Lessons and Insights from Parenting Without Borders by Christine Gross-Loh

My current lack of employment offers two upsides; I have more time to spend with my daughter and more time to read. Hence why reading Parenting Without Borders was high up on my “to do” list. Now that my family and I have received our passports, it’s feeling more likely that a job in Japan is possible. I am not a stranger to the fact that different cultures raise their children differently, and I feel right now is certainly a good time as any to brush up on my cultural awareness skills. Here are some of the things that really caught my attention as I read this book:

Photo from Amazon.com

Photo from Amazon.com


1. Co-Sleeping“Co-sleeping moms and babies tend to face each other during the night. Not only does her own breathing “cue” her baby to breathe, she is also right there to monitor her baby if he should run into trouble. In this way mother-child sleep may actually protect against sudden infant death syndrome.” (p. 18)
“What the U.S. statistics and news stories don’t show is that the overwhelming majority of accidental suffocations or overlays associated with co-sleeping occur in situations of urban poverty, where a number of risk factors tragically converge…In one study, 99 percent of SIDS deaths had at least one of these risk factors [smoking, drug or alcohol use, co-sleeping on unsafe, non-bed surfaces, etc].” (p. 18)

2. Eating“In Japan the thinking is to introduce young kids to a wide variety of tastes and textures, teach them to appreciate food, teach them never to waste and get them used to structured mealtimes and mealtime behavior…[r]andom grazing and snacking, overall, was frowned upon as bad manners-as it is in many countries around the world-because of the general societal insistence on eating etiquette: not eating while standing or walking; not grabbing food, but waiting to be served; and eating without comment or complaint what was put in front of you.” (p. 64)

3. Self-Esteem/Confidence“Cultural psychologists have noted that one difference between East Asian cultures like Japan and our own is that, in East Asia, success and failure are viewed as part of a continuum, a natural and harmonious cycle and process that is just part of life. This is a lesson children absorb too, and it makes it easier for them to accept successes and failures with equanimity and resilience.” (p. 102)
“While American teachers believe individual differences of ability are an “obstacle” to teaching well and should be met by tailoring to each student, “Japanese teachers view individual differences as a natural characteristic of a group,” Stigler and his coauthor, James Hiebert, wrote in their book The Teaching Gap.” (p. 104)

4. Human Potential
“But researchers are discovering that perseverance is one of the most important keys to success and achievement.” (p. 106)

“By phone, [Carol] Dweck [a Stanford psychology professor] told me she personally has memories of a very different kind of upbringing from that of children today: “We were expected to be self-sufficient. Doing homework was our job. It was our responsibility. We scheduled our own play, and if we took music lessons, we practiced, and the parents were there for guiding and as resources, but their lives were their lives and our lives were separate. Overlapping, but separate.” (p. 112)

5. Effort“So parents in other cultures encourage their kids to be diligent and make an effort, even if it’s hard-especially if it’s hard. This is the approach that research shows actually leads to resilience, persistence, and perseverance-the true building blocks for future success.” (p. 114)

6. Letting Children Work It Out
“In Japanese yochiens, skirmishes between children weren’t nipped in the bud by adults…in parent education workshops held throughout the year, the yochien teachers explained that fighting, crying, and making up again were normal ways of figuring out how to get along. They insisted it was important not to interfere in this natural process, but to let children hone their natural abilities to work things out on their own.” (p. 121)

7. Invisible Fence & Risk Taking“Then Brittany and her young family moved to Sweden. They knew they were joining a much-touted family-friendly society…[but] soon found that there was a side to life in Sweden that no tourist guide could have prepared them for: the way that even very small children were permitted to play and wander freely.” (p. 130)

“Her [Ellen Hansen Sandseter, a psychology at Queen Maud University College] work indicates that kids evolved to be drawn to risky play because of how it exposes them to physical challenges, and then “habituates” them to their fears…[t]here is growing evidence that, far from protecting children from injuries, children are at increased risk of more broken limbs on our modern, safety-first playgrounds. When an environment is too sterile and safe, children may be driven to truly unsafe behavior.” (p. 132)

