Scandinavia is a group of countries in Northern Europe which consists of Denmark, Norway and Sweden (not to be confused with Nordic countries which also include Finland and Iceland). Parenting styles differ around the world, and while there are many similarities in parenting methods, what makes parenting in Scandinavia different?
If it starts to rain, the idea of sending your child outside to play brings images into your mind of a sick child with a head cold, or a filthy, muddy child traipsing dirt around your clean house. But playing outdoors is seen much more negatively here than in Northern Europe.
Nature is a huge part of life for Scandinavian families. If you’ve ever been to Norway and witnessed an unexpected change in weather or simply were unprepared for the weather which you faced, you no doubt heard the phrase which Norwegians love to say to soaking-wet foreigners:
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”
Adults live by this, and so do children. Children learn to layer up to protect themselves from the wind, rain, snow and ice, because no matter what the weather is like it’s important to get outside.
In schools, we keep children indoors when it rains and at home they sit in front of gadgets or tv screens, spending less and less time outside. All across Scandinavia and northern Europe children play outside and are happy to get out there and get dirty. Nature is sacred and children learn to appreciate it and also to thrive off nature, without running indoors at the sight of a drizzle of rain. It’s healthy for them to be in the fresh air and can prevent or help certain aspects of diabetes, ADHD, asthma and allergies and also sensory processing disorders. And of course there is the obvious benefit of physical exercise; children can run around in the great outdoors, build dens, ride their bikes or scooters or hop, skip and jump around more than they can indoors. This can prevent obesity among children, which is a growing problem in the US, and set them on a healthy path into adolescence and adulthood.
Leaving your baby alone outside… wait, what?
There is one part of Scandinavian parenting which I have heard about many times, and have yet to verify if it’s still common practise in the 21st century, but as it may shock you, I’ll fill you all in…
Apparently, Scandinavian parents leave their babies sleeping in their strollers outside. Yes, outside not only alone but in the freezing cold as well! Science actually supports this idea, because as long as the baby is wrapped up warm and won’t get sick, the fresh air does them world of good, from boosting their immune system to raising their serotonin levels (happy hormones!) This is shocking to American and British parents as we are old never to leave our baby alone, not in the car, not in the crib without a monitor, and certainly not outside while you have a coffee or lunch in a restaurant with your girlfriends.
Boys and girls
You won’t see Scandinavian parents throwing a gender reveal party for their unborn baby. Finding out if it’s a boy or girl is less of a big deal over there, and when the baby is born it won’t be smothered in pink or blue, as there is way less focus on gender. Neutral colours are chosen over typically gender-specific colours, and they are treated as equally capable sexes, both at home and at school.
Children in northern Europe start education early, going to kindergarten to learn to develop the skills and creativity, but the academic focus starts later, around the age of 6 in Denmark, Norway and Iceland, and age 7 in Sweden and Finland. Finish school hours are short and lessons are fun, and very little homework is give. This allows children and teens to focus on other activities outside of school which they choose and therefore enjoy, allowing a more individual, informal education focuses on developing skills based on their own personal interests alongside their academic studies. There is no scientifically prove long-term advantage to starting school before they’re naturally developmentally ready, which is why we could take a leaf out of the Scandinavian book and focus on creativity and development when children are very young.
For more information about Scandinavian parenting, and insights and anecdotes from a real-life Scandinavian mom, read the book “there’s no such things as bad weather” by Linda Akeson McGurk.