For many of us, parenting is something pretty straightforward. In the average American household, for instance, the little one gets his own room as soon as he arrives home from the hospital. He’ll be either breastfed or bottle-fed or a combination of both. Solid food will be introduced at about four months. Potty training will begin at around one to two years. He’ll be looked after primarily by his parents, perhaps the occasional babysitter or the grandparents.
Because this is the standard of parenting in our culture, it can be difficult to imagine some of the things that can be done differently. This is why it’s always interesting to take a peek into other cultures to get some insight into different parenting strategies. Now, while different isn’t necessarily always good, there are quite a number of tricks that might even be more effective than what we’re accustomed to.
To give parents some new ideas, we’ve put together a list of some of the amazing tricks that parents from all around the world find just right for their kids. From amazingly early potty training tricks to actually teaching happiness, there’s a wealth of advice to discover beyond our own borders.
Of course, it’s worth noting that not all of these strategies will work for everyone. Every family is different, after all. So if any of the tricks we’ve listed seem sound and realistic for one’s household, it may be worth giving a try. Either way, we’re sure that parents around the world will change your perspective on raising the little ones.
15 Polynesian Kids Help Raise Each Other
Many of us would shake our heads at the idea of leaving our toddlers in the care of, say the seven-year-old and maybe even the thirteen-year-old next door. After all, those kids are all equally fragile and who knows might happen without parental supervision? However, if children in Polynesia are any indication, most of these fears may be unfounded.
In fact, in these islands, children who learn to walk are promptly placed in the care of other children. Usually, this will be an older brother or sister, although sometimes it will be the children of a family member or a neighbor. This not only gives the parents a default babysitter when they’re off doing adult things.
It also gives children a sense of responsibility early in life, allowing them to learn a good number of domestic and life skills. In fact, kids as young as three to four years are often already adept at soothing a crying infant!
14 Japanese Teach Independence Early On
If the idea of children babysitting children sounds horrifying, wait until we tell the story of the incredible independence of Japanese kids. People who watch Japanese animation or shows will notice that kids often take the train by themselves or go out to do errands on their own. This isn’t just a quirk of story writers to get the plot moving.
Anyone who goes to Japan will find that kids actually go out on their own. Because of this, the kids learn pretty early how to get around.
As well, Japanese parents don’t step in when their kids get into fights. The philosophy behind this is that conflict isn’t necessarily bad. It’s a fact of life, even. Because of this, they just let kids fight and resolve their problems on their own. While this may obviously not be all too great for some children, others do benefit from learning conflict management skills early in life.
13 Guatemalans Don’t Force Sharing
When the four-year-old refuses to hand over a toy to a three-year-old, the typical parental response would be to reprimand him for not sharing. Guatemalans, however, would disagree with this practice. They believe that forcing children to “share” when they’re not ready to do so only harbors resentment. This, according to them, is a bad practice.
Instead, they let the children keep their toys. They believe that little ones will learn how to share their things in due time. This teaches other kids to be patient in waiting for their turn. It also better allows kids to experience empathy – what does it feel like when toys are not being shared with them? Often, parents don’t need to worry about it for long.
All Guatemalan children do begin sharing their stuff when they’re ready. Overall, it’s a practice that might get us thinking about how we approach the concept of ownership and sharing in our own kids.
12 Jewish Swim Time
In Israel, it is incredibly important that parents teach their kids to swim. It’s not just a quirk of culture, either. Jewish rabbis explicitly instruct parents that they must do this. Now, this comes from a long tradition of teaching children both independence and adaptability.
After all, swimming is something that allows kids to explore a terrain vastly different from their own. According to Yael Shahar’s column, “The Jewish Thinker,” it’s more than the skill itself. The process of teaching gets kids to explore places that are “out of their element.”
Of course, it’s also an extremely handy survival skill. One never knows when one might need to swim to save one’s own life – or somebody else’s. Because of this, Jewish kids tend to adapt pretty fast to new environments. As with the Swedes, the Japanese and the Polynesians, this involves granting the little ones a huge degree of trust and freedom early in life.
