Asia is pretty big, and every Asian country has its own way of raising children. But today, we are going to talk about Japanese traditions. We think we have a lot to learn from Japanese mothers.
Asian mom and child are very close.
This closeness is also expressed in everyday life: the mother and the baby sleep together, and she carries the baby on her back for quite a long time – in the old days, in something like a sling (onbuhimo), and today in its modern counterparts. There are many references to sleeping together and carrying a baby in Japanese fiction.
The mother-child bond is also expressed on an emotional level: the mother accepts everything the child does with love, patience, and care: the child is perfect for her.
Orientalist G. Vostokov wrote in his book “Japan and its inhabitants” at the beginning of the last century: “No nagging, no austerities, pressure on children is applied in such a mild way that children seem to educate themselves, and Japan is a children’s paradise, where there is not even forbidden fruit.”
Baby Sleeping the Japanese Way
Japan is surprised to learn that parents put their children to sleep in separate rooms in America. Japanese mothers cannot imagine this. Japanese children almost always sleep with their moms.
Japanese children have a different attitude toward sleep. They sleep literally everywhere: in their mother’s arms, in a sling, in a stroller, on a futon, at a PTA meeting at school, and even at the grocery store.
Sometimes Japanese people buy cribs with borders, but they put them in the living room or in another room where the family gathers. No one set up a separate nursery, even if they could. Cribs are used for daytime sleeping but not for nighttime sleeping.
Japanese mothers just don’t think that a child needs his own space. On the contrary, Asian moms don’t want to leave their babies alone for a long time. Being a good parent means anticipating your baby’s needs before he signals them with crying; by responding quickly to his call, you help your baby to become a harmonious person.
Japan has a flexible and relaxed attitude toward children. They are taken everywhere; they sleep wherever and whenever they want. Asian moms don’t see the need for a regimen. And at the same time, no one complains about sleep deprivation. It feels like they don’t have this problem. (Insomnia and lack of sleep are not common disorders in Japan.)
The pictures in Japanese children’s books show animals sleeping with their cubs and parents sleeping with their babies.
Parents in “interdependent cultures” do not pay much direct attention to their children, do not remodel their homes to meet the needs of the little ones, and kids fall asleep quietly amid the noise and bustle of everyday life. When a child wakes up at night, their parents just soothe him.
They do not change life to please the baby and do not adjust to his rhythm, so he can stay home and nap. If a baby wakes up at night, it means something is bothering him – and it’s wise to help him rather than worry that he hasn’t mastered continuous sleep in the first three months of his life.
The principle of “ikuji.”
Ikuji is the principle that the child is “first a god and then a servant,” which states that up to the age of 5, everything is allowed.
This is not permissiveness and not pampering, as many foreigners think. It is the creation of the child’s image of “am good and beloved.”
This attitude is helping to form an “amae.” The word has no counterpart in other languages and can be translated as “dependence on the love of one’s neighbors” or attachment.
“Amae” is the basis of the relationship between children and Asian moms, and it means that children can fully rely on their parents and their love, and elders can receive the same from adult children. And Asian moms, by surrounding their children with love and accepting their missteps with affectionate condescension, form this very “amae” – a cordial bond.
A large and serious study by Japanese and American scientists confirms a direct link between a positive parenting style and children’s behavior. Researchers say that positive parenting not only reduces the number of moods and fights but also reduces the frequency of attention deficit disorder and the severity of autism spectrum disorders. Strict and harsh, on the other hand, increases the risk of deviations and problems.
Everyone has probably heard of the ikuji system (a child under 5 is a god, from 5 to 15 a servant, and from 15 an equal), but many understand it very superficially as if everything is allowed until five and then nothing is allowed, and that’s strange.
In fact, the philosophy of “ikuji” is aimed at bringing up a member of a collective society, where the interests of the individual take second place. It is a kind of stress, and Japanese parents strive to raise under such conditions a harmonious individual who will find his place in the system without belittling his value.
In early childhood (“god”), they create unconditional love and support around the child. After the age of 5 (“servant”), this love does not disappear, but the child actively learns to live by the rules of society and tries to take his place in it. In this case, a strong attachment to the mother, which was formed in the early years, greatly influences the child – he will try to behave correctly so as not to upset her for any reason.
Interestingly, Japanese educational institutions play an important role not only in education but also in upbringing, and there is no competition: no one is better or worse than the others.
“In Japan, they try not to compare children with each other. The teacher will never mark the best and scold the worst or complain to parents that their child is bad at drawing or running slower than others. It is not customary in Japan to single out anyone from the group.
There is no competition even in sports activities – “friendship wins” or at most one of the teams, “- says the book “Raising in Japanese” (the authors – experts on culture and history of Japan, who lived and worked in this country).
At the third stage (“equal”), the child is considered a formed member of society. It is too late to bring him up, and his parents have only to reap the fruits of their efforts.
As a rule, the mother is in charge of the children’s upbringing. She spends a lot of time with the children – the Japanese believe that before the age of 3, it is unnecessary to send a child to kindergarten. And in general, it is not customary to “throw” babies on grandmothers or use the services of babysitters.
But great importance is given to the “extended” family: children actively communicate with grandparents and other relatives. The relationship between the generations is full of sensitivity and attention, and it is customary here to listen to the opinions of the elderly. The family is the closest circle in which “amae” reigns and where they will always be supported and cared for.
Ikeno Osamu, author of the book “Japan. How to Understand It,” writes about an interesting experiment. Japanese and European mothers were asked to assemble a pyramid together with their children. Japanese mothers assembled the pyramid themselves first and then asked the children to repeat it. If the kids failed, they started all over again.
