It was lunchtime on a Sunday afternoon. To save time from cooking we went out to pack food from the nearby foodcourt. We got the kids chicken rice while the husband got me Pan Mee or Banmian ( a type of Asian hand torn egg noodles ) per my request.
If you know this Chinese dish it usually comes with hand made noodles that comes with fried anchovies or what we call in Malay as ‘Ikan bilis‘. Now, I am a big fan of crispy crunchy deep-fried food, especially anchovies, and this love for all things crispy has carried over to my own kids. I’m not sure is it due to genetics or due to nature where they observed their mummy celebrate every time we are deep frying anchovies at home ( Ah the smell that permeates the air after a session of deep frying anchovies or any fish of that matter, is de-li-cious).
Anyway, back at home as we were eating lunch, my 3 year old ( who is the main foodie out of my 3 kids, for now ), asked if she can have some of my fried ikan bilis. I replied her yes, that she can have some after she has eaten at least half of her chicken rice. I did this because from our experience with her, typically her food eating speed slows down when she has an item of higher taste, interest and value than her current meal, as she will be pretty transfixed with the fried anchovies and will neglect her rice.
But today she asked me something else as she was eating her ikan bilis. She stared at one of the bigger pieces of bilis that I put on her plate and asked me if she could open it up and find out whats inside her ikan bilis.
“Mummy, can I open the head of the ikan bilis, and then the body too. I want to see what’s inside. ” She proceed to pick up the bilis with her fingers and wanted to start breaking it down.
Usually I wouldn’t allow it , as the fried bilis tend to be oily and it would be a mess when she breaks it down with her fingers and then touches her utensils, face and hair. But I stopped myself from denying her this request. Why?
Firstly, because this is how toddlers learn. They learn when they have the curiosity to find out about the world around them, when they observed how things work and analyze what’s inside. I usually encourage the kids to ask why , and how things work or what do they think about what they saw. Even when they are angry, I try to get them to answer, why they feel that way. Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. We help them with the later part.
Secondly, because we were at home and the situation permits it. I had no real reason to deny her from getting messy and exploring her ikan bilis’ anatomy, other than the inconvenience of cleaning her and the table up.
So I said to her, sure , go ahead, and tell us what you find inside the Ikan bilis.
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 ‘find a way’ 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.
It’s not always easy, and sometimes in these similar scenarios when the outcome turned out worse than our expectations, I blow up ( and I can feel my blood pressure rising, then I calm myself down after), and sometimes I overthink it too much.
But the key thing is to find out what makes the kids thrive in the long term and to apply it in their 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.