5 Foreign Parenting Traditions That Terrify Nervous Americans

These global parenting tactics might freak out stateside parents, but their kids are alright.

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Many American parents seem to believe–if message boards are any indication–that their core role is to minimize risk. But what is seen as risk by one culture is greeted by another with a dispassionate shrug. This is not just true in the abstract. It’s so true, in fact, that two Danish parents were once arrested in New York City for the common Dane practice of leaving their kid outside a restaurant in a stroller while they ate. But the fact is that the kids of these parents are doing no worse than American kids and in some cases (cough, Denmark, cough) one could make a strong statistical argument that they’re doing better.

Here are six parenting practices common abroad that absolutely terrify American moms and dads. One could argue that these are also practices that Americans should consider–though that seems unlikely in most cases.

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Breastfeeding Fathers

The Aka Pygmy tribe in the Congo are said to be the best fathers in the world for several reasons. For one, they are within arms reach of their children close to 47 percent of the time and they share household duties evenly with their partners.

And while those things are a sadly a rarity in the U.S., those aren’t the parenting tactics that an American dad couldn’t handle. Offering a nipple to a fussy kid, however, would be a non-starter. But that’s just what Aka men do when Mom’s nipple isn’t available for the kid. It gives the kid comfort even despite there being no nutrition. And how could that be a bad thing?

Pantsless Potty Training
There are several Southeast Asian countries that have a bare bottomed tradition of potty training. But the relative weirdness of uncovered kids comes with a pretty sweet tradeoff: kids potty trained by 9 months.

The method works by mothers becoming attuned to a child’s signs of letting loose. When they notice it’s about to happen, the will whistle. Within time the kid becomes conditioned and will potty in the appropriate place upon hearing the whistle.

To be fair, there are some Western mother’s who’ve adopted the technique. But it remains extraordinarily rare on U.S. shores.

Deep Freeze Babies

An outdoor nap in a sun-soaked patch of grass is a simple pleasure pretty much anywhere. But in Norway, when a good portion of the year is frigid, the outdoor naps don’t stop, even when the temps reach -4F.

There has been research on the napping practice that suggests babies who sleep outside in the cold nap better and longer, and anecdotally, Norwegian parents say it makes babies better sleepers in general.

But a word of caution to Americans looking to chuck their kid outdoors to sleep in a winter wonderland: the practice does take some serious gear. Norwegian winter strollers are very well equipped to keep a baby from freezing temps and the wind. That’s what allows kids as young as two weeks old to nap al fresco in the frigid Norwegian climate.

Curbed Kids

baby stroller outsideflickr / Jens Schott Knudsen
It’s not uncommon in family-friendly U.S. neighborhoods to see stroller parked like a less badass line of Harleys in front of the neighborhood coffee shop or brunch spot. But as a rule, those strollers do not still have kids in them.

That wouldn’t be the case if you came upon the same sight in Copenhagen. At least some of those strollers might still contain a napping kid. That’s because the Danish don’t see leaving a kid on a curb as particularly risky. After all, they’re generally very close by.

That didn’t matter much to New York City citizens who called law enforcement on a Danish couple who’d left their kid in a stroller outside a BBQ joint. The parents were not only arrested but their child was sent to foster care. Which proves that, yes, a kid left outside a restaurant in the United States will get abducted—not by the criminals, but by police.

Children With Knives
German kids are taught the wonders of the blade by three-years-old. The thought is that the sooner they understand how to use one safely, the better and more responsible the child will be with knives. Seeing a child, who just learned to walk, wielding a pocket knife would likely send modern American parents into a tizzy. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, a shiny pocket knife was once a boys best friend.

Subway Roaming
In Japan, kids as young as 4-years-old can be seen riding the rails alone to run errands and get to school. And the task is not as simple as it sounds. Consider one central Tokyo subway transit hub that can see 3.7 million people daily moving across its 35 platforms. How is a kid able to manage the chaos while not being taken by a stranger?

People riding the trains look out for kids. It’s a method of cementing them into the larger culture. And when a “village” of millions is raising children on subway platforms across the city, the commute becomes safe and normalized.

A 4-year-old commuting alone in New York? That’s as odd as a pizza rat.

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