We look at child-rearing practices commonly used in countries as far afield as Kenya, Korea and Brazil, and ask whether we should try them in the UK.
Whether it’s infants being looked after by other children or avoiding eye contact with a crying baby, some everyday parenting practices in other countries are unusual in Britain.
But just because we’re taught to parent in a certain way doesn’t mean other child-rearing techniques are wrong. They’re just different.
Parenting coach Sue Atkins says: “A child needs proper amounts of sleep, food, and nurturing to bloom. But how parents meet those necessities varies wildly, depending on where we live.”
Here are seven intriguing ways children are often raised in other countries – and Atkins’ thoughts on whether more parents here should try them out.
In Brazil, it’s not uncommon for several generations of a family to live together in adjoining houses or on separate floors of the same home, says Atkins. This makes it easier for mums and dads to tap into ‘the village’ to help bring up their children. Many parents in other countries – including Spain, Greece, India and Italy – also believe youngsters are better off when the extended family helps raise them.
Atkins says there is no reason why this wouldn’t work in the UK, but we might need to readjust our thinking. “We live increasingly further away from our families than a generation ago, so have lost that ‘it takes a family’ mentality, fearing criticism from others,” she observes.
School doesn’t start for children in Finland until they are seven, while in Finnish daycare centres, the emphasis is on creative play. Atkins says schools there also provide frequent breaks for outdoor time, shorter hours and more varied topics than UK schools.
Atkins says: “While we in the UK seem to be eating into playtime to teach more formal academic lessons and cut funding to subjects like art and music, Finnish educators emphasise that learning art, music, home economics and life skills is essential. Frequent breaks between learning would work in the UK.”
3. South Korea
In South Korea, many children are taught that food is best when enjoyed as a shared experience and, Atkins says, kids often have to wait until it’s time for the whole family to sit down before they eat.
This practice is thought to have numerous benefits – teaching delayed gratification and, as Korean children eat the same food as adults, they tend to be less fussy too.
While busy lives might make it difficult to always eat together, she says it would, of course, work for children in the UK too.
4. Polynesian islands
Once children in the Polynesian islands can walk, Atkins says, it’s common for them to be turned over to the care of other children for much of the day. As a result of being allowed to play without adult supervision, toddlers become self-reliant much sooner than they do in the UK.
“It also teaches responsibility and capability to the older siblings,” says Atkins, though she warns parents need to balance responsibility and looking after a younger sibling, with not allowing an older child to feel robbed of their own childhood.
Bupa Global has identified other cultures where parenting practices differ from the UK, including Kenya, where the Kisii people traditionally believe there’s huge power in eye contact, and that by looking at a crying baby they’re handing over control. Instead, parents often avert their eyes, which may make babies less attention-seeking.
However, Atkins warns against UK parents trying this. She says: “Children thrive on eye contact, as it bonds the infant with the caregiver. This one is definitely not recommended, as research has shown.”
Bupa Global says it’s not unusual to see babies sleeping outside cafes and restaurants in Denmark, while their parents watch from inside. This is to expose children to as much frisk luft (fresh air) as possible, as many Scandinavian countries believe cold temperatures and pollution-free air are essential to an infant’s health.
While British parents may like the idea of leaving their baby in the great outdoors, for city-dwellers, the air is unlikely to be as fresh as Denmark’s, and as Atkins notes: “They have less crime than some areas of the UK.”
Instead of the strict routines for young children championed by many UK parenting experts, some cultures choose to prioritise the social and interpersonal aspects of development. According to Bupa Global, instead of an early bedtime, many babies and toddlers in Spain join in with their parents’ evening activities, as parents believe this helps children improve their social skills. Whether it helps or hinders their sleep probably depends on the child, and Atkins simply suggests this one is personal choice.