From the July 2018 issue

Parenting Lessons from Around the Globe

American parenting is the great democracy. Ever stop to wonder, though, how our counterparts in other countries handle this whole kid-rearing thing? Read on for a bit of perspective – and, perhaps, inspiration.

As a parent, there are some givens, right, about raising your kids? You never leave a baby alone in her stroller. Anywhere. When your children go to the playground, you better be there with them to keep an eye on them. And picky eating is pretty much part of being a kid. While these might be assumptions American parents share, though, they’re not universal.

Across the world, moms and dads just don’t share the same views on how to parent. The differences may not only surprise you, but might also inspire you to borrow some of the practices when rearing your own kids.

Here are a few revealing lessons from mødre og dads (“moms and dads,” for those of you non-Norwegian speakers) across the globe.

South Korea: No need for kids menus.

For youngsters in South Korea, and other Asian countries, mealtimes become an event bigger than getting everyone fed. Eating together as a family is an important part of the culture. For meals, everyone tends to eat the same dishes – there’s no short-order cooking at home and, at restaurants, kids menus aren’t the norm. One meal item kids learn to enjoy is a pickled vegetable side dish called kimchi. Often peppered with plenty of chili powder, even young children dine on it with their parents.

Takeaway for American parents: Set aside time at least once a week to eat together as a family. Offer your kid a little bit of everything from the meal – not just the foods you know he likes. The more times your child is exposed to a certain food, the more likely he is to try it.

Kenya: It takes a village to raise a child.

This phrase that’s become popular in the U.S. comes from an African saying that’s taken to heart by those in Kenya. Children aren’t seen as just a parents’ responsibility but, rather, a community’s. Often, members of the community will be called “aunt” or “uncle,” “grandma” or “grandpa” – even if they’re not related.

Takeaway for American parents: Consider how your kid might develop closer relationships with your family and members of the community, so he knows he has a support group beyond just mom and dad.

Philippines: Brushing is a big deal, even for kids.

Get this: Kids in the Philippines tend to be diligent in dental hygiene. That’s right – even little kids are taught the importance of brushing their teeth after every meal (yes, every meal!). In public restrooms and in schools, it’s not out of place to see someone brushing his or her teeth.

Takeaway for American parents: Maybe it’s time to run through a tooth-brushing tutorial. For example, your kids can play or hum a song while brushing to help them take their time and reach their back teeth, too. If your kids are already great brushers, maybe it’s time to break out the floss.

France: Patience really is a virtue.

In France, children are used to waiting. And teaching kids delayed gratification is considered a key parenting principle. For example, when babies wake up in the middle of the night crying, French parents are more likely to wait a few minutes and see if their baby will go back to sleep on his own. Kids are also expected to wait to eat until mealtimes or a designated snack time vs. grazing all day. These examples feed into an overall idea that kids are part of the family – but not the center of it.

Takeaway for American parents: Practice the pause. Instead of immediately jumping in when your child seems to be having a problem, wait to see if he can work it out on his own – whether that’s going to sleep, solving a math problem or arguing during a play date.

New Zealand: Childhood is an adventure.

Helicopter parents aren’t the norm here. And wearing shoes – for kids and adults – is optional. That means that whether in the stores or just walking down the street, it’s not unusual to see folks of all ages sans shoes. The common sight typifies New Zealand parents’ tendency to see childhood as a time of adventure and discovery.

Takeaway for American parents: Help your kids tap into their adventurous side, whether that’s going on a nature hike together at one of metro Detroit’s Huron-Clinton Metroparks – or just in your backyard.

Norway: Go ahead, get messy outside!

Risky play – yes, climbing trees and jumping off rocks – is considered an essential part of childhood to many Norwegian parents. Those in Norway will point to a whole list of benefits beyond just getting fresh air and added exercise. Through risky play, kids begin to develop coping skills to navigate and overcome their fears. They also become accustomed to embracing challenges and figuring out how to solve problems.

Takeaway for American parents: Celebrate muddy boots. Instead of telling your kiddo she needs to come in from the rain, have her go out and play in those puddles. Encourage your child to have unstructured playtime outside.

Germany: Kids spend more time outside.

People of all ages, whether youngsters or retirees, like to spend their days, weekends, spare moments outside. As one mom, Sara Zaske, explained in Time, “According to a German saying, ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.’ The value of outside time is promoted in the schools, hence the ‘garten’ in kindergarten.”

Takeaway for American parents: Instill in your children a love of the outdoors – whether you go all in and plan regular campouts in the UP or just have a lazy night watching the stars on a blanket in your yard. There are other simple ways to spur your child’s interest in the natural world around her, too, like checking out books on the outdoors at the library, talking about the trees, clouds or other things outside the window while you’re out driving – or ditching your car entirely on occasion and biking or walking somewhere instead of driving.

Japan: Kids enjoy more independence.

Don’t be surprised if, during a visit to Japan, you spy youngsters as young as 4 riding the subway solo or walking to school alone. Letting children go places on their own, along with having them run errands, even at young ages, is accepted – even expected. In Japanese culture, people tend to support and lend a helping hand, when needed, to children who are out on their own.

Takeaway for American parents: Look for ways to allow your child to do tasks on her own. Maybe it’s taking something to a neighbor’s house across the street or going to a different aisle in the grocery store to retrieve an item on your list.

India: Showing respect for elders.

For many parents in India, families are close-knit both socially and geographically. As part of that interconnectedness, children are raised to hold grandparents in high regard. Indeed, grandparents are revered for their advice. It helps that grandparents often live in close proximity or even with their grown children and actively participate in caring for the grandkids.

Takeaway for American parents: Whether grandparents live far away or around the corner, consider ways to help your children get to know them better. Perhaps have the grandparents call once a week or month and read your child a bedtime story over Skype or FaceTime. Suggest teens text grandparents to share with them everyday happenings.

China: Praise is offered more sparingly.

Chinese moms, in particular, are widely viewed as “tiger moms.” The idea? Through imposing strict, regimented standards, kids will be pressed into becoming successful. The practice isn’t all bad, says Stanford researcher Alyssa Fu, whose studies included a comparison of “tiger moms” vs. Western-style mothering. She notes, “Tiger moms throw themselves into everything that their children are doing. And when Asian-American kids see themselves as really connected with their mothers, they can benefit from their mother’s pressure.” Part of the parenting style includes less-frequent praise compared to their American counterparts – so there’s fewer “That was great, sweetie” comments at soccer games, in reaction to report cards or after every music recital.

Takeaway for American parents: Emphasize effort over results to teach your kids the importance of trying hard. Swap the “Good job!” for something focused, like, “I know you’ve been working hard on that piano number/basketball dribble/algebra grade. I can see how all that effort paid off!”

Sources: A Cup of Jo, AnswersAfrica, Business Insider, CityLab, drcraigcanapari.com, ExPatWoman.com, Huffington Post, InCultureParent, Korea Tourism Organization, NPR, Parents, ResearchGate, Romper, Scary Mommy, ScienceNordic, Stanford News, Talk in French, The European Mama, The Toronto Star, The University of Iowa, Time, Wall Street Journal

Art by Lan Truong

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