Looking after children in Japan

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One of the three jobs I did in Japan was look after Japanese families children as a English speaking babysitter for Little Hug. With this role, the whole point is to speak completely in English to the child, teach them words and short sentences and raise them for the short time to know what’s right and what’s wrong. I quickly adapted to looking after each of the five regular children in addition to the three irregular children I had.
Most of the children I raised were primarily under four years old and some were born in America so they were exposed to listening and responding in English but very little.

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Diet and Snacks:

The mother’s mainly cook for their children, I rarely see the father’s  cook but I have asked a few if they can cook and while some can, I think it is rarely or in the weekend. Children are always eating home cooked food and even though fruit and vegetables are expensive, they are always given a small amount of it to balance their meal. Usually children are given tofu, natto, meat or fish with some miso soup and rice. However, I do think because most of the parent’s work until late (especially the father’s who work until 8pm or 9pm), they are more likely to buy food or leave it to the mother because she is able to pick up the child after work.

Expectations:

The parents just want their children to just get used to hearing English and if possible, repeat and say new words or sentences. Some really want their kids to be able to switch between English, Japanese and/or another language they might have been brought up with. But there are some who want them to just get used to hearing the language and being comfortable around English speakers. I have heard of other parents with older children who are strict on seeing their children speak in English and want them to excel early. I got asked a few times to read a certain book or focus on speaking slowly to a child so they would get used to my speaking pace. All of the parents were quite chill and accepted the way I taught children as well as trusted me to be alone with the children either in the house or certain rooms alone.

It is also nice for the parents to have some time away from their children as they are with them almost 24/7 so the fact a lot of them left the house so the child can feel more free and get used to talking in English without wanting the urge to talk in Japanese.

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Behaviour:

 Of course the first thing when the children do is stare at me being a non-Asian and a stranger as well so they took a few months to get used to me. Most of the time it was them running to their parents and possibly crying. I didn’t really try to force them to like me because that’s what I expect a child to do. I mostly handed them a book or toy and just spoke to them. I bought a couple of the other older ones bubbles and some juices. After a while as they warmed up to me, they all had different ways of greeting me. One boy and girl  would scream while two girls would pretend to be shy. They all had different reactions to seeing me but their parents said to me they would sometimes ask about me. This always surprised me because when the children are next to me, I can’t read Japanese kids reactions. Asian kids usually give a puzzled or blank face to me and then smile so I’m never too sure how to react to them. Most of the kids are pretty ok with me, when they are misbehaving I tell them to apologise but usually if they throw a fit, I either let them cry a little or their mothers usually stop them from doing so (mainly because of the neighbors and they would complain about noise).
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Picking up at Nursery:

Nursery is very interesting as before going into the nursery, it is well secured with a password or a card key so you definitely cannot get in and the staff are very cautious if you are by yourself and don’t have any identification. People stared a lot because of my appearance but few questioned me and what I was doing preferably because I spoke Japanese more than other foreigner babysitters.

One time I had one of the children cry so hard because she hadn’t seen me in two weeks and refused to let me take her home. The nursery teacher took me to take her in a taxi because a black girl picking up a crying Japanese kid would look odd.

If I ever had a chance, I’d like to go to a middle or high school and see what it’s like there.

Personal Opinion:

In my opinion, there is definitely a big cultural difference in how they are told to behave in nurseries and schools compared to being at home. They are told to keep quiet and blend in with everyone else. They are sometimes given a snack or something they like to keep them quiet in public. When a child screams for doing something wrong, they should be either punished or left to cry, not showered with hugs and told everything is okay. This way I feel like they are getting spoiled, the way they are raised.

More than just teaching English to the children I looked after, I wanted them to see me as an older sister rather than a teacher. When I came to Japan, I was always interested in how family life was like. The families introduced me to many things I had no idea about or were very curious to know such as their education, homes and diet. I found talking to the children very interesting and getting to know their personalities, what they liked and disliked and their learning abilities. The children I looked after were very intelligent and able to clearly understand more than half of what they learnt from the books I read them or the conversations we would had. Meeting and talking with them every week was great and I hope they still remember me when I come to visit them again. 

What I learnt additionally about children and family life: 

  • Some children get breastfed until two or three years old but some mothers have said it is until their child wants to stop. 
  • Children stay in nursery until six years old then go to middle school.
  • From the homes I’ve been in, they have a bathroom function that allows you to keep the bath water to a certain degree. 
  • Most children are not allowed to watch TV until they are two years old and older. 3/5 children I looked after did not have TV’s in their house and preferred their children to read books, draw or play outside.
  • Usually children are picked up on a bicycle, walk holding hands with their parent or are in a stroller. The first option is quite commonly seen as everyone seems to have a bicycle with one or two extra seats for a child to sit in.
  • Mothers seem to be with their children 24/7 not only during maternity leave but from dropping them to nursery to picking them up. Even when their dad or a new person is there and their mother is a few meters away, they seem to be afraid of being left alone which isn’t good for the mother when she wants her privacy in the near future.

 

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