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Harmony Forum

Peace from Harmony
Family and harmonious peace
Miki Kakinuma, Japan
Kayoko Uemura, Japan
Jing, J., China
Jin, Y., China
Mayuzumi, M., Japan

Mother's moral messages to her children
through story-telling sessions

-Chinese values judge right and wrong,
Japanese morals emphasize harmony -

Parents play important roles in preparing children to be functioning members of their society. Both language teaching and cognitive socialization are tools that children must acquire. The transmission of these skills begins at a very early age, via parent-child interaction.
One of the favorite pathways such interaction is via story telling. Although the telling of the story is a language-dependent activity, the ways it is told and shared with the child are social activities. Of all the information available, selecting what to emphasize or what to add is based o­n the individual's experiences (Azuma, 2000). We use this framework to interact with others, interpret situations, or to recognize the environment. These cognitive frameworks are based o­n the person's experiences. The differences are the bases of cultural differences in social values, and are transmitted to the child through the interactive experience.
Story-telling sessions have been used as a research method in capturing social teaching and learning (Kakinuma & Uemura, 2004; Wakabayashi, Fernald & Kakinuma 2001). Previous studies indicate that that American, Japanese, and Chinese mothers interact differently with their children (Kakinuma et al in press). In general, while mothers took the storytelling activity as an opportunity to interact with their children, they exhibited different styles in presenting the story. For example, American mothers took a definite lead in telling the stories, while Japanese mothers often gave complementary choices of plots to their children. Chinese mothers allowed the child to lead the session (Figure 1).
In this study, the authors aim to provide an insight into the understanding of cultural differences in moral socialization by focusing what the mother is emphasizing in the early stages of the child's development.
Figure 1:  Who mentioned 'the boy is crying' first
Participants: Twenty middle-class Chinese mothers and 20 Japanese middle-class mothers with children ages  3:0 to 5:11 participated in this study.  Chinese participants resided in Guangzhou, China and were recruited through the Medical school at San-Yet-Sen University.   Japanese participants resided in Tokyo, Japan, and were recruited through personal connections.  .   Guangzhou is the fifth largest city in China with population of  10,000,000.  Tokyo is the largest city in Japan with the population of  12,000,000.   In both cities, there are constant flow of people from rural and other urban areas of  the country.  Participants in both cultures were drawn from these cities.  Thus, we believe our samples are comparable in terms of their environment.
The stimuli consisted of two pictures based o­n illustrations from children's books (see figure 2 and 3).  Both pictures were ambiguous, yet encouraged causal and consequential reasoning.  Each picture suggested a presence of conflict or tension.
The first picture depicted a scene of a child crying and another child facing the crying child.  Close to the children were something long that looked liked a broken stick.  The second picture depicted a child o­n a ladder trying to reach for something in the cupboard.  o­ne of the bowls is shown as falling off the shelf.  Facing backward in the kitchen is a woman wearing an apron.
Japanese mothers were visited at home, or in a familiar place such as a friend's house. and were asked to talk to their children about each of these pictures.  The pictures were handed to the mothers in random orders.  Chinese mothers visited the kindergarten affiliated to the university. o­ne of the authors explained the purpose of the study and with the mother's consent, the session was video and audio taped.  The stories were trasnscribed and then translated into Japansese by a bilingual Chinese living in Japan. Both Japanese and Chinese texts are used as a reference in the analysis.

       Figure 2: CRYING CHILD                      Figure 3:  LADDER

Analysis: Two out of the four pictures are coded for 1) the interpretation of the intention of the characters in the picture, 2) judgments of the behavior of the characters in the pictures, and 3) what should be done to resolve the conflict. (Table 1) The percentage of mother-child pairs mentioning these items is checked.
For the CRYING CHILD, talking about the child's inner state such as 'sad,' 'lonely,' or 'angry'; making judgment such as 'making a friend cry is bad'; what can be done to help the crying child, such as 'getting another stick to play with' or 'tell him not to cry' are counted.
For LADDER, if a good intention of the child, such as 'trying to help mom' is mentioned, or a bad intention, such as 'sneaking a snack while mom is not looking,' and whether talking about both good and bad intentions are checked.
Table 1:  contents of the analysis
internal state of the crying boy
judgment of the situation (good or bad)
what should be done to stop crying good intention (such as helping mom)
bad intention (sneaking food)
presenting multiple interpretation or not
Describing emotion:
In CRYING CHILD, Japanese talked about the emotion of the crying child more than the Chinese did (?2 (1)=3.33, p<.10) (Figure 3). Japanese used a variety of terms when describing the inner state of the child (Table 2). Both Chinese and Japanese judged the situation and mentioned what to do to cope with the situation.
In LADDER, more Chinese mentioned climbing the ladder is dangerous(?2 (1)=4.51, p<.05that child might fall, hurt himself, bleed or even die, while Japanese did not mention such explicit terms to describe the possible consequences of climbing.
                 Figure 3:  Comments o­n CRYING CHILD

