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Child Rearing and Disciplining in Japan

by Ewa Nowogorski

Japanese children may seem incredibly well-behaved and quiet, always listening to their parents. If you’ve ever walked in an urban area in the right hour of the morning, you might have seen Japanese school children neatly and calmly walking to school, with their uniforms all neat, greeting the passersby and stationary guides.

On crowded trains, children under 2 years old sit in silence and stillness on the plush train seats, and Japanese mothers seem to radiate calm serenity, their children seated beside them in well-behaved glory.

However, Japanese children are not born obedient and well-behaved. Like all other children across the world, they misbehave and throw tantrums, but Japanese parents have quite a unique way of raising and disciplining their children. When their child does something they are not allowed or acts unreasonably, parents will go out of their way to stop their plans and go to a private location to discipline their naughty children. If the child starts yelling on a train, the parents will most likely pull their child off the train and discipline them on an empty platform. The sudden halt in plans also shows that child that their behavior has serious and very real repercussions, so the punishments have very powerful effects.

To be sure, some discipline measures are extreme everywhere. One family in Japan made international headlines when their seven-year-old went missing in bear-country Hokkaido after they’d put him out of the car and driven away as a punishment for his misbehavior. When they returned minutes later, he’d vanished (and thankfully was found, albeit several frantic days later). Child psychologists worldwide seem to agree that it’s always best to punish the behavior—not the child.

The overall focus on training as discipline—teaching children to behave by repeatedly modeling the appropriate behaviors and privately correcting them when they veer from that course—is also apparent from my visits to watch my son at his kindergarten. The students follow a strict schedule, repeating the same songs, games, and polite behaviors like putting shoes away neatly and sitting quietly until it becomes routine.

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