Archive for the parenting Category

A manual for raising smart kids

Posted in learning, parenting on July 29, 2014 by gohelpyourself
We have to give our kids FEET.

We have to give our kids FEET.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Let me be clear. I am not the only one who knows something about raising smart kids. What I know may not even be the best way to do it. But I think I share this universal desire of parents to raise a smarter child.

Hence, this short manual. That German genius Goethe once said that children should get two things from their parents: roots and wings. But I say we also give them FEET. Without feet we won’t get anywhere.

It’s an acronym that I just made up, and it succinctly captures what I think will help any child become smarter. Most parents probably know this, but this acronym can help us remember.

1. Food. Without food, we die. With little food, we survive but we still become miserable. With too much food, it’s the same. The right amount and the right kinds of food will help us raise smarter kids.

Then again, most parents don’t know what kinds of food to eat. Most rely on milk formula and vitamin supplements to feed their babies and young children. They think that since milk formula already contains all the vitamins and minerals known to man, and supplements give kids another extra dose, eating right is not a big deal. They can afford to feed their children with not-so-healthy food, right?

There is really no substitute for eating more fruits and vegetables. Eating right will make kids feel good. They become healthier. Healthier children are able to learn much more efficiently and effectively. So making an effort to eat well — and even perhaps spend a small fortune on healthy food rather than supplements, formula, and junk food — is a good idea.

2.Entertainment. We have to keep our kids happy and stimulated. I know that kids rarely get bored and they find joy in simple things such as a hairpin, dried leaves, or even a dead spider. But they also need us to direct them to the right kinds of entertainment.

I think it’s best to treat any form of teaching as entertainment. For a child to learn well, he needs to be interested in what he’s learning. He needs to be entertained. Why make learning a chore?

Here you see that the burden of making learning entertaining lies on the parents. Then again, it doesn’t have to be a chore, too. Parents can actually make teaching a form of entertainment. It’s where creativity comes in.

I lumped giving kids the opportunity to socialize with other kids their age under “entertainment”, too. In order to raise smart kids, this is very important. We all know that we also learn from other people.

3. Exercise. This is essential. Kids need to be physically active to strengthen their muscles and improve their health. That is why playing outside with other kids and even with adults should be part of the regimen.

Most of us know that exercise improves blood circulation in the brain. More oxygen reaches those young neurons. Kids will be better at learning if this happens often.

Exercise also makes children feel better. They feel more energetic and alive. Those feel good hormones called endorphins make children happy. And happy children simply learn better.

4. Technology. When Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type printing in the 15th century, it resulted in a technological revolution of epic proportions. It caused an explosion of learning and knowledge never seen before.

Since that time, there are many more innovations that led to big and small revolutions in learning. And today we have tools we can use to teach young kids. We have the computer and the iPad and other computer tablets. While there are studies that show that exposing young kids to TV, iPads, and other screens can result in diminished intelligence, I believe these gadgets, if used wisely, can be effective teaching tools.

And they’re simply much more fun to use. There are amazing and effective educational apps and software available out there. And add to that the availability of high-speed connections to the internet that make it easy for many people to have access to vast resources for learning.

Of course, parents have to see which of these tools actually work when teaching their children. Not every tool works the same way with everyone.

So we really have to give our children FEET — food, entertainment, exercise, and technology. It’s a simple mnemonic for helping our children become smart.

Give them FEET.



Down with imperialist milk companies!

Posted in parenting on August 4, 2013 by gohelpyourself

By Anthony O. Alcantara

My wife Em is training Aria to be an activist for breastfeeding.

My wife Em is training Aria to be an activist for breastfeeding.

And that includes companies who make Promil. Promil won’t make your child a genius, contrary to what advertisements say. If it did, I would be gulping Promil right now as I write this.

The sad thing here is that many Filipinos think milk formula for infants and toddlers is the best for their kids. Yes, I know these milk formula  commercials always say, “Breastmilk is still best for babies up to two years of age,” but look at the commercials and how they enumerate the nutrients contained in their products — vitamins from A to Zinc, DHA, AHA, Omega 3, Omega 6, and many more.

