We are, all of us, products of our cultures – and how we parent is no different. In this edited extract from Around the World in 80 Parenting Styles, featuring gorgeous illustrations by Margaux De Bellissen, we celebrate some wonderfully diverse approaches to the world’s toughest gig.
On ya bike
The Dutch love bikes – so much so that in the Netherlands there are a whopping twenty-three million bikes for the seventeen-million-strong population. And who can fault their famous logic? Bikes are a speedy, nimble and environmentally friendly travel option that encourages people to get active in the fresh air.
So it’s only natural that as soon as Dutch parents possibly can, they pop their little ones on a bike, or trike, or cargo bike, or family bike, and send them on their way. For those who’ve never encountered a ‘family bike’, picture a bike with one adult seat and up to four mini seats for mini passengers, all in a line. Adorable, no?
In many cultures, the sight of a solitary tyke on the subway or wandering the city streets might ring alarm bells. Not in Japan though. It’s completely normal to spot a lone child – as young as six, or even preschoolers – out and about among the throngs of commuters and shoppers.
Just like the adult strangers around them, these kids mean business. Whether they’re armed with a grocery list or on their way to pick up an (even) younger sibling from day-care, there’s nearly always a practical reason for their solo excursion.
Entrusting children to make these trips all by themselves promotes responsibility, initiative, self-esteem, logical reasoning and problem-solving skills. There’s even a popular TV show called Hajimete no Otsukai (English translation: My First Errand), starring little ones as young as two navigating the world on their own for the very first time.
Parents of fussy eaters, you might want to make sure you’re sitting for this one: in South Korea, kids’ menus, even kids’ meals, simply aren’t a thing.
It’s expected that as soon as a child’s chompers are up to the task, they will partake of the family meal just like everyone else. They’re expected to try some of everything on the table, which means even toddlers quickly grow accustomed to South Korean staples like fermented and pickled vegetables, red beans, sweet sorghum and squid.
The little children enjoy their typical South Korean feasts without complaint, because they are taught they must adapt to whatever’s on the menu, and not the other way around.
Get that smile off your dial
In Western societies, smiling is so deeply tied to politeness that we don’t even pause to think about why we do it. It becomes instinct; it would be plain rude not to smile at your neighbour, or even a stranger, as you pass by.
In Russia, if you went around smiling at everyone on the street, you’d earn some funny looks. To Russians, a smile is not a way to manage social expectations; instead, it’s a natural physical response when people experience genuine feelings of joy, happiness, gratitude, love etc. – emphasis on genuine. When children learn manners, they aren’t taught to stick a smile on their faces when they don’t feel like it. So, what non-Russians might misconstrue as grumpiness is actually just emotional transparency, though some Westerners might flinch at the raw honesty.
Around the World in 80 Parenting Styles, written by Freya Horton Andrews and illustrated by Margaux De Bellissen, is out now!