Like most parents, we’ll occasionally leave our pram or buggy (stroller) outside while we pop into a café for a welcome drink. As a rule, however, we’ll take our babies inside with us. Scandinavian parenting is different, though. The norm there is to park your infant up alongside any others already there, and then head in without them.
In some cultures, this would be grounds for accusations of child neglect, but in countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Norway it’s standard parenting style.
Nor is this the only difference to how most of us bring up our families. Lots of time outdoors, allowing children to take risks and gentle discipline are other staples in the Scandinavian parenting arsenal. The contrast came as something of a shock to Swedish-American writer Linda Åkeson McGurk when she moved to the US, prompting her to write There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge).
Here are some of her reasons why Scandinavian parenting rocks:
1It’s ok for your baby to nap outside all year round
Scandinavian parents are keen for their children to get as much fresh air as possible, every single day. This includes settling them to nap outside in their prams – yes, even when it’s winter and temperatures are sub-zero.
According to a study in Finland, parents said their babies slept longer and more deeply when they were wrapped up warmly and left to nap outside. Most believed the fresh air was healthy, and doctors also say this practice reduces exposure to germs and makes contracting infection less likely.
2Don’t get obsessed by gender
They’re popular in the US and becoming more so in the UK, but you won’t find any gender-reveal parties in Scandinavia. Hospitals generally don’t tell the expectant parents whether it’s a boy or a girl, so nobody finds out until the day the baby arrives.
There’s also an emphasis on treating boys and girls the same – woe betide any company whose products try to enforce traditional gender roles! Gender-neutral nursery schools are popular among many parents too, where the educational focus is on breaking stereotypical roles.
3You don’t need to rush your child into school
Scandinavian kids don’t have to go to school until they’re six or seven years old, depending on the country. This doesn’t mean they’re at a disadvantage, though – a study by academics at Stanford University in the US found starting school at a later age reduced cases of inattention and hyperactivity.
In Scandinavian countries, kids attend inexpensive government-subsidised pre-schools where unstructured play is used to develop social skills, creativity and imagination. There’s no pressure on kids when it comes to academic performance – having a childhood and enjoying life is more important.
4Physical punishment is a bad thing
In 1979, Sweden became the first country in the world to outlaw corporal punishment, quickly followed by Finland and Norway.
Children’s rights are protected; as a nation, the Swedes believe they shouldn’t have to suffer violence any more than adults. Now, physical discipline in any form is now an unthinkable concept in Scandinavian countries.
5Be more relaxed about nudity
Most of us wouldn’t dream of letting our kids run around outside with no clothes on – being naked in public is seen as something to be embarrassed about. Scandinavian parents have no such hang-ups and believe children should be comfortable with their bodies.
You’ll even find anatomically-accurate illustrations of naked characters in children’s books, while a cartoon for pre-schoolers launched by Swedish television featured singing animated male and female genitals. It quickly went viral – and parents loved it.
6Let them run wild outside
Playing outdoors and getting dirty is standard form with Scandinavian parenting. So what if you get mud on your hands or skin your knees? You’ve had a good time, exploring and learning about your environment.
In recent years, studies have shown that, far from being harmful, exposing our kids to microbes in the earth can actually help strengthen their immune systems.
Scandinavian kids have the freedom to climb trees, use tools and learn to make fires. They’re trusted to walk to the playpark or travel to after-school activities on their own – on foot, by bicycle or with public transport – at a far younger age than their counterparts in the UK or US.
Their parents believe this helps them to judge risks and make good decisions – a view born out by scientific research.