Left Behind Children: keep deepening on the problems of childhood in Western China

On this occasion, we keep deepening on the problems of childhood in Western China, especially in LBC (Left Behind Children) cases. Once again with Dr. Dai Quian.

If you are interested, you can take a close look at our first interview with her: https://creciendoconeco.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/working-with-left-behind-children-in-western-china-interview-with-dr-dai-quian/


Dr. Dai Quian

Dr. Dai Quian is graduated from Edinburg University, Dr. Quian is a Children and Development Psychologist and a lecturer at Sichuan University. Apart from having published numerous papers on research done with left-behind children, she is also co-founder of Tianqing Mental Health Services, where she provides mental health counseling to people in need.

The reason for her research on LBC comes from the economic boom in China, which has led a massive number of children who have been left behind by their peasant parents who have immigrated to urban areas in search of work. In one of their studies, they explored how being left behind is associated with children’s positive emotions and negative psychological traits by examining the differences in levels of happiness, self-esteem, and anxiety.

In the current interview, we will talk about the previous paper. You can check the original paper for the next reference:

Dai, Q., & Chu, R.-X. Anxiety, happiness and self-esteem of western Chinese left-behind children. Child Abuse & Neglect (2016), or http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2016.08.002 for  Science Direct’s members.


How should attention be paid to LBC by their main caregivers? What are the needs detected among them?How should be the attention paid to LBC by their teachers? What are needs detected among them?

I think the main caregivers should pay attention to LBC children’s health, physically and emotionally.

I noticed that most of LBC children participated in our survey study lived with their grandparents (about 85%). Most of the grandparents have the understanding of the safety of children and healthy diet. But grandparents told me that they have no control to LBC children’s behaviors, such as complete homework on time, and help them to establish a good routine. Most grandparents have communication difficulties to LBC children’s teachers, and teachers normally contact LBC children’s parents directly to notify the performance of children at school. In addition, I suggest that grandparents should pay attention to LBC children’s emotional needs, such as encourage them to communicate with parents, and play with children etc..

I think LBC teachers should strength their communication with LBC’s main caregivers and let them know children’s behaviors at school, so they are not only in contact with LBC parents who were far away. This two-way of communication will benefit the school-home cooperation to improve the mental health of LBC children. In addition, I found LBC teachers were lack of training on the detection of children’s social and emotional health. Most of LBC teachers were worked with LBC through their instinct. Systematic training programs help them to identify children’s social and emotional health.


What are the main manifestations of LBC in early childhood (from 0 years to 6 years), second childhood (from 6 years to 12 years) and adolescence? Are there gender differences? 

The research showed that the earlier the children separate with their parents, the more anxiety they will receive.

In the University I am teaching, I worked with an adolescent (age 18) who have left behind experience in her childhood. She told me she found she has no security when she gets along with people. She showed resistant to have friends even if she wants one, and in the meantime, she gets very anxious and afraid of losing when she gets close to someone. It is hard for her to establish friendship and even intimacy relationship with anyone. When she tracked back to her childhood memories, she said her parents always leave her and her brother for work and only come back on Chinese Spring Festival Holiday for a few days. The early childhood experience of insecurity attachments leads her to a very negative impact on her relationships. In terms of gender differences, there were no significant differences of gender in children’s self-esteem. However, from teachers’ observation, boys showed more aggressive behaviors to peers than girls.

Are there differences in the LBC population when the symbolic presence of the parents is maintained, despite their absence? How do the duration of separation period and characteristics of caregivers influence them?

The research has suggested that if main caregivers frequently mention children about their parents and explained them explicitly where do parents go, why do parents leave them, and encourage children to do more positive thinking of parents, will help children to get through separation period with less negative emotions. As the internet technologies were developed, LBC children could communicate with parents through but not within a phone call, WeChat video call, etc.. So they will see their parents alive through a video call. This type of communication might make children-parents relationship gets closer.


What kind of emotional bond does LBC establish with the school? Are there differences in the way the LBC interact with no LBC mates, and vice versa?

In my previous study, I conducted some interviews with four schools, three of those schools constituted by a majority of LBC children, and a minority of not LBC children. The other one was a county school which most of the students were not LBC children and the rest of them were LBC children.

Compared those two types of schools, we found LBC children lived in the school which majority of students were LBC children; they felt happier than children which most of the students not LBC. I think there might be two reasons to explain that. Firstly, LBC children found the similarities with most of other children in the schools, and they do not experience the hurt through peer comparison. Secondly, LBC schools relatively pay more attention to children’s emotional needs and they have more resources to help LBC children.