11 Vietnamese Potty Prodigies
In most Western households, potty training often falls to parents of toddlers. It can be challenging, to say the least, to even attempt to train a child in the terrible twos. However, in parts of Asia, particularly Vietnam, babies are trained from the moment of their birth. As such, Vietnamese parents spend much less on diapers and have to do far less bottom-cleaning than the average Western parent.
This may sound impossible, but it’s actually a rather simple process. Vietnamese parents simply observe the cues that indicate that the baby is about to poop or pee, and then they whistle. Soon, the baby learns to associate the whistling sound with having to go. By the age of nine months, parents need only set their babies on the potty and they’ll relieve themselves on command!
The only disadvantage to this strategy is that it requires the parent to be constantly present during the first few months of the baby’s life.
10 Mongolian Extended Breastfeeding
In Mongolia, there is a common saying: ‘The best wrestlers are breastfed for six years.’ In fact, the country has an entire culture that celebrates prolonged breastfeeding. They believe that the practice helps keep their babies healthy and strong. Even experts agree with this, too!
Both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics have long been promoting prolonged breastfeeding in children. Of course, this isn’t possible for all mothers, considering the many conditions that can limit her ability to breastfeed. Still, it’s worth a try for those who are able to.
It’s also worth adding that the Mongolians believe in the power of breastmilk so much that they’ll even express a bit of milk for adults to drink! In fact, they get confused when told that breastfeeding in Western countries is controversial. Maybe we should take a leaf out of their book and remind ourselves that breastfeeding is, in fact, a very cool thing!
9 Swedish Playtime Includes Risk Taking Activities
An average Swedish playground might be a nightmare for most American moms. For one thing, they have no fences. For another, kids climb up trees and all the things that might give an American schoolteacher a heart attack. It turns out that the Swedes don’t underestimate their kids like most of us do.
Sure, someone’s bound to get a fall or a scrape from risky playing. However, this helps them to learn just what their bodies are capable of. With luck, it will help them develop some useful life skills. As for the lack of the fence, kids are free to venture out into the forest after they’re given clear instructions as to their limits.
For the Swedes, it all boils down to kids having a sense of control, as well as the ability to hold their parents’ trust. Makes us wonder how over-policing our children might make us feel secure in the short-term, but could not be the best in the long run.
8 Parenting Without Labels
In the book “Parenting Without Borders,” Dr. Christine Gross-Loh argues that parental obsession with self-esteem could seriously be hampering kids’ growth. In fact, she even explores many cultures in which the concept of self-esteem simply doesn’t exist.
In some parts of the world, particularly in some parts of Asia, people simply do not judge themselves as “bad” or “good” or “successful” or “useless.” Instead, they judge their actions as so, not necessarily elevating these to define their own selves.
Incidentally, studies do show that, contrary to popular belief, “self-esteem” is not associated with success. People with high self-esteem may think that they’re doing better than people with low self-esteem.
This is not an indicator, however, that they actually are. This is all to say that it’s not necessary – perhaps even harmful – to flood children with random praise and to punish them by labelling them as “bad.” Sometimes, it’s best to get them to assess this by themselves!
7 Never Alone For The Bayaka
For the Bayaka people, a nomadic pygmy tribe in Central Africa, it’s unheard of for a baby to stay at home. This is even when both mom and dad are out hunting or tending to the crops. Because of this, even Bayaka dads have stepped up. These super dads are available for their babies more than many other cultural groups.
An anthropologist who came to live with them estimated that they’re within reach of their little ones 47 percent of the time.
This is mostly because many of the roles in the community such as hunting and cooking are interchangeable between males and females. When both parents are out, Bayaka dads will often take the babies with them when they’re out, kangaroo-style. If the little one cries, sometimes dad will even offer a nipple as a pacifier of sorts. This has even earned them the title of best dad in the world by Fathers Direct.
6 The Mayans Kids Have Chores Earlier
Most of us are formulaic when it comes to giving the children chores. Give them relatively easy chores when they’re perceptively “old enough” to do them. It turns out, however, that our definition of this sort of “age of responsibility” might not be the same in all cultures.
Take the Mayans, for instance, who give their children responsibility as old as the age of one and a half or two years old! This can range from going to a store or the neighbor’s to fetch something needed in the house, to cleaning around in the house.