European moms more often chose a different tactic: they explained in detail how to do it and in what order the blocks should follow each other. And then they offered the child to try. It turns out that mothers from Japan urged “do as I do,” while Western ones made her do everything on her own, giving the theory but not showing by personal example.
That’s why the Japanese way of teaching and education is also called “corrective.” Mothers rarely demand something from children directly, insisting on obligatory performance, as in Europe or Russia. They act subtly, leading by example and leading the child to the desired behaviour.
To see and respect
To teach a child to live in a collective society, you must, first of all, show him what it means to see and respect the feelings and interests of others.
That is why Asian moms, in turn, respect children’s sensitivity. They do not press or shame them excessively but rather appeal to the emotions of babies or even inanimate objects. If, for example, a child breaks a toy car, an Asian mom will say, “The car is hurt. It’s going to cry.” A European mother will most likely make this comment: “Stop it, it’s not good to do that. Yes, and she will add how much she had to work to buy a toy.
In Japan, the system of uncluttering is practised. Marie Kondo described this system in her book “Magical Cleaning. The Japanese Art of Putting Things in Order at Home and in Life”. The essence is to eliminate unnecessary things that no longer bring joy. And these rules apply to all aspects of life.
Strollers are not for Asian moms: babies are moved by their parents. They use slings, carriers, and kangaroos. This method brings all sorts of bonuses. When you go for a walk to the playground, there is always the temptation to take all the toys you can get your hands on.
Although the child plays with 1-3, the rest lie idle. And when you already have a baby hanging on you, you do not want to take something else into your hands. This makes life very easy for Asian moms. In addition, children who are constantly feeling mom are much calmer and less prone to tantrums.
During the game at home, Asian moms are also not used to getting a mountain of toys, which later appear scattered on the floor and are used once or twice at best. The problem is solved as long as the baby can easily and quickly clean up his toys in his basket. As soon as the basket begins to run out of space, then some toys are redundant.
The child does not leave a mess behind, which he has been accustomed to since an early age.
Children in Japan clean up after their toys without tantrums or scandals and are accustomed to cleaning up. This pattern begins at home and continues at school. Everyone cleans up as equals after class.
But introduce such rules at home; otherwise, the child gets used to some duties performed by the mom or dad and does not understand why he does something. Accordingly, if Asian mom begins to add some household chores gradually, everyone will only benefit.
Children are taught independence and autonomy from an early age.
Japan is one of the safest countries. Parents here let their 6-year-olds ride the electric trains to school, and you can see 4-5-year-olds walking alone in the playgrounds on the street. Older children, in the company of their peers, run to the nearby store for goodies.
And if the family lives in the countryside, the parents know that their children are completely safe outside because then all the neighbors look after their children a little. Whereas in European countries, parents let their children alone from the age of 8 or 10.
Writer Kate Lewis lived in Japan with her family for a while, and one of her strongest impressions was her 2-year-old’s secret trip. One day the children were picked up at daycare and put on the bus without their parents being notified. All foreign mothers were confused because, usually, for such a thing, you need a mountain of papers and consent.
And the reason was simple: the educators instill independence in children because if any of the parents knew, they certainly would have gone to observe. And the parents were delighted with such methods. Although later, it turned out that the final destination of this secret trip was the playground around the corner from the house.
The child can get to kindergarten on his own, later walk to school or take some public transportation. But in fact, this independence is instilled gradually. In the first weeks of first grade, the child gets to school with his mother, which greatly simplifies the period of adaptation. And until the day comes when the schoolchild is fully independent to follow the route “home – school” and back, it can take a whole month.
To explore the road with the first grader, holding his hand, the first one of the parents goes. In this way, the child gradually memorizes the road. During these walks, the landmarks are stores, vendors – anything that sticks in your memory. It is also mandatory to say hello to the vendors. Later, the parent does not walk beside them but keeps a short distance. Over time, the child remembers his safe route.
Regular passersby who can keep an eye on the young pedestrians also help. Sometimes volunteer guards help the child on his way. Thus, what the Western eye sees is actually a well-thought-out and perfectly functioning system for child safety.
In Japan, from an early age, children are nurtured to be resilient and persistent and told about the magic of “for now. When a child is playing, doing something for the first time, and getting to know the world around him, there are regular difficulties in his way. Because of this, he either quit doing it or asked his mother to do it for him. But in this case, the Japanese believe the child will not become a persistent and purposeful adult.
“Fall 7 times, get up 8 times” is a principle of life and upbringing.
Kate Lewis tells of a proverb her Japanese teacher taught her: “Nana korobi ya oki,” which means: “Fall seven times, get up eight times.” The point is that no matter how many obstacles are in the way, you have to keep trying and keep acting until the desired result is achieved.
The Japanese do not rely on chance. Instead, they prefer to do their best in all their endeavours and try to instil this trait in their children. For example, in Japan, they try to avoid phrases like “I don’t know,” “I can’t do it,” and “I don’t understand. When the need arises, the phrase is simply followed by “…for now. And the child sees that everything is possible. You just need to put some effort into it.
Psychologist Angela Duckworth, while working as a teacher at school and later as a psychologist, concluded that it makes no sense to divide children into gifted or not. The role in their success is exactly the strength of character, the will, and how hard they work. This is what they teach in Japanese schools: they don’t divide children according to their natural abilities but show that anyone can achieve success with the right persistence.
Asian moms do not claim that their methods are the only correct ones. And Western values have lately had a great influence on their traditions. But at the head of the Japanese approach is a calm, patient, and loving attitude to children. And it is definitely worth learning.
Would you like to bring any of these methods into your life? Which one