Japanese approach to disciplining children

Japanese mom comes to the hairdresser with a young son. First, the toddler waits patiently for her to finish all the procedures, and then, unable to bear the boring waiting anymore, he begins to open different creams and lotions and draws patterns on the mirror. All present are looking at him with a smile, and no one makes remarks: a small child can do everything he wants in Japan.

Japanese approach to disciplining children

Everything has its time in Japan

The period of ‘permissiveness’ lasts up to 5 years. Until this age, the Japanese treat the child, ‘like a king’, from 5 to 15 years – ‘like a slave’, and after 15 — ‘as equal’. It is believed that a fifteen-year-old is already an adult who clearly knows his duties, and perfectly obeys the rules. This is the paradox of Japanese upbringing. They think they need to let children do everything and, in such a way, the children will become disciplined and law-abiding citizen when they grow up.

But don’t hurry to transfer the Japanese methods of keeping discipline in your reality. These methods won’t work in isolation from understanding the worldview and lifestyle of the Japanese. Small children in this country are free to do anything they wish, but at 5−6 years the child gets into a very rigid system of rules and restrictions that clearly prescribe how to act in different situations. It’s impossible not to obey rules because everybody obeys, and disobedience means to lose face, to be outside the group. ‘Everything has its time’ is one of the basic principles of the Japanese lifestyle. Children learn it from an early age.

Traditional and modern trends in disciplining children in a Japanese family

Traditional Japanese family is a mother, a father, and two children. In the past, family roles were clearly differentiated: the male was a breadwinner, the wife was a homemaker. The man was considered the head of the family and all the family members had to unquestioningly obey him. However, times change. Today, with the influence of Western culture, Japanese women are increasingly trying to combine work and family responsibilities. However, gender equality is still far off. Women’s main occupation is still the home and upbringing of children, and the life of men is in the firm, for which he works. This separation of roles is reflected even in the etymology.

A widely-used word in relation to the wife is the noun kanai, which literally means ‘inside the house’. And the husband is often called sujin — ‘main person, owner’. Subordination can be also seen in relation to children. The Japanese language has no such words as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. Instead, they say ani (elder brother), otooto (younger brother), ane (older sister), imouto (younger sister). Therefore, the idea of family hierarchy never leaves the mind of the child in Japan.

The eldest son is significantly above other children in the family hierarchy. He is considered the ‘heir to the throne’, although the throne is just the parental house. The elder child has more rights and, accordingly, more responsibilities.

Earlier, marriages of convenience were a widespread practice in Japan: the parents, taking into account the social and economic position, chose the husband or wife for their child. Now the Japanese are increasingly getting married on mutual sympathy, but parental advice often prevails over emotional ties. In Japan, divorces happen, but their percentage is low. Japanese group consciousness affects this statistics. That means that interests of the group (family) are placed above the individual.

Raising and disciplining a child in Japan is the mother’s trouble. The father can also take part, but this happens rarely. Mothers in Japan are called amae. It’s difficult to translate this word correctly. It means something like ‘a sense of dependence on the mother, which is perceived by children as something desirable’. The verb amaeru means ‘to take something from, to be spoiled, to search protection’. It captures the essence of the mother-child relationship.

At the birth of the baby, the midwife cuts a piece of the umbilical cord, dries it and puts in a traditional wooden box, slightly bigger than a matchbox. You can see gilded letters on the box — the mother’s name and date of birth of the child. It is a symbol of the connection between mother and her baby. In Japan, you can rarely see a crying baby. The mother tries to make everything possible for the baby to have no reason for crying.

For the first year of life, the baby is considered a part of the mother’s body. She spends days carrying the newborn tied behind her back. At nights she sleeps beside the baby and breastfeeds the newborn at any time he wants. Japanese industry even produces a special jacket with inset zipper, which allows you to carry your child everywhere. When the baby grows, the insert is removed, and the jacket turns into normal clothes. Nothing is prohibited to the child. He hears only warnings from adults: ‘danger’, ‘dirty’, ‘bad’. However, if the baby still falls down, gets a bruise or burn, the mother feels guilty and asks her baby for forgiveness that she hasn’t saved him.