According to the book “Children’s Engagement Around the World,” this stems from the Mayan cultural principle that work always comes first. From a young age, children are trained to do this right away. Kids are expected to drop what they’re doing when an adult makes a request.
The children don’t see this as a burden, however. Just a natural way of life. In fact, by the age of five, most kids will initiate many chores by themselves!
5 Argentinian Family Time
In most parts of the world, bedtime is bedtime. The little ones will, then have to scurry up to their rooms and force themselves to get some shuteye. In the meantime, all the adults will probably loosen up and go on doing other adult things. In Argentina, however, kids go to bed at pretty much the same time as adults.
This is even if it means having to stay up much later than their American counterparts. During celebrations such as weddings, children might even stay up well after midnight.
The idea behind this is that late night time is family time. It would be a shame, then, if the kids miss out on this. This helps the kids develop interpersonal and social skills, something that really pays off later in life. If this sounds like a parenting horror, don’t worry! Experts agree that as long as they’re getting enough sleep, bedtime doesn’t make a difference.
4 Worldwide Co-sleeping
In North American and European countries, the norm is that the baby sleeps in a separate room from the parents pretty much as soon as he’s taken home. In many parts of the world, however, this is a horrifying prospect. There, babies sleep in the same room as their parents. They will either be on a separate cot or crib in the same room or lay on the same bed.
Most Western parents will wrinkle their nose at this, knowing that this carries the risk of rolling over and smothering the infant. However, it’s also worth noting that it has quite a number of benefits as well. Co-sleeping moms find that they sleep better and breastfeed more often than those who put their babies in a separate room.
Co-sleeping babies are also less stressed and grow up to be more independent compared to those that don’t. It is, of course, the risks and benefits of each of these must be weighed out by each parent. Still, it’s something worth considering.
3 The Global Importance Of Extended Family
It’s a Western thing for people to basically be kicked out of their parents’ house at roughly 18-years old. This basically means that teens have to go out and fend for themselves after almost two decades of coddling. In most world cultures, however, this isn’t the case. Just ask the men of Italy, who are notorious for this.
However, they’re not alone. It’s pretty common in many places in Asia and Africa to live with the parents for long periods of time. In fact, many live with extended families, with the grandparents, uncles and aunts living in the same house or in close proximity.
Because of this, the extended family takes on an important role in caring for children. It’s not uncommon for little ones to be left with their grandparents or other relatives while the parents go out to work or run errands. Being exposed to a wide range of people allows kids to become more social, and to have stronger family ties.
2 Danish Empathy
Danish children are famous for being miraculously well-behaved and polite. Many parents would just love to have kids who would sit still on a bus, or who never forgot to say “please” or “thank you.” Jessica Joelle Alexander, co-author of “The Danish Way of Parenting,” says that this is because Danish parents are conscious about teaching the little ones empathy early in life.
This basically means that children follow their parents out of respect and not fear of punishment or pining for some sort of reward. In fact, spanking kids is illegal in Denmark and has been for more than 20 years. This may sound confusing to those of us who were raised in strict, authoritarian households.
The Danish, however, believe that giving kids respect begets respect. As such, treating kids well, even when they misbehave, fosters obedience that is far stronger than threats. Needless to say, Danish parents don’t engage in power struggles with the kids.
1 French Babies Get Fed A Variety
It’s been awhile since the release of the bestselling diet book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano. The book advocated a variety of foods enjoyed in classic French decadence, bringing out the flavor and enjoyment in everything from steak to vegetables.
It turns out, however, that roughly the same strategy means that French babies don’t turn their noses at broccoli either. Of course, Karen Le Billon has a better title to an actual book that discusses this as: “French Kids Eat Everything.”
French parents do this by introducing new foods to the little ones liberally, allowing them develop a wide interest in food. This helps them get over the typical toddler’s aversion to new things to eat. Mealtimes are also much longer than in most other places in the world, encouraging adults and babies alike to savor every bite. That’s not to mention, of course, the fact that even vegetables taste darned good when prepared well.
Sources: TheDanishWay.com, Mirror.co.uk, ideas.ted.com, Mom.me