There are certain universals when it comes to raising kids: A child needs enough sleep, food, and nurturing to thrive. But how we, as parents, meet those necessities varies wildly depending on where we live. Parenting styles differ greatly around the world.
A look at parenting ideas in Finland, Japan, Norway, Spain — and beyond.
In the Finnish model of education, children do not begin any formal academics until they are 7 years old. How does a country consistently top international tests in science, reading, math, and overall education? Schools provide frequent breaks for outdoor time (as often as every 45 minutes all day long), shorter school hours (sometimes as few as four hours a day), and more variety of classes. Finnish educators emphasize that learning art, music, home economics and life skills is essential. Apparently, by giving their kids almost no homework or exams until high school with 75 minutes of recess a day. Finnish teachers are held in the same high regard as doctors and lawyers.
Parents in countries from Greece to Spain to India to Italy, believe that children are best off when others help raise them—the extended family, friends or community. In Brazil, for example, it is not uncommon for several generations of a family—parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins—to live together in separate but adjoining homes or on separate floors of the same home. Brazilian culture puts a high premium on extended family ties. This makes it easier for parents to tap into “the village” to help raise their children.
In Korea, eating is taught to children as a life skill. As in many cultures, children are taught that food is best when enjoyed as a shared experience. Children in Korea are taught the value of waiting out their hunger until it is time for the whole family to sit down and eat together. Koreans do not believe it is healthy to graze throughout the day. All children eat the same things that adults do, as they do in most Asian cultures. As a result, Korean children are incredibly good eaters.
In Japan, co-sleeping with babies and children is common. Japanese parents have trouble understanding other countries where parents routinely put their newborns to sleep in a separate room. The Japanese respond to their babies’ cries immediately and hold them almost constantly. While parents in the U.S. may worry that this would spoil their children, the Japanese believe that babies who get their needs met and are loved unconditionally as infants become more independent and confident children Also, thanks to a highly sophisticated rail network and a value system emphasizing community reliance, Japanese commuters frequently give up their seats to 4-year-old solo subway riders!
Danish parents have no issue with parking their children’s strollers out on the sidewalk while they shop or have dinner in a café. This seems innocuous enough until you realize that their baby is sleeping soundly in the stroller, outside, alone , while his parents have dinner and drinks inside. Parents believe it is good for healthy development for infants to get fresh air. In America, you would likely be arrested. In Denmark, no one gives parked children a second thought.
In Chile, giving treats to children is seen as a sign of affection, so strangers will often offer candy to kids on the street. Parents who refuse will quickly find themselves in the midst of a chorus of strangers chiming in about their child’s need for candy.
In Norway, everyone works. Everyone. Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world, so parents can’t afford to stay home. As a result, there is no “playground culture.” There are minimal kids’ activities, few children’s museums, no playgroups, no “mommy and me” classes. Childhood is very institutionalized. When children turn one year old, they enter Barnehage (Norwegian for “children’s garden”), state-subsidized day care. Parents pay a small amount each month, and children are cared for from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Germany knows about “kindergarten” because they invented it — and the whole point is to emphasize nature over book learning. Year-long, outdoor pre-k programs are known as “Waldkindergarten,” or “forest kindergarten,” and once a year at most schools, the kids spend a few nights sleeping in tents, learning to fend for themselves with limited adult supervision.
In China, the older Chinese children get, the more parents remind them of their obligations to their family. In China, the cultural ideal of not letting adolescents go, and feel responsible to their family, helps their motivation and their achievement. By reminding them of their responsibility to the family and the expectation that their hard work in school, is one way to pay back a little for all they have received, adolescents do better in school.
Many American parents zealously believe that their choices carve out their children’s futures. Indeed, they seek the advice of expert after expert in the field, in order to succeed at one goal: to raise the happiest, the most successful, and the well-adjusted leaders of the future. American parents are highly focused on making sure that their children’s talents are groomed for success.
But what dangers lay in thinking that there is one “right” way to parent. It is incredibly freeing to realize that there is no single way to do things and it’s totally okay to make mistakes as a parent, to let my children be who they are, and let them grow into that.
Also, how much of how we parent, is actually dictated by our culture and how we express the essentials of who we are as a nation!
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