When children begin to walk they are never left unattended. Moms continue to follow their toddlers literally on the heels. Japanese moms often organize children’s games, in which they become active participants. Fathers play with children only on weekends, when the whole family goes to the park or on a picnic. In bad weather, the whole family finds entertainment in major shopping centers, where there are amazing children’s rooms.

Boys and girls are brought up and educated differently because they will have to perform different social roles. One of the Japanese proverbs says: a man should not even enter the kitchen. The son is seen as the future support of the family. During one of the national holidays — the Boys’ Day — colored images of carps are raised high in the sky. This fish can swim against the current for a long time, so it symbolizes the ability of boys to overcome difficulties of life. Girls are taught to do housework: to cook, to sew, to wash. Differences in upbringing can be observed even at school. After classes, boys always visit a variety of clubs, where they continue education. Girls usually sit in numerous cafes and chat about dresses.

The worst thing for Japanese children is loneliness

The Japanese never raise their voices at children. Parents in Japan don’t use physical punishment. A widespread method of disciplining children in Japan is called ‘the threat of exclusion’. The most difficult moral punishment for a child is separation from home members or putting him into opposition to his social group. ‘If you misbehave, everyone will laugh at you’ – says mom to a naughty little boy. And it’s really scary for him because the Japanese do not feel off the team. Japanese society is a society of groups. ‘Find the group to which you belong’, — says a Japanese proverb. — ‘Be faithful to it. Alone you will not find your place in life. You’ll get lost in the life’s intricacies’. That is why loneliness is the worst punishment, and separation from home is thought as a real catastrophe.

A Japanese mother never tries to assert her authority over children, because, in her view, this leads to alienation. She does not argue against the will and desire of the child, and she expresses her dissatisfaction indirectly, making the child understand that she is very sad about his misconduct. When conflicts arise, Japanese moms try not to keep away from children, but rather to strengthen mutual emotional contact. Children, who, as a rule, adore their mothers, feel guilt and remorse, having given them trouble.

Early child education in Japan

The Japanese were among the first who started to talk about the need for early development. Fifty years ago, the book ‘After three it’s too late’ was published in Japan. This book made a revolution in Japanese pedagogy. Its author is Masaru Ibuka. You may know him as the creator of the world famous ‘Sony’ company. According to the book, first three years of life lay the foundation of a child’s personality. Small children learn everything much faster. The main task for parents is to create conditions, in which the child will be able to use and develop his abilities. In education it is necessary to keep to the following principles:

  • to encourage learning through stimulation of the kid’s interests;
  • to build up strong character;
  • to promote the development of creativity.

The objective was not to bring up a genius but to give a child an education that would ensure profound mind and a healthy body, that would make a child smart and kind. Now such an objective may seem obvious, but in the mid-1950s, it was revolutionary.

Kindergarten education in Japan.

Usually, a Japanese mom stays home until the child is three years old. Then the child goes to a kindergarten. In Japan, there are also nursery groups for babies under 3, but they are not popular, because in Japan public morality always prevails over personal. It is generally believed that a mother should take care of her child as long as possible. If a woman choses to use a kindergarten nursery group and concentrates on her career, her behavior is often viewed as selfish.

Types of kindergartens in Japan.

Japanese kindergartens can be divided into public and private. Hoikuen — is a state nursery kindergarten, which accepts children from 3 months. It is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and till noon on Saturday. To book a place there the parents need to justify their reasons. In particular, they must bring documents that they both work more than 4 hours a day. The cost depends on family income.

Another type of kindergartens in Japan is Etien. These kindergartens can be both public and private. Children can spend there no more than 5 hours a day, usually from 9 am to 2 pm. They are for mothers who work less than 4 hours per day.

