Feeding your child in China

No more Timmy’s for Ayla!

As we settle into a bit more of a routine here in China, as we start to get used to the change, as we start to get on with things, we also start to notice some verrry interesting differences in child rearing.  Our choice for feeding Ayla was “baby lead solids”, or should I say, it was Ayla’s choice.  As with most North American parents, we had a whole lot of people and “experts” telling what we should feed her, how to do it, what to introduce first, and what to avoid (read Introducing solid baby food).  We tried to do what they said.  Ayla had different ideas.  No purees, no spoons, just put in front of her, and she takes care of the rest.

Recently we went to a wedding.  Weddings are BIG deals here.  The music before the ceremony starts like the beginning of an epic film, there are the special professional photographs blown up to life sized proportions, spanning the room.  It is a very interesting experience, and when it is over, it is OVER.  You watch, you eat, you have a cigarette or a shot of Baijiu with the groom (he drinks water), or you have a chocolate opened for you by the bribe.  That’s it.  It is a grand affair, and when when you are done eating, you leave.  There are still drunk Uncles, and they usually sit at your table… but I digress.

So we are at this wedding, and as we eat we feed Ayla.  We cut some food (the food here is so good) and put it on a tray in front of her.  She goes at it.  She is very popular here, and attracts a lot of attention where ever we go.  Constantly.  So when she started feeding herself, we received even more attention.  I wasn’t entirely sure why, and one of the Chinese at our table said she was very independent to be able to feed herself.

At the table next to us, there was a boy about 8 or 9 years old.  He was also eating, but being fed by a grandmother on each side, via chopstick, while he played on his PsP.  He was being fed!  I couldn’t imagine a nine year old not feeding himself.  It was very alien to me.

In China, babies seldom leave the home, and are usually being cared for by a grandmother as well as the mother.  They are very well cared for, but many of the younger Chinese today now feel they are being to sheltered, not given enough responsibility for themselves, and end up too dependent on their care givers.  So as strange as it was for me to see a boy being fed, it was just as strange to them to see a baby feeding herself!  I asked one mother, she was happy to give her thoughts.  She let us know that their children are very sheltered, and do very little, until they are older.  Feeding themselves is almost unheard of, maily because it is dirty.  They get food on their clothes!  They get bits on their face!  They get messy, and it can lose face in front of others.

While living in China, I will be doing a series of articles called Asian Adventures.  I will be comparing and reviewing both methods of parenting, adding my own opinions, but I want to be clear when I say that NEITHER METHOD IS WRONG.  Everyone is entitled to raise their kids their own ways, and these are only my thoughts.

Chinese VS Western feeding

The underlying issue is not necessarily that one is better than the other, that one is wrong, and one is right.  Both accomplish the goal of feeding the child, and in my book, means success.  Chinese parenting in general may shelter the child, and as they grow, may use negative reinforcement to achieve the desired lesson.  Where my mother always told me I was doing great, and when I failed, she said “at least you tried”, a Chinese parent will not accept failure.

These are two very opposite philosophies.  The Westerners may feel Chinese parenting qualifies as child abuse.  The Chinese may feel that Western parenting is lazy, and allows the child to grow up to be rude, lazy, and that Western parent seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly.  Perhaps that is another reason they don’t allow them to eat on their own at a young age, not eating cleanly may be looked at as a failure, as the child got messy, and did not get all the food in her mouth.  I will cover this in more detail in later posts, as there are many benefits to both styles of parenting.

In this case, however, I personally feel that the Western method is more beneficial to the child.  The reason I say this is not just that it allows the child to learn to feed themselves and gain independence, but it also adds many other little pieces that help promote overall mental stimulation.

  • She develops fine motor skills more quickly, having to pick up small bits and bring them up to her mouth.
  • She develops a knowledge of how much can actually be shoved in her mouth with out choking!
  • She is allowed to see feeding, and recognize food, as fun.  Food is a good thing, enjoy it!
  • She can develop more critical thinking skills on a base level, picking the food off the tray she likes the most.
  • She learns and will start to connect texture, taste, and color, with food she likes and dislikes.

I am excited to learn more about the Chinese style of parenting, and perhaps I will incorporate some of their practices into my own.  But as a foodie, I say get dirty Ayla, love your food, play with your food, and most importantly… eat your food the way you want.  Explore it, and learn to love it like Daddy does.

What are your thoughts?  Please tell us in the comments!