Xiao Ming* (10 years old) was brought to Guangzhou by his mom from Sichuan Province (1.5 days bus trip) this summer to participate in the Factory Child Friendly Spaces program (FCFS) at the garment factory where she works. Throughout the year, Xiao Ming lives with his grandparents in Sichuan while his parents pursue their careers in other cities. Although he’s only 10 years old, Xiao Ming’s has already learned to cook for his grandma and takes care of her throughout the day. An accident a few years ago permanently damaged his grandma’s feet leaving her unable to walk. His grandpa spends the days working in the fields. Xiao Ming’s parents only come home once a year.

Although he misses his grandparents a lot, Xiao Ming has been joining his mom, who works as a line manager in the factory, for summer vacations for the past two years. Last year he participated in an annual summer camp organized by the factory and a Hong Kong Foundation; this year he participated in both FCFS (within the factory premise) and the summer camp (organized a few days after the closing of FCFS). Among a crowd of 20 other kids, you’d be forgiven for not spotting Xiao Ming at first: he is skinny, tanned and shorter than the average 10-year-old. However, during the first week at FCFS, Xiao Ming’s behavior stood out, so much so that the factory assigned a teacher to specifically take care of Xiao Ming.

Xiao Ming’s behavior stood out

The first incident that caught everyone’s attention was a fight Xiao Ming got into with another ten-year-old boy on the second day at FCFS. Both of the boys got hurt during the fight and the other boy cried inconsolably as a result. When the teacher came to resolve the issue, the crying boy attracted most of the teacher’s attention, so Xiao Ming was forced to stand next to the wall for 30 minutes, while his crying playmate could sit and wait for the teacher to figure out what had happened.

Straightforward as he always is, Xiao Ming simply told the teacher that the other boy started the fight, and that he simply returned the “favor” (“还给他们”) and didn’t consider himself at fault. Luckily the FCFS was equipped with CCTV and the teacher was able to review what really happened and soon found out that Xiao Ming didn’t lie; both of the boys should be responsible and punished for the fight. The teacher then apologized to Xiao Ming for misjudging the situation and briefed Xiao Ming’s mother right after.

When Xiao Ming’s mother picked him up that day, she was so angry that she cried and beat him in front of the teachers when she heard about the fight.

“I think my kid thinks too much and his thoughts are too mature. He’s not like other kids; I rarely see him smile. Maybe it’s because our family situation isn’t good, and he lacks confidence. But he just thinks too much. He even asked me how much I earn every month, how I spend the money and how much money I should save each month,” Xiao Ming’s mother said during an interview.

The teachers then had a long talk with his mum to understand the family background, and persuaded her to refrain from using violence against him in the future. Little by little, the teacher who was specifically assigned to look after Xiao Ming began to understand him during their daily chit chat.

They learned:

  1. Xiao Ming’s father is very strict towards him, and often beats him with a stick when he misbehaves. Fortunately for Xiao Ming, his father started working in another city in 2016 so he is no longer around to beat him.
  2. Xiao Ming’s mother has been working at the garment factory in Guangzhou for six year as a line manager. Her parenting style is sometimes impulsive and involves violence in extreme cases.  
  3. The majority of children in Xiao Ming’s school have parents who migrated without them for work. Nevertheless, Xiao Ming often got bullied by other students and he would often retaliate physically as “payback”. At FCFS, when other children accidently touched him, Xiao Ming interpreted it as a provocation and also used his fists to retaliate. During CCR CSR’s first visit to FCFS (three days after it opened), Xiao Ming told us that he felt discriminated against by other kids, as sometimes they were not willing to play with him.

How setting rules and attentiveness gradually changed everything

“I think he doesn’t have many friends, he is very stubborn and unsociable, he never admitted to his mistakes when his father beat him. I really worry that my son always plays by himself. I worry he is too lonely and that he’ll become anti-social,” his mother said.

After the teachers understood Xiao Ming’s family situation and considered the behavior of other children, they decided to create a “Rules of Conduct” set written in a catchy rhyme, based on training methodology delivered by CCR CSR. The teachers posted the rules on the wall of FCFS and asked each child and their parents to sign it. They also asked all children to chant the rules every day to reinforce the fact that if they follow the rule, they will be awarded with a little star and any rule breaker will be punished by copying Chinese idiom stories.

