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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

Getting back into school

Posted: 16 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Some sensory tips that will enable children to adapt more easily to their new routine.

GOING back to school after the holidays can be difficult for children. Often, this is the time when children who have previously been happy to go to school, resist and become difficult. Remember, this is an emotional transition for your child, the excitement of something new is gone and the realisation that this is their life now, has set in. Help them navigate this new understanding by making sure their school day starts calmly and in a clear and organised way.

The motto of parents of tactile children is "energy in, energy out." Make sure they eat healthy, long-lasting energy foods, rather than commercial sugary items. Breakfast is very important and their resistance to eating can make it tempting to turn to the refined sugar foods, but don't.

Allow for time in the morning to either kick the ball around, or walk to school and get them there early so that they can run around a bit before having to sit still in class. Sleep is important for this sense, and they tend to need more than the other senses, so even though they will resist, make sure it's an early bedtime for them.

Consider making a wall chart to illustrate what's going on, and use lots of pictures, particularly if they are pre-readers. Your child will be very picky about how things look, and very sensitive to their peers' opinions, so allow them to have a say in what they wear, choice of school bag and even how the lunch is packed.

I've met visual children who will refuse to eat a sandwich simply because it was cut into squares and not triangles. They will often find it hard to fall asleep in the first few weeks of school, so try to remove any visual distractions from their sleeping area and leave enough time in the morning for a relaxed breakfast and easy commute to school.

If your auditory child is having trouble remembering to do things, turn to rhyme to help. An evening rhyme for getting ready for bed, a morning rhyme for getting ready for school, and so forth.

Auditory children prefer the simple. Go for basic easy-to-match clothing, uncomplicated lunches, clear instructions as to pick-up and a routine that rarely changes.

Auditory children will need to talk about their day, both the one they have had and the one they are about to start. Find out as much as you can about their school routine so you can answer any questions they may have. Be aware that when an auditory child repeatedly asks (what seems to be) the same question, they are signaling anxiety about that particular issue. They need reassurance from you: answer the question, even for the umpteenth time.

Taste and smell children often find the transition between school and home difficult and even more so after they have had some holiday. They often suffer from separation anxiety. Organising play dates at home with friends during the holidays can help bridge the gap between school and home. With this sense, it's the little things that count, so don't be afraid to put a little note in their lunch box (nothing embarrassing) or go for ice cream on Fridays as a treat.

You can create a special card for the backpack, one that has all the family's details, in case they need them (it's a comfort thing). Try to arrange for a regular person they know and like to pick them up from school. Allow your child to bring a small comfort item to school, like a special pencil case, or a big girl watch.

> Priscilla Dunstan is a behavioural researcher and creator of the Dunstan Baby Language and author of Child Sense and Calm The Crying.

A parent's worst fear

Posted: 16 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

In the first of six articles in a series on child safety, we look at the phenomenon of missing children in Malaysia.

BY now, the story of how a toddler was snatched from the compound of a terrace house in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, is well known.

Expatriate mother Sarah Joseph ran frantically after the men who had snatched her 20-month-old son Freddie, but she couldn't stop them from driving away with him. The news quickly spread through social media and made headlines, as cases of children's abduction always do.

There was certainly a collective sigh of relief when Freddie was found 18 hours after his abduction, but we could only imagine Joseph's anguish and fears in the hours that he was missing. Freddie's case had a happy ending, but some parents never see their lost child again.

Five-year-old T. Sathiskumar went missing at a food court in Permatang Pauh, Penang, over a year ago and has still not been found.

"Once a child is reported missing, the police will begin investigations to ascertain whether the case should be classified under "missing" or "kidnapped". If no calls of ransom have been placed, my unit, D11, will proceed with the investigation. If it is indeed a kidnapping case, it will be passed on to the D9 Special Investigation Division," said principal assistant director of the Sexual and Child Investigation department ACP Hamidah Yunus.

When a child goes missing, everyone goes on the lookout and hopes for a happy ending.

When a child goes missing, everyone goes on the lookout and hopes for a happy ending.

In the absence of criminal intent, almost all the missing children cases handled by Hamidah's division were quickly resolved. All the children below 12 reported missing last year and this year have been found except for Sathiskumar. A significant number of cases involve boys; in 2011, 45 of the 69 missing children were boys and in 2012, 40 out of 68.