Now that’s like the alpha and the omega of the big book of nutrition. Who would not be convinced about giving milk formula to babies? It’s a subtle game of brainwashing.

These milk companies have only one motive: humongous profits. They earn big bucks from selling their products to third world countries like the Philippines. And why? Well, it’s where the babies are. Most people in these third world countries are often too easily persuaded because of ignorance, and probably because they are dazzled by the marketing campaigns, which are often done in collusion with doctors, too. Even poor people, who can ill afford milk formula, and educated people, who will do everything to give the best for their babies, are sadly deceived.

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of sufficiently incredulous people who are able to see through the lies and misleading information.

And many of them converged yesterday for the “Hakab Na! A Breastfeeding Mob” at the Aristocrat restaurant across Rajah Sulayman Park in Manila. It’s an event where breastfeeding moms sat down in one place and breastfed their babies. My wife Em, our toddler Aria, and I went there to show our support.

Aria has been breastfeeding for two years and 11 months now. We think breastfeeding is the best thing that we can give her.

If you want to know more about the real benefits of breastfeeding, check out this site of Jenny Ong:

I’m sure there are other informative and reliable sites, but you can start with that one. And if you know someone who is expecting a baby, please beg her to breastfeed. The collective future of our youth and our nation depends on having the right ideas and knowledge about breastfeeding.

Aria sings and dances before the start of the event.

Aria sings and dances before the start of the event.

As usual, Aria shouts the loudest when the event ended and everybody was clapping.

As usual, Aria shouts the loudest when the event ended and everybody was clapping.

These moms are the ambassadors of breastfeeding in the country.

These moms are the ambassadors of breastfeeding in the country. Let’s give them our support.


Memo to Mommy Em

Posted in parenting on May 31, 2012 by gohelpyourself

By Anthony O. Alcantara

A late-night series of marathon meetings with Baby Aria led to an important decision: a memo of appreciation to Mommy Em ought to be issued before the end of Mother’s Month.

While a sumptuous lunch buffet at the brilliantly named Buffet 101 was charged under representation to celebrate Mother’s Day, a memo was still deemed necessary to cap the occasion.

So here is the copy of the memo, so that relatives, friends, and those who enjoy reading office memos may know:


Issued by: Anthony O. Alcantara, CEO, and Ariadne M. Alcantara, COO (Child of Owner)

Date: May 31, 2012

Signature: (Original signed by Anthony Alcantara and hand-marked by Ariadne Alcantara)

Receivers: Relatives, Friends, Memo Aficionados

Commendation and Promotion of Mary Louise M. Alcantara

It is with great pride and honor that we commend Mary Louise M. Alcantara for her outstanding achievements as Mother, a role which she accepted on August 31, 2010.

Her achievements as Mother have eclipsed all other achievements since she danced Binasuan so flawlessly in her elementary days. For that, we are promoting her from Mother and Chief Finance Officer to Mother and Executive Vice President for Finance.

Here is a partial list of her achievements:

  • Endured unimaginable pain during childbirth, no anesthesia
  • Breast-fed Aria despite formidable challenges
  • Nursed Aria in the middle of the night
  • Lost sleep due to frequent feedings of Aria
  • Took care of Daddy and Aria:
    • cooked for them
    • changed diapers (Aria only)
  • Cuddled and kissed Aria to soothe her when in a bad mood
  • Cuddled and kissed Daddy to soothe him when in an equally bad mood
  • Ran after Aria at the playground and most other places
  • Bought and read books about breast-feeding and how to take care of a baby
  • Read children’s books to Aria
  • Sang Der Hölle Rache and other songs to Aria
  • Taught Aria her ABCs (Aria can recite them already, though sometimes she skips letters)
  • Taught Aria how to count from 1 to 20 (going to 30 now)
  • Taught Aria the basic colors
  • Taught Aria the names of things using flashcards… A – Apple, B – Boht (Boat), C – Cat… H – Tigidig-tigidig (which means horse)…
  • Began to teach Aria to read (Daddy helps with this, too. And even if Aria still can’t read, we hope the lessons will stick eventually)
  • Attended La Leche League meetings
  • Promoted breast-feeding to relatives and friends
  • Donated breast milk to strangers
  • Pumped breast milk for Aria
  • Endured Aria’s acrobatics when breast-feeding
  • Bathed Aria
  • Cleaned up after Aria
  • Became a working mom

There are many more. But space is limited. We have seen an increase in revenue as a result of the new job, and reduced costs as a result of breast-feeding and other austerity measures.