8. Hovering & Boundaries“Most cultures believe kids need space to develop mastery and autonomy and self-reliance. But kids in America, who typically don’t experience many genuinely adult-free moments, aren’t often able to have the space they need to find out who they are and what they are capable of, and to develop that self-control and judgment they’ll need as they grown older.” (p.137)

“Teachers at the Little School, a progressive independent school in Bellevue, Washington, lay a rope on the ground to teach their three-year old preschoolers where the boundary is when they’re playing outside. As they get older, and the kids show they’ve developed the self-control and judgment they need to stay safe, the rope boundary progressively widens, and eventually is replaced by a mere ribbon on a tree in the woods.” (p. 138)

9. Unstructured Free time and School Readiness“The less children play, the more their self-regulation has dropped: an American five-year-old today is as self-regulated as a three-year-old from the 1940s. Contrary to what parents like Miguel believe, it is unstructured play that enhances a child’s ability to learn.” (p. 144)

“Kids love language-rich, socially enticing, and engaging play for a reason: these are the sort of experiences that are developmentally appropriate for them, that help grow their brains and prepare them for the kind of learning they’ll be doing in school.” (p. 145)

“Numerous studies have demonstrated that when preschools are not “developmentally appropriate” (play-focused) but instead focused directly on academics, children fare less well: they experience more behavioral issues, stress, and anxiety, and do not do better academically.” (p. 147)

“On the other hand, experiences that are developmentally appropriate grow the brain. Open-ended play and downtime are both important and productive for children. ..kids who play freely and abundantly…are actually building skills in perspective taking, self-direction, and creative thinking.” (p.148)

10. College Students and Childhood Creativity“But today’s students have had no downtime to develop those passions [their unique interests]. They’re skilled, she told me, at trying to figure out what they have to do to get good grades, but any real initiative or love of learning just isn’t there. The self-motivation, passion, interest, and original thinking that she saw in the past are gone in today’s students.” (p. 149)

“The reason we want children to play so much,” said Yasoshima-sensei, my children’s Japanese yochien teacher, “is because it helps them learn what their interests are and who they are.”

11. Play and Dedication to Learning“One study has shown that how well children play games like this predicts how well they will adjust to school. Researchers believe that games where children actively make up, negotiate, and break their own rules are a crucial way for them to exercise and develop important aspects of their cognition. Humans evolved to live successfully in groups: we can think of these games as nature’s way to ensure that kids get the brain exercise they were intended to have.” (p. 153)

“In Japan, recess is as standard in school as math, reading, or lunch. Recess is frequent-usually there is a little break after every fifty-minute class period, and then two longer recesses during the day…Children who alternate intense bursts of study with frequent playful breaks (the way kids do in Japan) pay more attention to classroom tasks immediately afterward.” (p. 156)

“We really encourage [children] so they won’t doubt their ability. But at the same time we don’t overly praise them, because if you praise what doesn’t deserve praise, you’ll actually be encouraging that behavior.” (p. 177)

12. School Pressure“South Korea has one of the highest college graduation rates in the world…today 98 percent of young people graduate [from high school]…[and] [s]uicides from bullying are on the rise because of increased competitiveness among middle and high schoolers.” (p. 180)

13. Finland’s School System Successes“Children don’t start academics until the year they turn seven. They have a lot of recess (ten to fifteen minutes every forty-five minutes, even through high school), shorter school hours than we do in the United States…and the lightest homework load of any industrialized nation.” (p. 194)

“Starting in the 1970’s, the government began to require all teachers to have master’s degrees, not a teaching requirement in the United States. Only the very best and most qualified candidates are able to get into Finland’s competitive teaching programs…the Finnish government allocates the equivalent of $30 million a year to spend on teachers’ professional development.” (p. 197)

“At the Dream School, just as any other secondary school in Finland, compulsory subjects are Finnish, Swedish, English, math, chemistry, physics, biology, geography, history, social studies, handcrafts, arts, home economics, music, and sports (additional foreign languages are optional).” (p. 199)

