Chinese Culture and Caregiving Practices


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Contribution from Kate Yan, Researcher and Participant in Shanghai Program

I feel very fortunate to be able to post these fascinating and thoughtful comments about the relevance of the Touchpoints approach for Chinese caregivers.  Kate, a researcher and participant in the Shanghai lecture series, also the mother of a young daughter, sent them to us. Kate also alerted me to the first children’s hospice care organization in China, 

Why Chinese Parents need Touchpoints

1. Most (if not all) of the books about infant and child that could be seen in Chinese bookstores are “nurture-related”, unlike in Touchpoints, which is “development-related”. Most of the books that Chinese parents may read about will emphasize on nurturing (ie, how to judge whether an infant feels cold/hot, how to take a bath for a newborn, when and how should solids be added, etc.). Culturally speaking, China has experienced significant changes in the past decades, while the living standard arises fast, people still subconsciously put a lot of attention on physical wellness over mental development. Most parents do not have the opportunity to understand their new child from the perspective of psychology. Touchpoints can open a new world for them to understand their baby. 

2. As a new mom, when I read other books on market, I often think: “Oh, now I see this is how people do it, let me try and see if it woks…” Sometimes I would also feel a bit stressful and guilty while some of the authors seem to be such brilliant parents themselves. But when reading Touchpoints, I often feel: “Yes! This is exactly what I was thinking/experiencing. I feel much better to know that this is common situation, and my baby is really growing in her pace!” Most other books may be a perfect guidance in raising a baby, while Touchpoints is not only like that, it is also a perfect support for new parents.

Some special situation in China 

3. Intergenerational issues: Given the culture of respecting Hierarchy, the biggest pressure that most new parents may face in China comes from their respective original families: grandparents is a big point that cannot be missed when talking about a newborn and his/her parents. There indeed are quite a few understanding and “liberal” grandparents, but in most cases, grandparents could place way too much control over new parents and their baby. This complicated family issue could create anxiety for babies and their parents in the days to come. On the other hand, the participation of grandparents can also bring benefits to a new family: it creates flexibility for new parents to continue their own workings and lives.

4. Misunderstanding of breastfeeding.  In China, many pediatricians (60% at least) would recommend milk powder to a new family and urge mother to give up breastfeeding under many circumstances. One realistic reason is because milk powder manufacturers sponsor hospital programs, and in return some pediatricians will promote their products.  Breastfeeding mothers in China face a lot of pressure from the moment the baby was born. The support a breastfeeding mother can get from family and community is quite limited. As a result, most mother wean within 6 months. 

5. “The Calcium Fever”. Similar to “milk powder fever”, many Chinese parents are misled by pediatricians that their babies need to take in extra calcium pills to sustain growth. When Chinese parents have a baby who wakes up very often during the nights, they may come up with the first question of “does he/she lack calcium?”

6. Solids. While adding solids step by step is a general practice in United States, it is normal to see a 3-months-old baby being fed egg or orange juice in China. Besides limited knowledge on how to add solids, some caregivers (especially grandparents) would worry that the baby will be left behind others in physical growth if they don’t add sufficient nutrition besides breast milk. “The anxiety of being left behind” will be with caregivers throughout years, they compete with other kids in nutrition, in who starts to crawl first, in which kindergarten to go, in what supplementary early education classes to attend… Historically Chinese has been suffering from shortage of food and resources during 1950s to 1990s, so subconsciously many people would compete to win the “resource” for the child. This subconscious pass through generations.

7. Stranger anxiety and finger sucking. Most Chinese parents or caregivers see stranger anxiety and finger sucking as bad habits of baby and will do whatever they can to stop or change the situation. Pacifier is also deemed as something harmful to a baby’s teeth and mental development.

8. Nannies. In big cities as Shanghai, if both parents are working, the caregiver of a baby will either be grandparents or a Nanny. Nannies are mostly from rural areas of China to earn a living in big cities. The relationship between nanny, the parents and the baby could sometimes create tension. As nannies change frequently, some baby will also experience multiple separations during early childhood. 

9. “Well behave=obedient”. In traditional Chinese culture, a good child=an obedient child=a quiet child. An energetic and exploring child may be seem as troublesome for some caregivers and will not receive encouragements for their active behaviors. 

 

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