What could you tell us about the factors that increase resilience and coping in these children?

I am a positive psychologist. Positive psychology is the study of the human strengths and virtues that make people feel good about lives. Based on its tenets, positive psychology has been utilized to the workings of positive experiences and positive personality traits that enable people to find lives of happiness, fulfillment, and meaning and in turn to reach their full potential (Seligman, 2011). Decades of research in the discipline has shown the value in studying people’s positive psychological character that shapes healthy well-being and has demonstrated the effects of positive traits as buffers helping people, for example, ¿cope with stress? in life (Masten&Coatsworth, 1998), and fix psychological disorders (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

Although separation with parents from an early age might influence negatively on children’s mental and physical health, I believe every child was born with positive traits, such as positive emotions, engagement, good relationships, achievement and meaning of life. It will help them to explore factors and develop methods to find paths to thriving and flourishing.

What kind of support does the state provide? Is there any training for caregivers? In cases of LBC in which there is no caregiver present, who is in charge? What kind of rights do they have as citizens? 

As far as we know, China has 6100million LBC children. The government has paid attention to LBC children issue and there were systematic polities on solving problems.

1)    To implement the functions of the county, township people’s governments and the villages people’s committees. Their main responsibility was on supervise the schools, and government staff was required to meet LBC family one by one in order to obtain all the information of families. The government has established intervention mechanisms of the crisis referring to LBC children.

2)    Education department gave LBC schools assistance in providing mental health education, and financial assistance to encourage all LBC children complete 9-year compulsory education.

3)    There were many social caring services within and without the government were actively involved in LBC children schools, such as the organization regularly activities with children.

4)    State Government provides more support for rural migrant families.

5)     State Government encourage rural migrant workers to return to their hometowns to create jobs.

Do LBC develop feelings of belonging related with the school and its peers? What could you tell us about this feeling in relation to the family and the importance of the figures of the grandparents and relatives? 

From I observed, I think LBC children have a strong tie to their schools and their peers. Schools provide a space for them to play, to study and to make friends. With the support of government, they have a very good school conditions and environment. I think peer relationship was very important to children in their school’s age. Everyone can be the other person’s role model to influence their behaviors and beliefs.


I think the relationship between grandparents and LBC children was also close but not so intimate as peers. From my interviews, children reported that they have communication barriers with grandparents. I think it might be attributed to the generation gap and limited education level of grandparents.

What kind of activities does the community offer to LBC? What can you tell us about programs such as “surrogate parent” and “sunshine mailbox” and what types of results can be observed?

In the four schools which participated in the work, there are dance teachers who go to schools to teach children to dance every week. There are some university students going to LBC schools to teach them English and bring the worldwide news to them.

Tianqing mental health services provide “sunshine mailbox” to LBC children. We also provide group counseling to 9 children who showed mental and behavior problems at school. For “sunshine mailbox” project, it has lasted for one year. It brings a communication opportunity between LBC children and people living in the city. I have exchanged letters with LBC children for a few times, and I think this activity has benefit to both parties. For left behind children, they can communicate with other people, they understand a bigger world. For myself, I feel very excited to see their letters. Some changes have been observed from group counseling with 9 children. In each week, we designed a theme, such as “know me “, children were increased their ability to understanding other people’s feeling.

And also there are other agencies doing some projects such as “surrogate parent”, but I do not know very much about it.

And now, a Little experiment to reflect on:

SoulPancake is American actor Rainn Wilson’s media and production company. The tagline of the brand is: “We make stuff that matters.”

The video below is one of their creations in their youtube channel named SoulPancake:

Being thankful, returning kindness to those who love you and care for you is an important human value. The hypothesis introduced in this video is that the expression of gratitude to influential people in your life increases your level of happiness. An experiment is carried out in the video to show us that this hypothesis is true.

A sample of five people that pass a test in which their level of happiness is measured. After that they are asked about the one person they think has been more influential in their lives and they are asked to write a letter to that person expressing the reasons for their gratitude to them. Afterwards is the person to whom they have written the letter is alive they are asked to phone him or her and read it. Their level of happiness is then measured again and in all of them, it increased.

The expression of gratitude increases happiness more according to the characteristics and the mood in which person who has to express it is. The increase of happiness is higher in the cases in which the person who expressed gratitude was undergoing a hard time and had to face an important resistance to express this feeling to the chosen person.

From my point of view, gratitude can only be felt when you feel real appreciation and love for a person. If you are able to express the love given genuinely in the form of gratitude the joy you experience is certainly the happiest experience you can have in life.

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Interviewers: Trinidad Hernández and Carmela Salillas.



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