What You Need to Know About Raising Children in China

What You Need to Know About Raising Children in China
Sep 10, 2009 By Sarah Meik , eChinacities.com

Parenting is one of the most rewarding experiences one can ever have, but it can also be completely nerve wracking – especially in a foreign country with a history of deadly baby formulas and toy scandals. Here’s a guide on how to keep your baby safe and its parents sane.

Baby Food
I actually packed an entire suitcase of formula. I worried that bringing a baby to China was going to be the biggest risk of my existence, and hers. After arriving however, I learned that this developing country drives like a posh first world for many.

Photo: peasap

Here, parents spend more money feeding their child imported and domestic baby brand foods than they could ever hope to in the United States. You can buy Similac, Enfamil and other American and Australian formulas. They even come with the American and Aussie prices! A large can runs about 200 RMB – $30. At some grocery stores you even see tiny jars of baby food packaged with a smiling Asian baby. Overhead hangs a sign, "Try the new lifestyle!" (This banner also hangs over jars of olive oil.)

Past experience had taught me however, that finding baby formula and food would not be my biggest worry; I had expected the biggest problem to be finding diapers. Chinese children do not “go” in diapers. Instead, they “go” on the floor, wearing cute seat-less pants that show their unmentionables.

So I was relieved to discover that there is actually an abundance of diapers in China. You can find Pampers, Huggies and a few other Chinese brands at almost any supermarket. I recommend always buying Pampers, Huggies or Mamy Poko. I also recommend always buying the more expensive diapers, which sell for around 2 yuan per diaper. A pack of 50 usually costs around 100 RMB.

Make sure the diaper has a western design with tabs on the side that stick to the front. Some Chinese-designed diapers are more like huge maxi pads (without the wings). Parents just tie a string around the baby’s waist, and use that to keep the "maxi-diaper" in place around the babies bum. They work, but are just more complicated than most foreigners want to deal with.

Photo: TedsBlog

Unless you are in Shanghai or Beijing, you may have a hard time finding a diaper rash cream. However, you can find good old fashioned Johnson & Johnson baby powder almost anywhere, along with great diaper wipes.

Another major concern for parents is medicine, just in your case baby gets sick. At any Chinese pharmacy you can find many over-the-counter western brands for cold, flu and fever, like Motrin, Bufferin and Tylenol (which, by the way, the FDA just said shouldn’t really be given to children younger than 4).

If baby has diarrhea, you can also find a Chinese brand of something like Pedialyte. But you can’t buy Pedialyte. If there are symptoms of any sickness that last longer than 24 hours, especially diarrhea, it is best to go see a doctor. Yes, there are doctors in China.

Aside from the diapers, wipes and regular medicine there really is one luxury I haven’t found here that I wish I could, and that is Baby Orajel. If your child is teething, and you believe in Orajel, be sure to pack it from home. I have not seen Orajel in China, nor a substitute for it. There are many teething rings.

Children Older Than Two
Once your child reaches two years of age, raising the little guy in China isn’t much different from doing it at home: they eat and wear the same things as you, except in smaller versions. So the things that are different for you will also be different for your child. One big difficulty however, can be trying to choose toys and other products that are safe.

Photo: crimfants

While considering this, remember that even many Chinese consumers are wary of buying products from their own country, so you can be sure the market has demanded foreign brands. You can find Barbie Dolls, Lego’s, Crayola and all the run of the mill childhood products you buy in America. There are some really great Chinese products, too. Don’t think that because there have been some scandals with low-cost toy manufacturers, that all toy and baby formula companies in China are bad.

Child Care
Lots of expats families find their way into China, and lots of times, both parents work. This means that a reliable nanny or preschool must be chosen.

If parents choose to go with the preschool, there are a myriad of schools to choose from. First, there are the international schools, which are usually very good, and in English. If you cannot afford an international school, you can find Montessori, Waldorf or even talent schools that specialize in one special ability. But as an expat parent, your major concern may be just finding a school where your child can find someone to communicate with, let alone play piano.

For this reason, you may have to try out a few kindergartens before you find your best fit. Keep in mind, the price of the tuition at a kindergarten is not always indicative of the quality. The best way to find a kindergarten is to ask parents, and just shop around. Look for teachers who can speak English, and a facility that is kid-proof with no sharp corners or toys.

Otherwise, the same recommendations for preschools in the west apply to preschools here. Make sure the class is a good size, make sure there is plenty of play scheduled throughout the day and make sure there is a safe environment.

If you want to go for a nanny, again, the best place to start is by asking around. Find someone that can be recommended by someone you trust. If you don’t know anyone in the city, start with an agency in your area. You can give the agency a list of requirements that you have for a nanny, and they do the finding. Unless you speak Chinese it’s always good to know someone you can call to translate, just in case there is a miscommunication between you and your nanny.

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