Mommy Em’s love and patience have also led to unprecedented growth in our household. Both Aria and Daddy have grown bigger.

For all these achievements, we offer our profuse gratitude and unending love.

We love you, Mommy Em. Mwah.


Secrets of great moms

Posted in miscellaneous, parenting on May 18, 2012 by gohelpyourself

By Anthony O. Alcantara

They must have secrets. Great moms offer blood, sweat, and tears for their children. Even the “blood” is plentiful. All of us, at some point in our lives, threw up on our moms, peed on them, defecated, and farted enough gas to worsen global warming. We drove our moms insane with our crying and whining. We’ve hurt them with our words and deeds.

And yet, our moms are still there, ready to give us a hug, and kiss our hurts goodbye.

So what is their secret to sainthood?

My guess is that they have been abducted by aliens from outer space. These higher life forms looked kindly on us. They thought that our tremendous capacity for stupidity and folly need to be cured, or at least tempered.

So that’s what they did. They kidnapped our mothers and implanted undetectable devices in their brains that allow them to accomplish superhuman feats of kindness, patience, and love.

It has been like that since mankind’s first UFO sightings thousands of years ago. Each mom, just before giving birth, is implanted with the “mom” device.

Many years ago, when I had a fight with my brother and looked into my mom’s eyes, I saw a momentary flicker, a gleam in her eye. Perhaps it was a signal from the device implanted in her brain telling her to be kind to an ill-tempered child. I was saved.

My mom always moved with purpose and dedication. A full-time housewife, she loved to do house chores, cook delicious and nutritious food for us, and iron our clothes.

My mom would be the first one to wake up. Her routines were almost impossible to shake off. Her habits, unshakable. It was the sameness of incredible discipline. She always reminded us to be on time. When we had trips, she would prepare everything well in advance. All we had to do was dress up.

In our family, she was the crucial piece of the puzzle that made the picture complete. She never complained. Her role was to assist us in everything that we do.

Perhaps it was the alien device at work. I wouldn’t know for sure. But alien device or not, there’s a little secret my mom couldn’t hide – her unconditional love for me and my brothers.

I guess it’s the same with most of us. This is just a simple tribute to the greatest mom, Milagros Alcantara, whose little secret I will hold and cherish in my heart forever.


Should we praise our kids for their intelligence?

Posted in learning, optimal performance, parenting on January 5, 2012 by gohelpyourself

Grow neurons, grow! (Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Galindo; taken from

By Anthony O. Alcantara
It’s but natural for moms and dads to praise their kids for being smart. What insane parent wouldn’t?Then again, what exactly are we teaching kids when we tell them they are smart, or that they are geniuses?

A few years ago, I interviewed an executive of a company for an article. He was either in his late 40s or early 50s and he just topped the teacher’s licensure exam. I asked him how he did it, considering the demands of his job. I wanted to know if he studied hard for the exam.

“Actually, hindi nga ako masyado nag-aral (Actually, I didn’t really study much),” he said.

Surprised and somehow impressed, I prodded him with more questions. He said he prayed a lot and even sought the intercession of St. Jude before he took the exam. I was about to accuse him of unfair divine intervention. Still, he made it appear the test was a breeze for him. He made it appear he had oodles of IQ points that lower life forms such as myself lack.

But later on, I discovered he was a pretty diligent student in college and graduate school. He even won a scholarship. And he told me he has been teaching college students for many years already.

Aha! So he had some practice and worked hard after all. So why brag about not studying much?

