Learning to Let Children Handle Things on Their Own

Updated on February 4, 2020
Paul Ledford profile image

Paul is from Alabama but has spent his adult life in Hawaii and Japan. He teaches, translates, and writes about life.

My daughter showing off her black and purple backpack.
My daughter showing off her black and purple backpack.

Walking to School in Japan

When I first moved to Japan, I was shocked at how young some of the children walking to school on their own were. And not only that, but these little warriors lug heavy, old-fashioned (but stylish) leather backpacks called a randoseru. It's a tradition for grandparents to buy these $500 to $600 backpacks for the grandkids, usually black for boys and red for girls, and the children use them for all 6 years of elementary school.

Randoseru and Other Backpacks

In recent years, colors are becoming more varied, and with the influx of foreign residents, it's not uncommon to see children with hand-me-downs or even other types of backpacks. My wife even called our daughter's school to make sure it was okay to carry something other than the traditional bulky randoseru. They said it's fine as long as both hands are free when walking with it and as long as it doesn't hang to the ground when she hangs it up in the classroom. So, my daughter alternates carrying her randoseru and her pink Patagonia backpack.

Children walking to school together (wearing randoseru).
Children walking to school together (wearing randoseru).

Toukouhan: Neighborhood Groups

I had this image of small children all walking to school on their own in Japan. I wondered what kind of parents would let their 6-year-old child walk to school alone. But the reality is that they are actually in well-organized neighborhood groups called toukouhan, or groups that walk to school together.

Children that live in the same neighborhood and attend the same elementary school are able to be a part of a group that walks together. There are usually a couple of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders that look after the younger 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders. The group is usually around 4 to 8 children nowadays, and the younger children walk in the middle with an older child being in the front and back.

Along the route to school, they end up following and being followed by other neighborhood groups. It ends up looking like a group of 50 kids by the time they get to near their school. So, it's nearly impossible to be left alone.

Group Dynamics

But in these groups, children have their own little worlds: children that don't get along with one another, 5th and 6th graders that don't want to have to babysit 1st graders that they barely know, everyone in the group having to wait for the slowpoke. This system is just one of the many Japanese social components that reinforces the "togetherness" and "holding in your true feelings for the benefit of the group."

The child that lives farthest swings by the next child's house, and then those 2 children stop by the next child's house, and so on. It's sort of a "coming of age" when your child becomes a 1st grader and starts walking to elementary school with the neighborhood group.

A toukouhan on the way to school.
A toukouhan on the way to school.

My Daughter's First Experiences With the Group

My daughter is wrapping up her first year of elementary school, but it was nearly a year ago when she first met up with these strangers: a 6th grade girl, a 6th grade boy, two 2nd grade girls, and my fresh 1st grade daughter. Lacking hardly any shyness like her mother and father, my daughter was excited to meet new people.

Parental Concerns

My wife was concerned more about the harsh reality of children's relationships, particularly with young girls. Bullying, telling secrets, and being left out are just of few of the many things that can seem harmless to some adults but can be traumatic and life-changing to many impressionable children.

I was more concerned with my young daughter walking with older boys who might do "who knows what" while walking along roads with empty houses and apartments. And the very real reality of one of the thousands of people rushing to work in the morning crashing their car into unknowing kids walking on the sidewalks of sometimes very narrow roads.

Raising an Independent Daughter

By any means, we had our list of concerns. But we also were (and still are) very adamant about raising an independent daughter who can take care of herself. So, we had no choice but to trust our daughter to be able to deal with things using her 6 whole years of life experience, and we needed to trust our instincts. Fortunately, our daughter has a small group of decent children in her group, but she did have 2 small problems in the first few months that she dealt with on her own.

1. Being the Last to Join the Group

My daughter's group that walks to school together was made up of a 6th grade boy (who decided to start going by himself because he didn't like being the only boy), a 6th grade girl, and two 2nd grade girls. My daughter was the last to join the group since we're the last house. But as the 3 girls would come walking toward our house, my daughter felt sort of like a third wheel, or a little left out, since the other girls were already chatting.

Step 1: I Waited With Her

Feeling insecure, my daughter would ask me to come wait with her. The first few days, I'd wait outside with her. She would tend to wait behind me or beside me until I said "Good morning" to the other girls first. My daughter was waiting for me to "break the ice" for her.

Step 2: I Let Her Handle It Herself

I decided to stop waiting with her and let her figure it out. Children are very resilient and set their standards based on their own experiences. As adults, we try to teach our children and judge them based on our own experiences and standards.

Less than a month after I stopped waiting with her, my daughter would tell me to go back inside, or not be there when her friends came. Although a part of me felt sad for her not wanting me to be out there with her, I couldn't have been more proud of her.

2. Being Stared At

About two months after she started walking with the other neighborhood girls, my daughter had this "thing" with one of the 2nd grade girls. The girl is nice enough and quite calm (at least in front of adults). But my daughter started having an awkward feeling when the girl came around, and I began to see a side of my daughter that I had never seen.

It began with my daughter just saying she didn't want to go to school. I asked her why and she said that she just didn't want to go. I knew she liked school, so I pried a little more and found out that she didn't like one of the 2nd grade girls in her walking group, whom I'll refer to as "M."

Step 1: I Gave Her an "Out" But Didn't Make It Too Appealing

It was a delicate situation for my young daughter, and I had to tread lightly, but not too lightly. I didn't want to give my daughter an easy out, but I also didn't want to force her into an uncomfortable situation. This was the perfect situation to be a great experience for her to learn how to deal with her own problems. I told her she could stay home if she wanted (NOT REALLY), but she wouldn't be allowed to play games, play with toys, or watch TV. This gave her an "out" of her problem, but it definitely wouldn't be a fun day at home.

Step 2: We Talked About the Problem and Considered M's Perspective

So, I asked her what exactly she didn't like about walking to school. She said that "M" was always staring at her backpack. I told her that "M" always walks behind her, so where is she supposed to look? "She probably thinks your backpack is cute," I replied. I continued to explain to my daughter that when she sees someone with a cute dress or bag, she looks at it, right? She said "yes," so I told her that "M" is doing the same thing.

My daughter continued to say that she thought it was weird how "M" just stared and didn't say a word. So, I asked her how she'd feel if "M" stared and said mean things. She said should wouldn't like it at all. I ultimately just told her not to worry about what are people are doing or saying.

She wasn't 100% convinced, but walking 20 minutes to school with someone staring at your backpack is better than a 10-hour day at home without toys, games, and TV. Within a couple of days, they were back to chatting with each other as they walked to school.

Solving all of your child's problems for her may not be helpful in the long run.
Solving all of your child's problems for her may not be helpful in the long run.

The Takeaway: It's Important to Step Back

As a result of just communicating with my daughter and stepping out of the picture, she was able to handle two personal problems on her own. I can't help to think that if I had just let her stay home and play when she didn't want to walk with "M," then it could have led to a vicious cycle of not wanting to go to school, falling behind in studies, and eventually affect her teenage years and possibly her adult life.

Or if I had talked to the other child and tried to solve problems for my daughter, it might set her on course to always be looking for someone to defend her, help her, or solve her problems for her. Children are much stronger than we think, so let them hone their problem-solving skills during their crucial developmental years. One of the hardest things for the parent of a young child is to know when to step away and let your child figure things out.

"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings. "

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
From "Dynamics of the Parent-Child Relationship"
From "Dynamics of the Parent-Child Relationship"

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Bushra Iqbal profile image

        Aishatu Ali 

        3 months ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

        Good article - I learnt about Japan and parenting at the same time!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wehavekids.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)