment for him to play by himself in, it will reduce your unnecessary worries.

Mother:

Even if he just plays with his cars all day long, are you sure that’s okay?

Ms. Lam:

That’s okay. Of course you want to give him different things too, like blocks, etc.

Mother:

He just lines them up in a row.

Ms. Lam:

That’s what they do at this age. There’s a need for order that’s particular for this age. Once he gets over this age, he’ll play in a different way. When he plays with blocks, can you not interrupt him, please?

Mother:

I won’t.

Ms. Lam:

In Taiwan, we have Lasy classes and block classes. European block manufactures who come to Taiwan are all curious: how come you need a class to learn to play with blocks? But in Taiwan, that’s what we do. If there’s a class for it, then sales go up. Without classes, parents worry that they’re not playing with it the right way.

Mother:

So children are just imitating adults and not really creating for themselves.

Ms. Lam:

When you teach a child to use scissors, just teach him how to use it. After that, let him cut anyway he wants. Long pieces, short pieces, different shapes, let him do what he wants. When he uses knives, teach him the correct way to use it, teach him how to use it without hurting himself. Once you’ve taught him how to use it in a correctly and safely, let him do it himself.

You can also ask him to help you do housework. For example, put a table in the kitchen and let him help with some things. When you fold clothes, teach him how to fold, for example, you can let him fold socks, etc. He will love to do housework and help you out.

Mother:

Okay. I understand. Thank you, Ms. Lam.

The Power Of The Mobile

Thursday, June 9th, 2011 12:39 am | By Stephanie Woo

I’m sure you’ve seen those store-bought mobiles with singing, dancing, blinking animals, princess and cars. You might even have one. Boxes advertise that it stimulates the baby’s vision and hearing, and without my mother’s advice, I most certainly would have bought three.

My mother Ms. Lam says, the infant, who recently came out of the dark, lightless womb, is already over-stimulated by EVERYTHING new, bright and moving around him. Does he really need an electronic device to further stimulate his vision and hearing? Just lying there at home in his crib or on the floor is more than plenty. My brother Alfred told me he bought an electronic mobile when he and Cynthia had their first child. At the time, he thought to himself, “What a great toy, baby Lauren loves it because she stares at it all the time!” It took a lot of education for him to realize she couldn’t help but stare at it all day long, like someone under hypnosis! It’s probably just a couple steps up from putting your baby in front of a TV.

THE PURPOSE OF A MOBILE, I LEARNED, IS TO BE TOUCHED, not just looked at. To achieve this is a big deal for a little baby. It is, like Maria Montessori says, the first time he can affect his environment.

Here are Ms. Lam’s instructions to make the right mobile:

  • Mobiles should be SIMPLE
  • Use clips to clip things to a rod
  • Never put more than ONE THING on it
  • When you start, clip something very light that moves slightly on its own
  • As the babies grow, make mobiles that won’t move unless they touch it
  • Mobiles that ring or make sounds are particularly attractive
  • Make mobiles in primary colors: red, blue, yellow. Babies are less interested in things that are silver or gold
  • Put a mobile up for 15-20 minutes (or shorter) and take it down when the baby loses interest. If you keep a mobile in her face all the time, she won’t see it at all.

My Implementation

I took some tissue wrapping paper from a baby gift we got. I cut up the bottom so it was stringy and clipped it to the mobile (see picture).

Mackenzie was 9 weeks old was I first showed her. I didn’t get any response from her the first day. The second day, when I put up the mobile, I can tell she was interested. She kept looking at it. Because the tissue paper is so light, it moves every time she breathes, which keeps her interested. Babies notice the tiniest little movements. The first time she reached out to touch the mobile, I was soo excited!!

Brooke’s favorite toy is a small owl plush that has a bell inside its stomach. She was never interested in mobiles when I first put it in front of her, unless I was there playing with her. But a couple weeks later, I remember I left her with the owl mobile as I went about cleaning the house, and suddenly I heard ringing, and I knew she was interacting with the mobile! It’s still her favorite toy at four months.

My girls’ interaction with the mobile has evolved over time. First she starts by looking at it very intently. And then one day, she starts pawing at it. Now, at four months, she will grab it and pull on it. If I want to keep her quiet for 20 minutes to finish the dishes or a conversation, I will leave her lying on her mat with a mobile. When she starts whining, I’ll just change a mobile and she’s good for another 10-15 minutes.