2 mindsets

Dr. Carol Dweck, an expert in developmental psychology in the US, said people generally have two kinds of mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

Those with the fixed mindset believe that intelligence is fixed. It cannot be changed. People are either smart or dumb. And it stays that way forever. A test score on an IQ test is forever. They see that effort is useless because their intelligence is fixed. Their capabilities are wrought in stone.

Those with the growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed. They believe they can become smarter. They believe that an IQ score, or any score in any test, can be improved. Effort, especially deliberately directed effort, leads to success. They believe they can always improve in anything that they do.

We all exhibit these mindsets in different situations. This is just a simplification to show contrast, and demonstrate the perils of a fixed mindset.

So what?

So what if a child is made to believe that he or she is smart? And what if that child comes to the conclusion that being smart is a permanent thing? What if the child becomes convinced that everything should be easy? Learning numbers is easy. Learning words is easy. Writing is easy. Science is easy. Everything is easy because I’m smart. We are dealing with malleable and impressionable minds after all.

And what if the supposedly smart child suddenly flunks a test? That doesn’t seem to describe a “smart” person, does it? Professor Dweck said the effects of the fixed mindset on children and adults can be subtle, and yet it may affect various aspects of our lives in a powerful way.

Some children with the fixed mindset learn to avoid challenges in order to maintain their “smart” image. They also feel threatened by the success of others. They believe they are better and it should always be like that. Their abilities are fixed, right?

Truly successful and happy people generally have the growth mindset. Manuel V. Pangilinan, one of the most respected businessmen in the country, once said his success is not much a result of his intelligence or ability, but of hard work.

Focus and endurance

Haruki Murakami, one of the world’s greatest novelists from Japan, said a person needs three things to be a successful writer: talent, focus, and endurance. Of the three, he said focus and endurance can make up for the lack of talent most of the time.

So what do we do?

Well, for a start, we can begin by praising our kids more for the effort that they exert, and for the new things they learn. When they complete a puzzle, we say, “Wow, you must have worked hard on that one.”

Praise effort more, rather than intelligence. Recognize improvement rather than fixed qualities. That’s what Dweck recommends. I heartily recommend her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, which is available in some inconspicuous crevices in bookstores.

Mindsets can change

The good thing about the growth mindset is that it can always be learned at any age. The language and behaviors of the growth mindset can be mastered.

Right now, in order to remind myself of the growth mindset,  I’m praising myself for the effort I’ve exerted to write this.

“Good job, Ton. Hey, I see some neurons growing.”

I hope all of you grow neurons, too.


6 persuasion tips for breastfeeding moms and advocates

Posted in parenting, psychology on August 17, 2011 by gohelpyourself

They're made for babies, too. (Photo by Hector Landaeta, taken from

“Welcome to the Milk Mama Diaries Carnival (August). For this month, we join the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action in it’s “Talk to Me!” theme where participants will share personal experiences, insights or recommendations in communicating breastfeeding intentions and goals to their support system. Please scroll down to the end of this post and check out the other carnival participants.”

By Anthony O. Alcantara

As long as God has not nullified his command to “Go forth and multiply,” there will always be babies.

And the job of breastfeeding advocates, especially with this wonderful onslaught of babies in our world, is to “go forth and demystify” the idea of breastfeeding.

But how do we persuade people that female breasts exist for babies? That breasts are not merely decorations to be used on special occasions? That babies need the life-giving milk from their mothers? That people who run companies making milk formula are actually aliens who want to experiment on humans?

We can turn to Robert Cialdini, a psychologist who specializes in influence, for answers. I’m pretty sure he’s not an alien.

I already wrote a piece on persuasion a long time ago. But now I take the liberty to apply Cialdini’s  framework for the use of breastfeeding moms and advocates.

Principle 1: Reciprocity

This means that we feel the need to return favors to other people.

Let’s say Pedro is trying to convince his skeptical wife Maria to breastfeed their soon-to-be-born daughter.

“Honey, do you remember the shopping money I gave you so you can buy all those clothes to make you look pretty despite that big belly? Can you please consider breastfeeding for at least a few months?”