"Most times, the missing child usually appears the next day, after having spent a night at a friend's place," Hamidah explained.

When their children do not come home, worried parents would lodge police reports. "Some children, who have stayed out too late playing, may also opt to hide out at a friend's house for fear of being punished by their parents," Hamidah added.

But not all cases of missing children are so innocuous, and more than half of those below 12 reported missing between January 2011 and October 2012 were not found.

According to the statistics on missing persons on the Royal Malaysia Police website, only 103 of the 210 children below 12 reported missing during that period were found. That means 107 children below 12 were still missing when the data was compiled.

The Child Rights Coalition Malaysia reported that in March 2012, the government confirmed that from 2008 to 2012, a total of 977 survivors of human trafficking were rescued and placed under a Protection Order (PO); of these, 122 were children. The actual number of trafficked children in Malaysia is believed to be much higher.

"These figures invoke three fundamental questions: Why did the children go missing in the first place? What was done or is being done to ensure that children who were found do not go missing again? What happened to the children who were not found?" quizzed Unicef Malaysia senior child protection specialist Phenny Kakama.

Kakama said that in Malaysia, missing children are commonly attributed to running away from home, with some cases associated with abduction and sexual abuse.

"The reasons for children running away from home may include the lack of adequate care and attention from their parents or guardians, peer pressure and the search for freedom or independence.

"Elsewhere in the world, children can disappear as a result of parental disputes over custody. In this case one of the parents may take the child and go 'underground'.

"Many children may be abducted and sold for body parts; girls especially are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery and exploitation. Children may also run away from home due to abuse and neglect," said Kakama.

One of these unfortunate children who never made it home was four-year-old Nurul Nadirah Abdullah, also known as Dirang, who went missing in March last year after she walked to a shop near her home to buy eggs and instant noodles. Her charred remains were found a week later at an oil palm plantation 20km away from her home. Supposedly lured by the treat of a sweet, Nurul was abducted, molested and later burned by contract worker Muidin Maidin. He has since been arrested, tried and sentenced to death.

Another high-profile case was that of eight-year-old Nurin Jazlin Jazimin who went missing after she went to a pasar malam in Wangsa Maju, Kuala Lumpur, in 2007. Her body was found a month later, stuffed into a gym bag and left in front of a shop lot. Footage from a CCTV installed nearby revealed that she was last seen being dragged into a white van. She had been sexually assaulted and murdered.

The poster of the late Nurin Jazlin Jasimin who had been missing since Aug 20, hangs just outside the entrance of her school, SK Desa Setapak.

The poster of the late Nurin Jazlin Jazimin hanging just outside the entrance of her school, SK Desa Setapak, Kuala Lumpur.

Nurin's case caused national outrage and led to the creation of the alert system Talian Nur.

When a child under 12 is perceived to be in immediate danger, the police can opt to trigger the child kidnapping and missing alert system, National Urgent Response (Nur) Alert.

Since its launch in 2011, Nur Alert has only been activated for 10 missing-child cases.

"Once a missing person's report is lodged, we will alert everyone internally. We must be very careful when it comes to sharing information publicly about a missing child, as we may be unknowningly endangering his or her life, especially in kidnapping cases. That's why we are selective when it comes to using Nur Alert," Hamidah explained.

The Nur Alert is only used when a child below 12 goes missing.

"When a child goes missing, it is very important that a report is made to the police with minimum delay to enable the police to follow up on the matter immediately. Members of the public need to be aware of where they can go and what help they can expect in the case of a missing child. They need to be aware of what they need to do to keep their children safe. Children themselves need to be aware of the risks and vulnerabilities they may be exposed to within the immediate and wider environment, and to be supported to understand what they can do or cannot do when confronted with a life-threatening situation," said Kakama.

> This Child Safety Awareness campaign was brought to you by RHB in collaboration with The Star. As part of its corporate social responsibility initiative, RHB Bank has been working in partnership with the Royal Malaysia Police since 2007 on 'Reuniting Families – Missing Children', a programme that utilises the bank's existing facilities as an alternative channel of communication to disseminate information and locate missing children. To date, RHB has assisted in four cases of missing children.


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