I’ve noticed that multi-dimensional mobiles are the best. I made sure the mobile wasn’t just a plastic toy. I used things that had a smell, made a noise when you touched it (like a crumply piece of paper or a ringing bell), different textures, different colors, etc. It’s important to vary what you give the baby (not just plastic baby stuff), but also things from our everyday surrounding.

Things I’ve used as a mobile

  • small colorful plush toys that ring or rattle when you touch it (most successful with my kids)
  • a rose (M loved looking at it, especially after I hold it close to her nose)
  • a plant twig
  • different colored ribbons tied to a rod
  • colored paper snowflakes
  • a row of yarn balls that go from light yellow to dark yellow
  • lemon slices strung up with a string (unsuccessful)
  • a row of paper dolls holding hands
  • jingle bells bracelet (they liked this)
  • origami crane with a bell attached to it
  • a small spoon

How to hang a mobile

I learned that mobiles have to be in the right position. Make sure it is hung so that it’s

  • high up enough so the baby can see it
  • low enough so he can touch it when he reaches out
  • doesn’t trail on his body
  • a little to the left or the right, which usually works better than straight up
  • not hanging above his nose, or else you’ll make your baby cross-eyed!

Encouraging Bilingualism

Thursday, June 9th, 2011 12:36 am | By Stephanie Woo

I am Chinese and married to an American man who doesn’t speak Chinese. I really want my children to be bilingual, which isn’t easy living in America and surrounded by English-speakers.  

My mother Ms. Lam taught me the following on how to raise bilingual children:

From the day they are born, each parent must decide who will speak what language to the baby and stick to it. In my case, my husband speaks to them in English and I speak to them in Chinese.  My mom was specific: this means not only speaking to them in Chinese in day-to-day conversation, it also means reading Chinese books and singing Chinese songs. “Not a word of English,” she emphasized. If you start at 6 months, thinking they don’t understand anyway, it’s too late. Children are particularly sensitive to language starting at 2 months and will be able to pick up the mother’s accent if they start hearing it at that age. More precisely-speaking, what they are picking up from the mother is the vowel sounds because it’s those “ahs” “uh” “ooh” that make up a person’s accent. The first six months is the most crucial. Believe it or not, when you try to teach a child a language at 1 year old, it’s already considered a second language!

You can even raise trilingual or quadrilingual children if they are regularly exposed to a third or fourth person who speaks to them exclusively in another language (like a nanny, grandparent, aunts/uncles, etc). Babies are language machines and the ease with which they pick up language at this age is nothing short of a miracle.

My Implementation

Knowing the only chance my children will speak Chinese is if I persevere, I’ve made special effort to speak as much Chinese as possible to them. I cannot sing them my favorite “Sound of Music” songs or read “Good Night Moon.” Instead, I’ve searched high and low for Chinese poetry and songs. I’ve taught (or re-taught) myself to sing and recite many Chinese children’s songs, hit love songs and even Tang poetry that I memorized as a child.  I don’t have any children’s books in Chinese, so I’ve read to them Buddhist sutras, books on Chinese medicine and even Chinese newspaper. If you read it like it’s the most exciting adventure story in the world, they will even stay enthralled! I’ve also had to brush up certain vocabulary words I’ve never had to use in Chinese, so I now know how to say ‘butternut squash’ and ‘raspberry’ in Chinese as well. This exercise has been good for my Chinese as well.

From when they were a few weeks old, Brooke and Mackenzie would stare at my mouth intently when I spoke to them. And by 2 months, they would start to move their mouth and make sounds. Remembering 2 months is a very important sensitive period for language, I ‘talked’ to them often, leaving space for back and forth conversation, waiting for them to finish their part of the talking before starting my part of the talking.  Since my babies spend more time with me and my Chinese nanny, it seems they understand Chinese more readily now. Daddy jokes that he has to learn Chinese to communicate with his children!  

 
Ms. Lam’s instructions for when they get older is the following: the only way to get your child to speak Chinese is to speak to them in Chinese and get them to speak it back to you. Never ever answer them if they speak to you in English. If they do, tell them, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” I haven’t reached this stage yet, but I can imagine this won’t be easy to keep up. But being trilingual myself and knowing the pleasure and advantage of speaking different languages, I intend to persevere.