A teacher at FCFS explaining the Rules of Conduct to the children

At the beginning, Xiao Ming was punished a couple of times for misbehaving (kicking the walls, running around outside the FCFS, not following the teacher’s lead), but the situation gradually changed over the weeks. Xiao Ming noticed that other kids also got punished when they misbehaved and his mother’s attitude towards him was beginning to change: she clearly took note of the teachers’ advise and now attempted to first understand the situation and then use non-violent means to discipline him.

“I really think FCFS did a good job. The teachers here are very patient and know what’s going on in the mind of each child. I’m not good at articulating myself, but I really appreciate the teachers’ help. They taught me how to educate my child and told me not to be too impulsive when he gets into trouble. The teachers encouraged me to communicate with my child and they gave me daily feedback when I picked him up, so I know about his behavior and the improvements he’s made. I think a major influence of FCFS on my child is that he now understands right from wrong and has started to get along with other children. I’m really grateful to the teachers,” Xiao Ming’s mother said.

The teacher observed that his mother would sometimes come to FCFS in the morning with a smile on her face, a departure from her negative attitude during the first week of FCFS when she frequently arrived arguing with Xiao Ming.

Improvements in Xiao Ming’s behavior

“Since coming here, his behavior has improved a lot. If I reason with him, he will listen and change. He also helps me with household chores when I ask him. At the beginning, he didn’t like coming here, but during the last week of FCFS he said he liked coming here everyday and hanging out with his friends here. I think at the beginning, he didn’t know how to get on with other children. Now I think he enjoys a good relationship with them. If he had stayed in our hometown, he would have spent the whole summer by himself, taking care of his grandma at home while his grandpa worked in the field,” his mother said.  

In our interview with Xiao Ming, he reiterates the isolation he would have been subject to if he had spent the whole summer back at his hometown: “If I didn’t come here, I would have just stayed at home, watching TV, taking care my grandma or going to play with my (16-year-old) cousin. I don’t call my dad; he is too strict. He would beat me with a stick whenever I did something wrong, so I never talk to him about my life.”

Back at the FCFS, Xiao Ming seemed to enjoy and excel in learning for the first time. Clearly the teachers embraced a teaching method that worked for him.

“He told me he really likes studying English at FCFS and that the teaching method is a lot of fun. He can understand the words very easily. In the school back in his hometown, he couldn’t remember any of the words or phrases the teacher taught him,” according to his mother.

“I like to come here. There are lots of toys and games we can play. I like the teachers here; they’re very patient and gentle. I like that the teacher here teaches English via movies. They teach us many times, and if we don’t understand, they’ll go over it again with us. In my hometown, my teacher only goes over things once or twice. I like to play with my playmates here,” Xiao Ming told us.

His communication with his grandma also improved during his time at FCFS, according to his mother: “He thought his grandma always nagged him about little things, but now he calls her very often and has long conversations with her during which he tells her that he misses her. He even took care of me when I caught a cold.”

When we asked him whether he would like to live with his mother in Guangzhou permanently, he replied: “I would miss my grandparents too much. I prefer living in my hometown. I know more people there. I’d also be worried that if I lived with my mom, she would only come back home when I’m already asleep.”

Xiao Ming’s behavior and attitudes towards other children improved leaps and bounds while at FCFS. He went from being highly defensive and irritable to social and enthusiastic.

“I think after I joined FCFS, I become more tolerant of children accidentally running into me. I learned to apologize when I make a mistake. I would come here again next year, because in my hometown, I am always very bored during the summer vacation. I can only see my friends at school, so I don’t have many friends to play with during the summer”.    

While Xiao Ming’s story is unfortunately not unique, it is inspiring in that in the few short weeks of receiving one-on-one attention at FCFS, he responded positively to the teachers’ guidance and turned things around for the better. Another lesson of this story is the importance of providing parenting knowledge and guidance to migrant parents. When Xiao Ming’s mother received ongoing advice and a book on parenting by FCFS staff, she too improved her communication style and discipline approach, and this clearly had a positive effect on Xiao Ming.


* A pseudonym was used throughout this story to protect the boy’s identity