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My observations regarding child rearing in the Philippines

A good way of taking a closer look at a county’s culture is by looking at how children are being raised up. Children reflect and represent a country’s culture at its rawest form—a reflection of how their society mould and form their future generations. Their upbringing is not only directly influenced by their families, but by the cultural traditions and surroundings from which they belong. This is my humble take on child rearing practices in the Philippines.

About Me and My Childhood

I was born and raised in Germany, and even though I am half-Finn, my upbringing was mostly influenced by German culture. I spent my whole childhood in Germany, growing up around German friends, going to German schools, and eating German food. When I moved to my mother’s home country, Finland, as an adult, I noticed quickly how differently children are raised there, as compared to Germany. Different countries, different cultures, different ways of raising up children.

Me personally, while I’m not a mother myself yet, I’m a kindergarten and a preschool teacher with more than 10 years of work experience in German and Finnish kindergartens. I find cultural influences of a child’s upbringing very interesting. I find it fascinating how every child in the world is naturally developed by the cultural influence of its home country.

Right now, since I’m in the Philippines, I’m exposed to the Filipino culture. Having many children in our big Filipino family household shows and teaches me a lot of new things about child rearing in the Philippines.

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Raising Up Children In The Philippines

It makes me so happy to see how children are being included in all parts of society here. For example, it’s so common for parents to include their children in social activities, happenings, events. Children here have a respected status and Filipino people are in general very child-friendly.

You see parents bringing their children along everywhere in celebrations, shopping, funerals, and even late night events. Paid babysitters are not the norm, at least not in the lower and middle class families.

Growing Up In Big Families

When parents cannot bring their children along for whatever reason, there are always family members who can look after the kids. Since it is the norm, that families (and I’m talking about children, parents, grandparents, uncles and cousins) all live together, or the very least, live very close to each other, the children are naturally raised up not only by their immediate family, but by their extended family as well. That makes them less dependent on only one person. They are used to being looked after by other people who are close in their life.

I have made this observation in Finnish kindergartens long ago: that foreign children from big families have usually an easier time coping with anxiety separation from their parents, because they are used to be taken care of by so many family members and relatives. But some Finnish children that come from small families, who are used to just being looked after by their own mother and father; for them it’s terrifying to suddenly be looked after by other people. Leaving their parents and the safety of their home to start a full day in kindergarten, being looked after by “strangers” (that’s me and my colleagues) is an enormously huge step in these children’s lives. Especially for 1-3 year olds, as it is the norm in Finland.

Being Literally Close To the Parents

The Western notion of child rearing is geared towards preparing the child to be independent. To prepare the child to live on their own and leave the nest by the age of 18-21 years old. In the Philippines, it seems to be the opposite case. Children, and I’m talking about people aged 30-40 years old, still living with their parents, who in turn are raising up their own children at their parents’ place. This of course is just a gross generalisation, and does not apply to every Filipino family. But a very important point to be made is that children are geared towards preparing them to be interdependent. The focus being that you don’t have to face this world alone. That it’s not a weakness to ask for help.

Another cultural difference is the sleeping and transport arrangements of babies and toddlers. I hardly see any strollers here in the Philippines. Parents carry their children in their arms all the time. That of course can be explained due to the high cost of strollers and the impracticalities of hopping on and off from jeepneys and tricycles. But another way of explaining it would be to say that the baby gets to be in the comfort and safety of their parent’s arms: the physical contact to the parent makes them feel safe. Add to that they get to hear familiar voice, and familiar smell. It doesn’t feel distanced by being placed into a stroller, that has usually a one meter distance to the parents. In its parent’s arms it feels safe and secure. There is a reason why children stop crying as soon as they’re lifted from a stroller into their mother’s arms. As a side effect, children also learn how to walk much faster, because the parents can’t carry the growing baby in their arms for too long.

Most of the babies and children here in the Philippines sleep in their parents bed or at least in the same room. That is very different to Europe, where children and even newborn babies usually have their own bed and even their own room. In Europe, it would even be considered strange if a 6 year old still sleeps in its parents’ bed. Children this age are supposed to sleep in their own bed in their own room.

But I ask myself constantly: why is that? Why do both parents have the “luxury” of sleeping together in the same bed; being able to feel the warmth, safety, and love of their partner; while young children, who need these same affections even more than any adult does, are expected to sleep in their own room—alone. But on the other hand, it also begs the question: how do parents, who share the same bed or same bedroom with their children get to be intimate? How, when, and where do they get to have intimate moments without their children around. For me this looks like a difficult balance to find between giving your children their need for warmth and security by sharing a bed(room), while at the same time sharing intimacy with the partner.

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Pacifiers

Another thing I have noticed is the little, or even nonexistent use of pacifiers. I have never been a big supporter of pacifiers and find it nice to see that there are cultures, like here in the Philippines, where most babies grow up without them. The infant’s natural need for sucking can be satisfied by breast feeding or letting it suck at its mother’s little finger.

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All of these thoughts are, of course, easy for me to write not being a mother yet myself. But I have been confronted with this cultural difference here, notwithstanding my keen interest in child rearing practices, being a kindergarten teacher. It has also awakened in me thoughts about how I would want to raise my future child.

Young Parents, High Birth Rate, and Little Education About Contraceptives

Here in the Philippines, it’s very common to have children at a very young age. Early twenties and even late teens is not unusual. I think it’s even safe to say that it’s, in a way, expected to have a child together for couples in a longterm relationship, let alone married couples.

The birthrate in the Philippines is very high. The fertility rate of an average Filipino woman is around 3.19. Compared to Germany’s fertility rate of 1,43 children per woman, for example. A reason for that could be the little to non-existing education for young women and teenagers about birth control. There’s not enough public information about contraceptives, neither is sex education taught in schools (or if so, is then proved unsuccessful). If talking about sex and sexuality is taboo, how will the subject of contraception even see the light of day.

Being Exposed To Poverty, Death, and Natural Disasters

In my childhood, I have not witnessed any natural disasters or widespread poverty. The only death I was exposed to was of our pet rabbit “Stupsi”. Grandparents and all family members were alive during my childhood. This way, I was never exposed to any some sort of tragedy. I was fortunate to have been able to enjoy a very sheltered childhood.

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Children here in the third world country learn very fast that life is not always easy. Earthquakes, typhoons, flooding, and even volcanic eruptions are part of life here. Their parents teach them early to think positive. After such a disaster, children learn how to not concentrate on the negative aspects of life, but to stand up and build what needs to be rebuilt and continue doing what needs to be done. The most important thing is to survive. Everything else can be repaired. Life must go on.

A few months ago we had a death in the family here in the Philippines. It was a new experience for me to see how the children were all included in the communal grieving process. Children, of all age, were not left out of this in order to insulate them from this sad experience. They even looked at their grandma through the open coffin during the 2-week wake. They learn early that death is part of life; and rather than grieve endlessly about their loss, they instead celebrate the life and the happy memories of the deceased.

Teaching Positive Thinking: It’s Worth More Than Any Piano Lesson

The Filipino people are known for laughing and smiling a lot; for being generally happy. This outlook in life, I think, is the Filipinos’ strength—the ability to focus on the positive side of the situation; any situation. Imparting this to the children is worth more than any piano or ballet lessons, as this equips them the necessary outlook in life to deal with adversities and anything life throws at them.

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Please share your thoughts and experiences about child rearing in the comment section below.