Back in 2011, writer and Yale Law School professor Amy Chua set off a storm of controversy when she published Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a slim manifesto about how she’d chosen to raise her two daughters the “Chinese way,” pushing them to excel at everything they did to extremes that some parents found shocking. But a fair share of readers thought she had a great point—had American kids gotten too soft and coddled? Did the Chinese have something valuable to teach us about parenting?
You could look back at the Tiger Mom controversy and see it as the leading edge of a trend: What do parents around the world do, and what can we learn from them?
In Chua’s wake more recently are several books that shed light on global parenting practices, such as Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, in which she marvels about French babies sleeping through the night, and the more recent Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children, by Sara Zaske, who observes German parents being far more relaxed than she might be about such things as allowing first-graders to walk to school solo.
On a more global note, PhD and mom of four Christine Gros-Loh, a Korean-American who spent time raising her family in Japan, came out with Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, in which she marvels at Japanese kids working out playground dilemmas without parental intervention and riding the subway solo. The list goes on, including Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Sandahl’s The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids.
What might we learn from these happy Danish children and free-range German kids? In the spirit of curiosity, rather than controversy, let’s take a parenting-trend world tour. Did you know that…
Finnish children don’t go to kindergarten (or formally learn to read) until they’re 7? It’s true. And yet children in this small Scandinavian country regularly outbest American students on global measures of math and other subjects. The difference may be that even without formal schooling until an age at which most American kids have already taken standardized tests, Finnish kids have access to high-quality, affordable childcare, with an across-the-board curriculum that includes a lot of play.
It’s commonplace for babies in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway to nap in the frigid outdoors? If you pass homes or daycare centers, it’s not odd to see carriages parked outside with well-wrapped infants and babies peacefully snoozing inside. The idea is that in the cold wintertime, the fresh air promotes good sleep and good health (and considering that staying cooped up indoors all the time is known to spread germs, it’s not a crazy notion).
French children aren’t picky eaters? It’s largely true. While American parents may assume that little ones’ tastes are bland and limited (and respond with “kid food” like chicken nuggets and plain carrot sticks), French parents do not—nor do they allow much between-meal snacking. There, even the littlest ones in state-funded crèches (childcare centers) eat several-course hot meals that might not be out of place at the local cafe.
Swiss newborns get hammocks? In some Swiss maternity wards, a baby-sized hammock called a hängematte is provided, allowing babies to gently bounce and swing. It’s meant to simulate the movement in the womb and serve as a transition to the world. (You can buy them on Amazon!)
Spanish and Argentine babies (and kids) stay up late. Perhaps because these cultures emphasize social and family togetherness, few parents see much of a reason to send their little ones off to bed quite as early as most American parents. Late evening meal times, combined with a daytime siesta for everyone, mean it’s not such a big deal, or at all unheard of, to keep kids up until as late as 10 p.m.
Polynesian children care for each other? In the Polynesian islands, infants are cared for by their parents, but as soon as a child can walk, he or she is largely looked after by older kids—even preschoolers. This leads to self-reliant children and kids who are quite adept at soothing their younger siblings, cousins, and friends.
Aka moms and dads share all the tasks? Among the remote African Aka tribe, you’re as apt to see fathers caring for babies are you are to see mothers hunting for food, and vice versa.
Got any global parenting tips and trends to share?