Japanese tended to pointed good intention of the child while most Chinese did not (?2 (1)= 2.77, p<.10). While Chinese tended to indicate a single interpretation of the intention of the child, some Japanese mentioned more than o­ne interpretation (Figure 4).
feel guilty
Table 2:  Terms describing inner feelings of the characters in CRYING CHILD
 Figure 4:  Interpretation of the child's intention in LADDER
Upon making comments o­n 'good intention' of the child o­n the ladder, mothers tended to emphasize that the child is trying hard or being very good, but the bowl fell. So even though the end result was a negative o­ne, by focusing o­n the good intention of the child, the story does not end o­n a negative tone. (Table 3)
Table 3:  LADDER story by Japanese
Mother: mom may be saying to get the plates, please
Mother: but he may be sneaking to eat sweets
Mother: mom says that sunny side up is ready and get the plate for me.?
Mother: then this child found sweets, and since mom's not watching, he thought he would eat the sweet.
Mother: then he dropped the plate and when it breaks, crash
Child:  Hey!
Mother:  Yeah, but it's not broken.  Let's hurry up and get it, and put it back.
Mother: what is he doing?
Child:  Reaching out for food
Mother: Reaching out for food? But it fell.  He tried very hard to get it and it fell to the ground
Child:  Crash
Mother: do you think he tried to help mom and get the bowl, but it fell?
Mother: It fell.  What would you do?
Child:  Me?
Mother:  yes, what would you do?
Child: what would I do if all of them fell?
Mother: What would you do if all of them fell?
Child:  I would fix all of them for mom
Mother:  You fill fix them?
Chinese mothers are more focused o­n making sure that child understand what not to do. Eating food while mother is not looking is bad, or climbing the ladder is dangerous.  Child also respond to the mother that he gets the message.
Table 4: LADDER story by Chinese
Mother:  What is he doing climbing the ladder?
Child:  eating something
Mother:  Eating?  He is getting food by himself and is eating, isn't he?
Child: yeah
Mother:  The bowl fell and broke.  Is he allowed to climb the ladder?
Child:  It's not good.
Mother:  He should be right next to mom when she is cooking.
Mother:  He climbed o­n his own and dropped the bowl.  He is not a good boy, is he?
The result shows that there are cultural differences in the way of constructing the story, or what kind of information the mothers focuses o­n. Children acquire these storytelling styles from such interactions, thus obtaining social cognitive frameworks.
First of all, Chinese mothers are more direct in teaching lessons to children, as can be seen in use of warning in LADDER.  They ask questions to make sure that children understand what is been taught.  o­n the other hand, Japanese mothers present several interpretations of the situation, and often avoid making definite statements of what's going o­n.
Secondly, there are differences in what kind of information they pay attention to.  For example, Japanese mothers spend more time in discussing intentions of the characters in the picture, such as 'the child was trying to help the mother in setting the table, but an accident happened' or 'he wanted to reach out for the food." Chinese mothers tend to focus o­n the judgment of the behavior shown in the picture, such as 'trying to eat food while the mother is not looking, is bad.' The focus of interest for Japanese mothers lay in the good intentions of a person even in conflicting situations, by presenting several interpretations. For Chinese mothers, it is an opportunity to show logical ways of judging the situation and making the difference between good and bad clear to the child.
Both Japanese and Chinese mothers tell their children what should be done in similar situations in real life. However, the types of advice or guidance that mothers offer differ. Japanese mothers focus o­n what to do afterwards, such as 'apologizing for dropping the bowl,' and Chinese mothers focus o­n how to avoid encountering situations such as: 'if he wants to reach out for some food, he should ask his mom for help.'
Children as young as three receive socio-cultural lessons o­n a daily basis from their mother through such interactions as storytelling. Children acquire basic moral concepts and learn how to deal with interpersonal conflict by participating in such interactions with the parent.
So far, we have collected data o­n this task in Inner Mongolia (China), San Francisco, Okinawa (southern Japan) and Yamagata (northern Japan). We have found both cultural and regional differences in their styles of telling stories at an early stage of development. We feel that these differences are a reflection of the society the mother is a member of, and are conveyed to the next generation. Cognitive socialization starts at a very early stage in the child's development, and mothers play a very important role.
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Ada Aharoni 
I and girls, dressed as angels, at our Purim Party
How happy I am with grandson!

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