A few days ago, I was reading an article about Annette Sorensen, the Danish mother who twenty years ago, went to jail in the U.S for leaving her baby outside a crowded New York City cafe, while she went inside to eat.
Long story short, this was perfectly normal behaviour in her native country where the concept of "tillid" or a deep trust is an essential part of the culture but elsewhere in the world, we live more in a culture of fear rather than trust and this was seen as sheer neglect and a criminal act.
While Annette's story is not the focus of this article, it did get me to thinking about parenting differences from culture to culture and so I thought I'd look at the Nordic traditions to see what we might learn from them. It turns out that they do some pretty cool things.
As we see from Annette's story, in Scandinavian countries it’s common practice to leave babies slumbering outside in their flat-bottomed prams, appropriately bundled against inclement weather of course. According to one study, children napping outdoors slept longer than those napping indoors. Plus, most parents firmly believe taking in fresh air is healthy, especially if the alternative is a crowded space where germs abound. Science agrees. Fresh air boosts your immunity, and being outdoors is shown to improve blood pressure, alleviate stress, and raise serotonin levels. Of course, this is a fairly contentious issue and while I see the benefits, I don't think it's something I could ever do - even in our small community.
People don’t make a big deal about the gender of their children and feel very strongly about treating boys and girls they same. They even have gender-neutral nursery schools where teachers refer to kids, humans, and friends rather than boys and girls. The Swedes have a gender-neutral pronoun pronounced “hen” and in 1998, an amendment to Sweden’s education act required that public schools begin promoting gender-neutral policies and teaching styles. I don't think this is a bad thing at all - while there are obvious differences between genders, there really isn't a need to treat children differently based on it. However, I feel that if a girl wants to be "girly", she needs to be allowed and the same for boys. Sometimes I think that we overlook a child's preferences just to be politically correct.
Scandinavian parents don’t start their kids in academic school until age 7. A recent study found that delaying school for young children dramatically reduces inattention and hyperactivity. Forgoing formal education for a few years doesn’t mean kids aren’t learning anything. Children ages 1 through 6 attend government-subsidised preschool where unstructured play is seen as essential for developing social skills, imagination, and creativity. There’s just less pressure to perform academically in Scandinavian countries and more emphasis on enjoying childhood and life. Here at Hugs HQ, we opted to delay Thing 1's start at school because while he was academically ready, he sure wasn't socially. It was one of the best parenting decisions we ever made because his ability to integrate, understand and communicate, absolutely transformed over that extra year and he is thriving at school.
Sweden was the first country to outlaw spanking in 1979 with other Scandinavian countries soon following suit. In Australia, it is still legal to smack your child. While some criticise Swedish parents lack of physical discipline as too permissive, research shows that physical punishment can cause psychological trauma that can lead to depression and even suicide.
Scandinavian families are generally pretty laid-back about nudity within the household. Kids are encouraged to run around naked, indoors and out, whenever possible. The idea is to raise humans who are comfortable with their bodies and know how they function. Nudity is pretty common around Hugs HQ as well but usually because we're busy and we're always running around looking for clean clothes.
Scandinavians are serious about their outdoor time, come rain, snow, or shine. There’s a popular Norwegian saying which I love that goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Parents make sure their kids play outside everyday. Connection to the natural environment is an important cultural value and coming home dirty signals a day of exploring, risk-taking, and fun. Plus, hanging out in the dirt is good for growing immune systems. And isn't that what childhood is all about?
While not perfect, Scandinavian parenting sounds pretty awesome, but if leaving your infant asleep on the sidewalk while you have lunch isn’t ok, maybe just encourage your toddler to get naked and muddy in your backyard instead.