Picture this: Snow falls softly as you push your sleeping 6-month-old down the street. Your favorite cafe is just a block away and you cannot wait to wrap your cold hands around a warm mug of steaming coffee. When you get there it’s crowded. There’s hardly room for you, let alone your stroller.
No problem. You park the stroller right in front of the cafe window next to several others then saunter inside for your much-needed coffee — without your baby.
In the United States, where you can’t leave a sleeping infant alone in a parked car on a temperate day and within sight for three minutes, leaving your child outside in the cold would be considered neglect and grounds for possible arrest. In Scandinavia, it’s parenting as usual.
Scandinavian parents — those living in Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden — approach childrearing from an entirely different angle than American parents. It helps that Scandinavian culture places a premium on childhood and that children’s rights are protected by the government.
At first glance, some Scandinavian parenting styles might seem quirky, but they actually make a lot of sense and share similarities with gentle and free-range parenting styles. Independent play, risk-taking, gentle discipline, and spending a lot of time outdoors are just a few hallmarks of Scandinavian parenting.
While various parenting movements in the United States encourage more freedom and less hovering when raising children, shooing your toddler out to play in the street unsupervised or nonchalantly letting your kids play naked in the backyard isn’t exactly mainstream. Basically, we’re still a nation of uptight Puritans living in a high-liability, risk-averse culture. No wonder the Scandinavian approach to parenting seems both alarming and alluring all at once.
What’s really interesting about the way Scandinavians parent is that the wisdom of their generations-old traditions is often backed up by modern science. So if you’re looking to switch up your parenting game, here’s how you can step into the Swedish clogs of a Scandinavian boss mom:
Nap your baby outside.
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.
Put your little one in daycare.
In Sweden, parents use government-subsidized daycare often beginning when kids are a year old. This cultural norm is extremely helpful since both parents work outside the home in a majority of families. Parents also receive a combined 480 days of paid family leave, and it can be taken over the span of 12 years. Other Nordic countries provide similar support. Enrolling in daycare is far more challenging the United States where childcare is expensive and sufficient paid family leave is hard to come by.
Don’t obsess over gender.
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.
Wait to start your child in school.
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-subsidized 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.
Never physically punish your child.
Sweden was the first country to outlaw spanking in 1979 with other Scandinavian countries soon following suit. In the United States, it’s legal in all 50 states to hit your child, as well as for teachers to do so in 19 states. While some criticize 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.
Chill out about nudity.
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.
Let your kids play outdoors and get messy.
Scandinavians are serious about their outdoor time, come rain, snow, or shine. There’s a popular Norwegian saying 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.
Scandinavian parenting sounds pretty awesome, but it only works in a culture that respects the value of childhood. Living in a society that supports parents and children empowers kids to explore themselves and the world around them more freely. We aren’t there yet in the United States, but that doesn’t mean we can’t adopt some of the Scandinavian approach.
If leaving your infant asleep on the sidewalk while you whoop it up over lunch isn’t your jam, encourage your toddler to get naked and muddy in your backyard instead. You’ll be that much closer to earning a pair of those “checkt” (sweet) Scandinavian boss mom clogs for yourself.