It was lunchtime on a Sunday afternoon. My husband was cooking ‘Banmian’ noodles for the children and myself, a popular Malaysian Chinese noodle dish with hand-torn noodles served in soup and topped with deep-fried crispy anchovies.
Now, I am a big fan of crispy crunchy deep-fried food, especially these small fried anchovies or what locals call ‘Ikan bilis’ here. This love for all things fried and crispy has carried over to my own kids. I’m not sure if this was due to genetics or did it come from their observation of how their mother would do a celebratory dance every time we fry anchovies at home, even the smell that permeates the air after a session of deep-frying any fish of that matter, is de-li-cious.
Our plate of deep-fried anchovies as toppings for our noodles soup.
As we sat down to have our lunch, my 3-year-old daughter stared at the plate of fried anchovies and asked if she can have some of it. I replied yes, that she can have some of it after she has eaten at least half of her meal.
But today she asked me something else as she was eating her noodles. She stared for quite a while at one of the bigger pieces of fried anchovies that I put on an empty plate in front of her, and she asked me if she could open it up and find out what’s inside the small fried fish.
“Mummy, can I open up the head of the anchovy, and then the body too. I want to see what’s inside.”
She proceed to pick up the fried fish with her fingers and wanted to start breaking it down.
Usually, I wouldn’t allow this request, as the fried fishes tend to be oily and it would be a mess when she breaks it down with her fingers and then touches her eating utensils, her face, and hair.
But I stopped myself from denying her this request.
Firstly, because this is how toddlers learn. They learn when they have the curiosity to find out about the world around them, when they observe how things work and analyze what’s inside it. I would usually encourage the kids to ask why, and how things work or what do they think about what they saw.
This applies also to how they manage their emotions and regulate them. That when they are angry, I try to get them to answer why they feel that way about what happened. Right or wrong answer, it doesn’t matter. We as the adults can help them with this after they have cooled down.
Secondly, because we were at home and the situation permitted it. I had no real reason to deny her from getting messy and exploring her little fried fish’s anatomy, other than the inconvenience of cleaning her and the table up.
So I replied ‘Yes’, that she may go ahead to decapitate the fried fish with her fingers, and to tell us what she finds inside it once done.
Parenting is part psychology, part trial and error, and a lot of intentionality.
If we want the kids to cultivate the attitude for lifelong learning, to be able to have the ability to ‘find a way’ in every situation when they don’t know how to, and to challenge themselves, the best time to start is when they are young. This is because science has long shown that the best time to start to initiate this mindset is in their early formative years when their development is at its peak. Then as parents, we are there to set the environment for this growth and govern our conversations with them to get to where we want them to be.
It is not always easy, and sometimes in these similar scenarios when the outcome turned out worse than our expectations, for example in this case a huge mess from a spilled bowl of food, we will tend to lose our tempers at the kids.
But despite these challenges, it is important to find out what makes the kids thrive in the long term, and to apply it in their upbringing on purpose. They may thank us later for our intentionality in growing them well.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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Photo credit: Deep-fried fishes -By author