“During lower secondary school (ages thirteen to sixteen), all students are entitled to two hours per week of educational guidance and counseling.” (p. 201)

“The more relevant difference between Finland and America is not ethnic diversity. It’s poverty. In the United States, 23.1 percent of children live in poverty, according to UNICEF; in Finland, only 5.3 percent of children do.” (p. 205)

14. Kindness
“Before eating, Japanese people say, itadakimasu (“I am about to feast”). After eating, they say, gochisousama deshita (“Thank you for this meal”). Before entering someone’ house, they say Ojama shimasu (“Excuse me”), and they say ojama shimashita (“Thank you for having me”) before leaving.” (p. 222)

“Researchers tell us that three-month-olds prefer faces of the same race as those they know, eleven-month-olds prefer people who eat the same food as they, and twelve-month-olds prefer to learn from those who speak the same language they do. Many cultures, like Japan, cement this natural bias to be kindest to those we know best through social courtesies to ensure harmonious relationships with those they know and interact with daily.” (p. 230)

15. Lowered Expectations
“The amount of time spent on chores [in the U.S.] has dropped 25 percent since 1981 alone.” (p. 235)
“Other research indicates that children who are more hardworking in tangible ways are more “nurturant” and “sociable,” and even have a more developed moral sense and awareness of other people’s needs.” (p. 239)

16. Creating Clear Expectations
My First Errand, a popular Japanese television show, features a young child in each episode taking the brave step of going on his first errand all by himself-to bring lunch to his father at work, purchase something at the corner store, or bring a gift to a neighbor. In some of the episodes I’ve seen, the child has been as young as two or three years old! But the young age isn’t for shock value-it’s for inspiration.” (p. 243)

17. Sharing “American mothers more often viewed their toddlers as willful and knowing but also capable of learning how to share a coveted toy to the older sibling so they could learn to “take turns.” In contrast, the Guatemalan Mayan toddlers were seen as not yet able to understand how to cooperate. They were never asked to give up a toy. Their wishes always came first. And the researchers found that their older siblings accommodated them even when their mothers were not around.” (p. 245)

18. Little Grownups
“In Japan, kids begin to walk to school on their own starting in first grade…[s]afety skills are taught and honed. In Japan, our children took a free safety course at school several times a year where kids role-played how to assess and respond to potentially dangerous situations, such as being approached by a stranger.” (p. 249)

“One favorite strategy for Japanese parents is to give life to inanimate objects when they speak to their young children and attribute feelings to the things. They’ll tell their toddlers that a toy is lonely and sad not to be put away with the others, or that their teeth want to be nice and sparkly clean. Rather than feel ordered around, children are reminded that their acts of responsibility are nurturing and kind acts that affect others.” (p. 258)

19. Community Care
“ In Kenya every child is a precious gift-not only to the mother, but to the whole society. People greet a new mom with the words, “Thank you. Thank you, and welcome to this guest that you’ve brought us.” In many traditional Kenyan cultures a guest is precious and honored, so the new mother has brought a gift to the world. That world, in turn, is responsible for the mother and the baby-entrusted to everyone’s care.” (p. 262)

“In Finland the government ensures that new moms and dads have the support they need: women, like Michele, mom to baby Hilla, get to visit maternity clinics for free. Child health clinic visits are free too. There is generous paid parental leave including a “daddy month,” which helped make it possible for Michele’s husband, Janne, to spend time with their new baby; all families get generously subsidized child-care options (municipal day care, or an allowance for private day care or home care) for their babies and young children, child benefits to help support single parents, adoptive parents, or parents who must temporarily stop working to care for a child who is sick. Every new family receives a free baby box that contains over two dozen garments, including a snowsuit (for those long Finnish winters), bodysuits, leggings, and socks, and other baby supplies such as a quilt, a hairbrush, cloth diapers, and a picture book. The box itself can be used as a crib.” (p. 262)

“Sweden is among the safest places in the world to give birth, has one of the world’s most generous parental leave policies, does not allow children’s television programs to be interrupted by advertising, and has comprehensive laws that protect children’s rights and safety.” (p. 265)

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