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What is Good Child Rearing? Thinking about Child Care as a Child Issue

Children are born as biological beings and are raised and grow up as social beings. This is our starting point for thinking about all child issues whenever they arise. In this article, I would like to think about what constitutes good child-rearing as a major issue involving children.

First, in thinking about child issues, we might consider the word "issue," which can mean that "something that flows to the outside" or, of course, a publication or other such release. Problems are like issues, too, in that they spill out and have to be dealt with. The Japanese word "mondai," can be translated in English as "problem," "question," or "issue." A problem is a conundrum that requires research, study, and analysis, while a question is a matter that presents itself as a query, and an issue is a contested subject or point on which opinion is divided.

Good child rearing is certainly an issue that provokes different views. It has been nearly sixty years since I graduated from medical school and became a pediatrician in 1954. During this time, issues of child-raising have dramatically changed. With recovery from postwar destruction, daily life underwent drastic change as it became more mechanized and filled with electric appliances, and society has become more materially affluent. In this process, how children should be raised has been a subject of contention and a constant social issue. In other words, the subject of child rearing became focused on child care.

As mentioned above, children are raised and grow up as social beings, and this requires the social technology of child care and education, in particular, early childhood education. Child rearing refers to a situation in which children are brought up by parents and/or relations, and because this takes place at home, mothers tend to be the primary caregivers and child rearing is considered a domestic technology. However, since the aim of child rearing is to cultivate the child's ability to live as a social being, we can say that practices of child rearing in the home also raise children to become social beings.

During my upbringing in the 1920s and 1930s, the mother was central to child rearing; nursery school and child care facilities were rare. My younger brother and sister had almost the same experience, and with the food shortage, evacuation, and changing from one school to another during wartime, it was not certainly an easy time to raise a child. At the end of the war, I was living in a naval academy and began living as an adult after the war, and from what I witnessed child care was still care provided by the mother, as in the prewar period.

With postwar recovery, and somewhat assisted by the economic effect of the Korean War, Japan experienced high economic growth until the 1960s and attained affluence. But, with the end of this high-growth period, child rearing practices began to change, presenting major problems for child care.

Also related to this were societal changes resulting from democratic policies of the postwar Occupation forces. In particular, gender equality and the participation of women in society had a strong effect on child rearing. Furthermore, as women's labor power became necessary for maintaining an affluent society, the need for child care facilities grew, which made child-rearing issues even more pressing. Discussions revolved around the quantity and quality of child care facilities. An important question was whether emotional development would be adversely affected if someone other than the mother cared for the child.

Even into the 1970s, the division of labor along gender lines, dictating that men worked while women stayed at home, remained entrenched. This was also true of the maternal myth, the notion that a child must be raised by the mother, and furthermore, that being raised by anyone other than the mother would harm the child's emotional development. I also made appearances on TV and radio programs in which I would stress the centrality of the mother's role.

At the same time, however, in Japan, newborn babies were being abandoned in coin lockers, and pediatricians began to see cases of "child abuse," in particular, cases involving neglect, which have been steadily increasing to the present. In other words, we began seeing women who could not become mothers even though they had given birth to a child and women who had trouble bringing up a child. This, of course, may have something to do with the inadequate support system for these mothers.

This issue of what child rearing should be persists. In fact, as the necessary result of an affluent society, it now concerns advanced industrialized nations. The question then arises: Is it all right if children are not cared for by their mothers?

Although placing a child in a child care facility does not affect a child's physical growth, many worry that it might pose a problem for emotional development. In this sense, considering better ways of raising children also entails that we first establish that the use of institutionalized child care does not create such problems. One of the best methods to substantiate this is the cohort study, which is used in epidemiology and familiar to those in medicine. The word "cohort" originally referred to one unit of 300 to 600 soldiers in the Roman legion.

Does institutionalized child care have an adverse effect on linguistic development, cognitive development, maternal attachment, self-control, and emotional development issues such as having a good and open attitude, or does it promote problem behavior? Moreover, does it create problems in relationships with peers? The cohort study is clearly the best way to answer such questions and resolve any such problems through a comparison of children in child care and those cared for at home by the mother. As its method, it relies on forming the appropriate cohorts and then subjecting them to longitudinal study and statistical observation.

In fact, such a cohort study was conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) of the National Institutes of Health in the United States in 1991, where this type of research is advanced. It began by following approximately 1400 newborns soon after birth and reported on data collected at 3 years and 4.5 years of age. Unfortunately, as yet, there have been no comparable research efforts at the national level in Japan.

The CRN International Symposium 2000, held in July 2000 on "The Child Care Paradox: Choices in Children's Development-Support for Working Mothers by Learning from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care," invited Dr. Sarah L. Friedman, Project Scientist and Scientific Coordinator of this NICHD research project, to report on the follow-up study 3 years after birth. For details, please refer to the CRN website at
I subsequently translated the NICHD research report and added commentary, which was published in the journal, Shonika Shinryo Vol. 63 (7).
The follow-up data for 4.5 years after birth was published in Japanese in "Hoiku no shitsu to kodomo no hattatsu amerika kokuritsu hoken ningen hattatsu kenkyusho no choki tsuiseki kenkyu kara" [Quality of Child Care and Child Development: Follow-up Research by NICHD], edited by the Japan Society of Child Science, translated by Masumi Sugawara and Satoko Matsumoto, and published by Akachan to mama-sha.

In my view, the cohort study by NICHD indicates there is no positive scientific evidence that child care is detrimental to children's emotional development. Of course, we must take into full consideration such factors as child care personnel and facilities as well as the methods, quality, and amount of child care. As such, what I consider to be good child rearing involves a good relationship between the parents who love the child and avail themselves of institutionalized child care according to their own needs and wishes. Nevertheless, there are major differences in the cultural context of United States and Japan, and this underscores the necessity of conducting research in Japan similar to that by the NICHD, in particular, to establish what child care in the 21st century should be.

I am happy to note that Dr. Sarah L. Friedman will be revisiting Japan for upcoming Seventh Conference of the Japanese Society of Child Science where she will deliver a special lecture on the results of the NICHD research project. We welcome all who are interested in this subject. The conference, hosted by the Japanese Society of Child Science, will be held on October 2 and 3, 2010, at Kawagoe Shimin Kaikan. On October 9, the Benesse Institute for the Child Sciences and Parenting has invited Dr. Friedman to take part in a public symposium. Please attend and participate in what will surely be a productive exchange for thinking about child rearing issues. I look forward to seeing you there.

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