There are elite kindergartens in Japan. They are under the care of prestigious universities. If a child is admitted to such a kindergarten, his future seems brilliant. After the kindergarten, he will enter a University school, and then, without any examination, a University. University degree is a guarantee of a prestigious and well-paid job. It’s very difficult to get a place in an elite kindergarten. Parents will have to pay a lot of money, and the child will have to go through a rather complicated testing.

The interior of Japanese kindergartens looks, by our standards, very simple. Typically, the same room serves as a dining room, and a bedroom, and a place to practice. When it is time to sleep, educators take thick mattresses and lay them on the floor. For lunch, tiny tables and chairs are brought from the corridor.

Nutrition in Japanese kindergartens.

Special attention is given to nutrition in Japanese kindergartens. The menu is carefully designed and includes dairy products, vegetables and fruit. Vitamin and mineral composition of foods and their caloric content is also calculated. If a kindergarten group is sent on a day trip or an excursion, every mother should prepare a lunch box for her child. It’s very interesting that this lunch box must meet certain requirements:

  • it must include the 24 (!) kinds of products;
  • the rice should be sticky;
  • there mustn’t be beets in a lunch box;
  • the food should be homemade;
  • the child should get aesthetic pleasure while eating, so the food must look beautiful.

Team cooperation in Japanese education.

In Japanese kindergartens the groups are small: 6−8 children. Every six months groups are reorganized in order to give kids more opportunities for socialization. If the child has not developed relationships in one group, it is quite possible that he will make friends in another. Teachers are also replaced to ensure that children don’t get used to them too much. Such attachment, according to the Japanese, leads to the dependency of children on their mentors. By the way, there is also a possibility that a caregiver or a teacher may develop a dislike to a child. With another teacher, the child may develop better relationships.

In Japanese kindergartens children are taught to read, count, write and draw. If a child does not attend a kindergarten, the mom must teach him herself. The main goal of a Japanese kindergarten education is to teach discipline and how to behave in a team. In later life, a child will always be in a group, and this skill will be necessary. Children are taught to analyze conflicts. They are taught to avoid rivalry, as the victory of one usually means ‘losing face’ to the other. The most productive conflicts resolution, in the opinion of the Japanese, is a compromise. In the Constitution of Ancient Japan the ability to avoid contradictions was recorded as the main advantage of the citizen. Teachers don’t intervene in the quarrels of children. Children should learn to live in a team.

Choral singing takes an important place in the Japanese education. According to Japanese educational ideas, it’s not good to highlight the soloist. Singing in the chorus helps to foster the sense of unity within a team. Sports games are also of great importance in teaching discipline: relay race, tag, catch-up. Educators, regardless of their age, participate in these games along with children.

About once a month, the entire kindergarten goes on a picnic for the whole day. Places can be very different: the nearest mountain, a zoo, a botanical garden. Thus children not only learn something new, but also learn to endure hardships. Great attention is given to creativity: painting, applique, origami, otero (weaving patterns from a thin rope stretched over the fingers). These classes are perfect for developing motor skills, which are highly important for writing hieroglyphs.

In Japan, they do not compare children. The educator will never mark the best and the worst child, will not tell parents that their child draws worse or runs faster than any other child. There is no competition even in sporting events. Friendship always wins. One of the principles of Japanese life is ‘don’t stand out’. This does not always lead to positive results.

The reverse side of the coin

The main objective of Japanese pedagogy is to educate a person who will be able to work harmoniously in a team. It is necessary for community life in Japanese society. Belonging to a group sometimes leads to inability to think independently. Moreover, the idea of a standard is firmly rooted in the minds of Japanese children. Non-standard thinking children are often laughed at and even beaten. The Japanese themselves understand negative sides of their pedagogical system. Today in Japanese press there is much discussion about ‘the urgent need for a creative personality and the need to identify gifted children at an early age’. However, the problem remains unsolved. Such negative phenomena are observed:

  • increasing infantilism among teens;
  • rejection of criticism from adults;
  • aggression against senior, including parents.

Despite all the differences in mentality, we can still learn sensitive and caring attitude to children from the Japanese.

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