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  • Try The Japanese Mimamoru Approach When Your Kids Are Always Fighting

    Mimamoru is a "hands-off" approach to solving fights among children in Japan.
    by Dahl D. Bennett .
Try The Japanese Mimamoru Approach When Your Kids Are Always Fighting
PHOTO BY Shutterstock/maroke
  • Moms and Dads, when your toddlers fight, what is your first reaction? If your answer is “try to stop the fight” with one or both children ending up saying sorry, it’s how most parents around the globe will handle it.

    In Japan, however, Early Childhood and Care (ECEC) schools, which 97% of Japanese children ages 3-6 attend, apply a discipline strategy called “mimamoru,” which literally means protect or guard.

    What is the mimamoru approach?

    A study titled “Why Don’t Japanese Early Childhood Educators Intervene in Children’s Physical Fights? Some Characteristics of the Mimamoru Approach,” says mimamoru is “understood as ‘teaching by watching’; that is, a so-called hands-off or non-intervention approach that indirectly fosters children’s cognitive and social development.”

    In mimamoru, adults intentionally avoid intervening when they see two children fighting or disagreeing.

    “The underlying assumption of this Japanese practice is that adults’ trust in children’s inherent goodness, more specifically, their ability to learn through everyday social interactions,” the studym which was published in the Early Childhood Education Journal, explains further.

    So, when should the adults come in?

    Mimamoru requires less intervention from the adults

    Should physical fights escalate, adults are always ready to intervene by moving closer to the children to observe and determine if any intervention is necessary and minimize risks.

    “In other words, educators allow children to solve disputes by themselves while adjusting their location and distance from them…This indirect intervention is considered a central feature of the mimamoru approach,” reads the study.

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    The study showed a short video clip from a 40-minute documentary film that followed children at Japanese preschool for over one year. The clip showed two Japanese children fighting because one child would not lend a butterfly net to the other during a field trip. The documentary further showed the fight escalated to one child (the one without the net) biting the other.

    Then a 5-year old girl, the leader in the group, tried to ease the tension between the two kids while their teacher kept observing the situation unfold from a distance.

    The only instance when the Japanese teacher directly intervened was when he tried to stop the one child from biting another. He did so by touching the arm of the one who was bitten without saying anything.

    The study describes the teacher's intervention: “[The teacher] determined that the risk biting could cause overweighed the benefit, and so he reduced the risk. A closer look at the video, however, revealed that Mr. Yoshida did not immediately intervene.

    “He waited, and observed for a few seconds after Takuya bit Ken’s arm to determine whether the risk of physical harm might be greater than any benefit of not intervening. Mr. Yoshida interpreted, in this scene, that the consequence of biting, or bite marks that might remain on Ken’s arm could pose a greater risk than the immediate pain Ken was experiencing.”

    Results of the mimamoru approach

    Based on the data analysis of the documentary, the mimamoru approach has three major characteristics.

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    Physical fights do not solve problems

    By minimizing intervention, adults create an opportunity for children to experience physical pain, frustration, and even guilt. They can be compelled to apologize and learn that physical fights do not solve any problems.

    Apologies are meant to be sincere

    Observers of the documentary clip argued that had the teacher intervened, the children will be forced to say an apology that they don’t mean.

    “Fighting is an opportunity for children to grow. If educators stepped in and judge their behaviors, right or wrong, certainly, that can label them as good or bad children. That will definitely affect their relationships negatively,” one observer puts.

    Conflicts happen when in a group

    The fact that the teacher kept his distance allowed the team leader, whose age is close to that of the two other children who were fighting, to take control of the situation and solve the problem among themselves.

    But apart from allowing the children to solve a conflict, it also allowed them to experience one and make them understand that when they live among a group, “things will not always work the way they want.”

    Adults and educators around the world can certainly learn a lesson or two from the mimamoru approach.

    Mom and Dad, would you consider the mimamoru approach at home? 

    Source: Nakatsubo, F., Ueda, H. & Kayama, M. Why Don’t Japanese Early Childhood Educators Intervene in Children’s Physical Fights? Some Characteristics of the Mimamoru Approach. Early Childhood Educ J (2021).

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