Principle 2: Authority

If reciprocity doesn’t work, there are other tools Pedro can use. The principle of authority shows that people have the tendency to respect experts who know better. Research is important.

“Honey, did you know that breastfed babies rarely get sick? According to a reliable study about breastfeeding, these babies are also smarter then formula-fed babies.”

“If mom breastfed me, I should have been a super genius.”

“Me too. Now I’m left with only two working neurons.”

Principle 3: Commitment/Consistency

There’s another principle that Pedro can use. People have this need to be consistent to their beliefs and values.

“I know you love our baby so much, dear. Do you promise to give her everything to give her a great life?”

“Yes of course.”

“Maybe we should consider breastfeeding, don’t you think?”

Principle 4: Scarcity

People want what others can’t have. Most of us indeed want gadgets, cars or club memberships that others can only dream of. It’s a natural inclination.

“Maria, do you know that fewer and fewer moms breastfeed despite the obvious benefits? These rare moms who breastfeed are indeed doing something good for their babies.”

“Yes, I know my friends didn’t even consider breastfeeding.”

“They probably don’t know what their kids are missing.”

Principle 5: Liking

This principle shows that we say yes to people we like. Liking can take several forms. We tend to say yes to people who are similar to us physically, culturally or in terms of social status. We also tend to like people who praise us.

“There’s this La Leche League group with moms like you who have the same problems with breastfeeding. They’re your age. I think one of your friends way back in elementary school is a member. Maybe you can have friends there who can support you.”

“Yeah, at this stage I need all the support I can get.”

Principle 6: Social Proof

This principle only shows that people tend to follow what others do.

“What’s this in the newspaper? There is an increasing number of moms who wish to breastfeed. They’re just few, but it’s becoming a trend.”

“Oh that’s interesting.”

“And more and more hospitals are now supporting breastfeeding. Maybe there’s something to this breastfeeding thing after all.”

Now Pedro can use these principles in combination for maximum effect. Lots of promising one-two-three combinations that can be used over time.

Will they work? Despite my contrived examples above, I think they will, if used properly.

Now go forth and spread the good news. And don’t forget to thank Robert Cialdini.


TouringKitty’s Communication Through Breastfeeding (Twitter: @Touringkitty) (This is my wife’s blog and twitter account. We’re reaching another milestone with our baby soon.)

DaintyMom’s Creating a Pro-Breastfeeding Culture in the Family (Facebook and Twitter: @Dainty_Mom)

Wifely Steps’ On Breastfeeding: Say It, Claim It, Get Support! (Facebook and Twitter: @macaronigirl)

Truly Rich Mom’s How To Get Others to Support You in Breastfeeding (Facebookand Twitter: @tinasrodriguez)

EthanMama’s My Best Breastfeeding Support System – My Husband (Twitter: @ethanmama)

Raising Baby Lia’s A Shoutout to my Breastfeeding Buddies

Jen CC Tan’s I’m Breastfeeding, and That’s That! (Facebook and Twitter: @next9baby)

Project Blog by Kate’s Talk and Make it Happen (Facebook and Twitter: @kate_demetrio)

My Mommy Kwentos’ How I Recruited my Top Breastfeeding Buddies (Facebook)

Apples  & Dumplings Communicating and First Time Breastfeeders (Twitter: @apple_dumplings)

I’m a Newbie Wife’s How I Taught My Family to Breastfeed

Mec as Mom’s Pre-Natal Pediatric Consultations Are Necessary

Escie’s World’s Ready, Get Set, Go! for Breastfeeding (Twitter: @Escielicious)

Nanaystrip’s BreasTALK : Text, Retweet, Share your Knowledge and Experiences (Twitter: @bunsonimaestro)

Legally Mom’s Breastfeeding Talk Between Me and My Formula Fed Daughter (Facebook and Twitter: @legallymomPH

Chronicles of a Nursing Mom’s Effective Communication Bucket List (Facebookand Twitter: @mamababylove)


10 ways to cheer up a breast-feeding wife

Posted in parenting on May 7, 2011 by gohelpyourself
“Welcome to the Milk Mama Diaries Carnival (May).  This carnival is dedicated to all moms, celebrating Mother’s Day today.  Participants will share various topics covering A Breastfeeding Mother’s Top Ten List.  Please scroll down to the end of this post and check out the other carnival participants.”

