Walk anywhere in Japan or take the bus or train, and you may see children headed purposefully to specific destinations. There is no adult in charge, guiding them on their journey. These extremely young children – some as young as six years old – don’t push, run or yell boisterously. They don’t even loiter. Instead, they make their way purposefully through crowds and turn styles, across platforms and sections of big cities, and they confidently navigate public transportation routes to get to school and home again. This is a daily journey for Japanese children, much the way your child might go to the mailbox and back alone.
Japanese parents encourage self-reliance, independence, and problem-solving skills, all of which can be learned by running simple errands and taking one’s self to school. Japanese children learn early that they may call on any adult for assistance should they need help. It helps that Japan has an extraordinarily low crime rate, due in part, to group socialization in Japanese culture. Compare this practice to the Western ideal requiring that children be supervised and chaperoned until their teens or beyond, creating a culture of dependence. Most parents want to raise independent children who can think for themselves, but letting go can be difficult.
The trust and cooperation thriving in Japanese society may not exist where you live, but you can begin teaching independence in your home by encouraging your child to begin taking on these minimal simple tasks that will increase confidence on the way to independence.
A toddler can begin to learn basic survival skills, such as feeding himself, using the toilet instead of a diaper, picking up toys and putting them away. By early childhood, your daughter can make her own bed (it won’t be perfect), assist with simple chores and select outfits to wear. She can turn off the lights when leaving a room, and she should also know her full name, address and phone number.
As your child enters the primary grades, bed-making is a daily priority. She can learn how to fix a simple snack or meal – even if it’s a sandwich; follow basic food preparation rules, such as washing fruit or cutting it with a dull knife; and she can help to put away purchases such as groceries or toiletries. Your daughter or son can wash dishes and take care of all of his or her personal grooming needs, including bathing, brushing teeth, combing hair and selecting coordinated outfits to wear. Elementary aged children who have learned to read, write and compute numbers can take on more independent tasks, such as taking phone messages, making purchasing and calculating change, taking out the trash and folding their own clothes.
Teaching responsibility to your children helps them gain the kind of lifelong skills they need for success. The children who learn independence early are more sure of themselves and more confident as they grow up.