Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
What do parents do differently in Finland, Sweden, Germany, Japan and other countries? Christine Gross-Loh, a mom and Harvard-educated expert, has lived all over the world, and made it her goal to find the answers. I can’t wait to read her new book, Parenting Without Borders, that comes out today.
Here’s a preview: Guatemalan children don’t go through the terrible twos and Italian children love to eat healthy food. Finnish kids have the highest test scores and get the most recess. Intrigued, I asked Christine to tell me more. She even picks her favorite country and gives reasons why. (You’ll be surprised!)
KK: In three sentences, how would you describe your book?
CGL: Parenting Without Borders is about surprising lessons I learned from other parents in other cultures about raising kids with less stress, more joy, and more conviction. While some of the thinking I encountered was sometimes just about the opposite of ours (for instance, in some countries, such as Norway, people say that you keep your child safe by letting him take some risks so that he can learn how to hone his inner judgment about his capabilities, while in our country we tend to keep our children protected from risks until we deem them ready), I came to see how we American parents could benefit from taking a fresh look at our own assumptions. Seeing that there are so many ways to define good parenting and so many ways for children to thrive has made me a more relaxed parent.
KK: What are the three most helpful parenting tips you’ve learned from other cultures?
CGL: 1. To be careful not to get in my children’s way too much. Kids in other cultures experience more autonomy and independence, and are given the message that it’s okay to make mistakes, to stumble and fall–this is part of growing up. Research shows this approach has lots of benefits.
2. At the same time, we could take a more concerted role in certain areas, such as teaching eating as a life skill, teaching children patience and respect for others (it’s not stifling them; it’s giving them some great tools), giving them responsibilities around the home, and not pulling back as much as we are told we should when they become adolescents. Young adolescents who know that their parents have expectations for them tend to do better in school.
3. Don’t feel you have to do it alone. It’s the norm in most cultures for parents to be supported by others (extended family or a community of friends). It’s good for our kids to bump up against all sorts of people and perspectives and it’s good for us too, not to feel like we are solely responsible for how our kids turn out.
KK: What is your favorite country you and your family have lived in and why?
CGL: I write about Japan a lot in my book because we lived there for so long that our kids think of it as a second home. There is lots to love about the country: Young kids have freedom to roam there, children are given more time to play (academics don’t start till grade 1 and kids have plenty of recess, art, gym, and music class), and it feels like a whole community is on the same page about expectations for kids, which helps take the burden off of you as an individual parent. You know other adults around you will help reinforce and back you up. But I have to say our favorite place to be is right here in the U.S. What I love about parenting here is our positive spirit; how much we want to do well by our kids, and how open-minded we are. We are very willing to consider all sorts of perspectives.