What can you learn from global parenting practices?
We all know that children don’t come with instruction manuals and that parenting is very much about ‘learning on the job’. Here we find out what we can learn from the way parents in countries around the world raise their children.
You might already have a clear idea of the kind of parent you want to be, but a few international tips and tricks could bring a fresh perspective to your parenting approach.
Japan: Co-sleeping for closeness
While many Western cultures place their babies and toddlers in a separate room at bedtime, co-sleeping is a common practice in Japan1. By responding immediately to a crying child and holding them almost constantly, the practice is intended to promote a sense of closeness and security. It also makes feeding overnight much easier.
South Korea: Eating by example
Rather than cooking ‘child-friendly’ meals, South Koreans don’t distinguish between the food they serve to children and adults2. Instead, everyone in the family sits down to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner together, with the aim of encouraging familial closeness and exposing children to a variety of different dishes and ingredients.
Sweden: Permissive parenting
Sweden’s unique approach to parenting – often referred to as ‘permissive parenting’ – focuses on teaching the value of good decision-making3. From an early age, children are encouraged to share their opinions and contribute to family discussions. The idea is that by establishing an egalitarian relationship with adults, children will learn to set their own boundaries and practise self-control.
Kenya: An indirect take on parenting
The Kisii people of Kenya believe there is huge power in eye contact, and that by looking at a crying baby they’re handing over control. 4In a move that may sound odd to Westerners, parents will avert their eyes to avoid their unhappy baby thinking he or she is in charge. The rationale behind this method is that it makes children less attention-seeking as they develop and grow
Scandinavia: Fresh air always
It might look a little alarming to foreign visitors, but it’s not unusual to see babies sleeping outside cafes and restaurants in rural locations across Denmark while their parents keep a watchful eye from inside. This is to expose their children to as much frisk luft (fresh air) as possible, as most Scandinavian countries believe that cold temperatures and pollution-free air are essential to an infant 5 At Norway’s state-subsidised day care – barnehage (kindergarten) – youngsters are wrapped up in warm clothes and blankets, and wheeled outside in their prams and pushchairs to take their naps6.
China: Toilet time on cue
By swapping disposable nappies (diapers) for environmentally friendly kai dang ku (trousers or onesies with a split at the crotch), parents in China regularly succeed in toilet training their children quickly7. What’s their secret? As soon as parents sense their baby needs to relieve themselves – perhaps from a physical movement or facial expression – they hold them over the toilet while whistling or repeating a particular word or sound. By using this same vocal cue on each occasion, the baby learns to respond accordingly. This is known as ‘elimination communication (EC)’.
Spain and Argentina: Night-time toddlers
While parenting experts might champion the importance of sticking to a regular routine during a child’s formative years, some cultures choose to prioritise the social and interpersonal aspects of development. So instead of an early bedtime, many babies and toddlers in Spain and Argentina join in with their parents’ evening activities8,9.
Polynesia: Peer-to-peer parenting
As soon as Polynesian toddlers can walk, they’re put in the care of other young children10,11. It’s thought that the practice teaches the youngest children to respect social values, while the older children become skilled carers early on. This might be one of the least likely practices to pop up in a neighbourhood near you, but it does point to some interesting lessons about the value of leaving children to find their own way.
France: Mais ‘non’
The dominant parenting philosophy in France can be summed up in just one sentence: “C’est moi qui decide.”12 By regularly telling children “It’s me who decides”, many French parents seek to establish themselves as the boss. This disciplined approach aims to teach children from an early age that the world does not revolve around them. It’s thought that saying non is a parent’s responsibility and – according to Pamela Druckerman in her bestselling book French Children Don’t Throw Food ¬– this simple word “rescues children from the tyranny of their own desires”13.
Whatever you do, don’t do it alone
Being a parent means continually learning new lessons and adapting your approach. As you and your little one grow together, it can be useful to seek the advice of other mums and dads, as well as experts.