Babies look for this at night. (Photo courtesy of

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Breast-feeding can be exhausting. Well, at least with my eight-month-old daughter, it is. She can be restless, especially since she likes to explore her surroundings, often trying to eat our puzzle rubber mat.

I’ve seen how taxing it is for my wife. Wishing to be of help to her, I attempted pumping milk from my breast and even suckle my baby. Disappointing results.

So I thought of other options. I’m sure there are a lot of others depending on a couple’s means and situation. Husbands may consider these tips:

1. Give your wife a massage. Massaging yourself doesn’t feel as good as being massaged by somebody else. And it requires energy from the massager. That’s where you come in. Even though work at the office is exhausting too, giving your wife a massage will be greatly appreciated.

2. Prepare her favorite drink. Sometimes it takes just simple gestures of thoughtfulness to make your wife happy. This one is easy to do. But no alcoholic drinks please.

3. Help with the house chores. If you have house help, good for you. But if you don’t, please consider that breast-feeding is a major “house chore.” So it may be a good idea for you to do some of the other chores. Your wife will be grateful.

4. Do her a favor. There are times when your wife still has work or must do some errands for other people. You can offer to do them. Just trying to be helpful will help ease the burden on your wife.

5. Bring her out on a date. This won’t be exactly like the dates you’ve had before. If you can have the in-laws or the yaya look after baby for a few hours, you can have dinner or perhaps watch a movie. Of course you can also take baby with you.

6. Compliment her on doing a good job. Your wife needs this. She needs to feel that she’s doing something important. You can show your appreciation with a few words and little effort on your part.

7. Put baby to sleep. This depends on the baby. Some babies only like their moms to put them to sleep. But still, you can try. Some babies take a long time to sleep and you may have to sing a lot of lullabies and perhaps do some dancing. Be prepared.

8. Have time for baby. It’s important for you to have time for baby. Play with her, read to her or sing to her. As the Bible says, there’s a time to reap, a time to sow, and a time to bond with baby.

9. Help your wife with breast-feeding at night. Babies wake up at night when they’re thirsty. If they could, they would just walk to the fridge and get a refreshing drink. But for babies, the fridge is mommy. The breast milk is their refreshing drink. Since your baby will just cry as she tries to locate mommy’s breast, you can help baby locate her fridge. The good thing about this is that mommy can breast-feed while lying on her side.

10. Give your wife a kiss and a hug. This doesn’t cost a centavo and it probably takes just a few joules of energy. Just remember that formula feeding costs thousands of pesos a month, which means you have to work harder to make money. And you have to do a lot of cleaning bottles too.

If you have other useful tips, you can share them here.

Below are the links to the articles written by those who joined the Milk Mama Diaries Carnival: 

Em’s Aria’s Habits While Breastfeeding (my wife’s entry)

Mec’s Top Ten Breastfeeding Partners
Ichel’s Ten Things a Handy Mommy Can Do While Breastfeeding
Espie’s Ten Life Altering Moments of a New Breastfeeding Mom
Dinna’s Nurturing Rafael: A Breastfeeding Mother’s Top 10 List
Frances’ Ten Things I Now Know About Breastfeeding Because I Breastfed
Cai’s Top Ten Tips for Pumping and Working Moms
Jenny’s Our Breastfeeding Library
Nat’s My Top 10 Favorite Foods for the Breastfeeding Mom
Tina’s Tips on How to Breastfeed Your Baby in Public (1st of three parts)
Nyssa’s Ten Reasons I still Breastfeed (Even as a Low Supply Mom)
Joey’s Nursing Must haves and cheaper alternatives
Martine’s 10 Things You Don’t Say to a Breastfeeding Mom