How to Parent Like a Swede

How to Parent Like a Swede. Rain or Shine Mamma.

As you might have guessed, the Swedish parenting style revolves a lot around the outdoors, but there is more to it!

Recently I came across a story in Time Magazine called How to Parent Like a German and found it intriguing, partly because I was born and raised in another European country – Sweden – myself. After I started raising my own two daughters in the U.S. I noticed that my own deeply held cultural beliefs about parenting and childhood were not necessarily the norm here. In fact, I discovered that it’s almost impossible to even talk about a specific American parenting style, since this country is incredible diverse and parents seem to gravitate toward whatever “tribe” shares their own core beliefs.

Honestly, I was confused at first.

American parenting styles seemed to run the gamut from authoritarian obedience to not even using the word ‘no’. There were helicopter moms and free range parents and everything in between. I learned completely new concepts, like gender reveal party, baby wearing and kindergarten readiness.

All Swedish parents certainly don’t raise their kids the same way. But these are some habits that may surprise you about the Swedish parenting style.

#1 Babies nap outside

Yes, even in the winter. So please don’t call Child Protective Services on your Swedish neighbor whose baby is sleeping soundly on the back porch in freezing temperatures – she is just doing something that generations of Scandinavian mothers have done before her, and the baby is likely well bundled up. According to the Swedish parenting style, fresh air is considered key to good health and napping outside is both common at home and standard practice at preschools. The upshot of this practice? Babies take longer naps when they sleep outside in the cold, according to one Finnish study.

#2 Kids play outside every day, regardless of the weather

With its dark, freezing winters and cool, often rainy, summers Scandinavia definitely picked a losing ticket in the global climate lottery. But parents in Sweden happily tell their kids, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” and send them outside to play anyway (see Five Reasons Why I let My Kids Play Outside in (Almost) Any Weather). Some nurseries, so called “Rain or Shine” preschools, or forest schools, even specialize in playing outdoors most of the day all year round. In elementary school indoor recess doesn’t exist, and since recess makes up approximately 20 percent of the school day in Sweden, older kids have plenty of time to play outside during the day as well.

#3 Young kids don’t have a lot of organized activities

Swedes are very protective of both their own and their kids’ free time, and in general don’t rush to get them signed up for sports and other extra-curricular activities. Whereas American moms will sometimes tell me that they spent their summer chauffeuring their children to toddler reading programs, science camps, competitive soccer, viola lessons and twice weekly swim meets, Swedes are more likely to pack up their camper van and head for the coast. Many kids will eventually pick one sport that they like to play after school, but often they have to be at least 6 years old to play on a team.

How to Parent Like a Swede. Rain or Shine Mamma.

#4 Preschools don’t stress early academics

Swedish parents believe unstructured play is an essential part of childhood (see #2 and #3) and mandatory schooling doesn’t start until the year a child turns 7. Over 80 percent of Swedish children aged 1-5 attend a government-subsidized preschool which also functions as a daycare. But unlike preschools in many other countries there are no flash cards, wall words or handwriting exercises. Instead, preschools usually focus on play, cooperation, tolerance and gender equality.

#5 Parents don’t use corporal punishment

Sweden was the first country to ban spanking and all other forms of corporal punishment in 1979, and its neighbors Finland and Norway soon followed suit. Although spanking was once a common way to discipline your child, more and more parents voluntarily moved away from it in the 1960’s, as “the continuous growth of a democratic, egalitarian ideal meant that more and more Swedes felt that all people – children too – should enjoy equal protection from violence,” according to this article on the official site of Sweden. Today the practice is severely frowned upon.

What foreign parenting practices have surprised you? Let’s chat in the comments!

How to Parent Like a Swede. Rain or Shine Mamma.

34 thoughts on “How to Parent Like a Swede

  1. Nell Regan Kartychok says:

    This is a great article. I love hearing about how different families and cultures raise their families. After reading this, I feel like I belong in Sweeden. My baby never napped outside, but I resonate deeply with the other Sweedish parenting habits. Sometimes I feel like a salmon swimming against the current when compared to many of my American friends.

  2. Dawn says:

    My grandmother is Norwegian so much of this is very familiar to me and is the way I am raising my boys (ages 3 and 4.) I have not met many families who live this way and it can be very isolating at times. However, we are finding a few here and there and it is nice to have a “tribe” of like-minded folks for mutual support.

  3. Doug D says:

    By these standards I am a Swedish parent. I was chastised a few times for having Finny nap outside but I used the excuse that the entire country of Sweden does it – and I dressed her for the weather.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Good for you, Doug! My daughters have napped outside since they were about a week or two old, and they were both born in the Midwest in February. They always took longer and deeper naps outside, which tells me they were really comfortable.

  4. Fiona says:

    Well, now I wish I lived in Sweden! All of this resonates so much with me. I’m raising my daughter in Australia where parenting doesn’t seem to be quite as “intense” as it is in the US, but there’s still a lot of pressure to sign your kids up for a million activities.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      There are definitely a lot of good things about raising children in Sweden, Fiona. I’m a bit surprised to hear that Australian kids are so booked up – I thought things were a lot more laid back there. I’m sure some of that has just changed in the past generation or so too.

      • Fiona says:

        A lot has changed in a single generation in Australia. I moved here as a child, aged 10, and had a very laid back childhood. I then left as a young adult and lived in Canada for 11 years. I moved back here 2 years ago with my daughter and have really noticed the difference. Everything is just so much more intense and competitive and activities are directed at younger and younger children.

  5. Jasmine says:

    So glad I’ve found this blog! My son is near five now but when he was a baby I would often put him in his baby swing on his porch any set it rocking and it was usually a no fail way to get him to fall asleep. It just instinctively seemed like such a wonderful way to put babies to sleep. I just wished I would have done it more! And so nice to see I’m not the only one!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      I’m glad you found me too! My kids are pretty well past the napping phase but I always loved it when they were younger and they would fall asleep to the sounds of birds chirping and the wind blowing in the trees.

  6. Ida Sapp says:

    I am South African and we have only been in the US for two years. It has surprised me so much that very little children are booked up with activities and experience so much academical pressure. I am originally from a small farming community, but many of my friends’ children still spend most of their afternoons outside and have minimal extracurricular activities until they are well into primary school. It has also been interesting to me that children don’t have much time to play “unsupervised”. Even play often seems very organized.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Right, it gets crazy with all the activities and then the kids have no time for free play. I really believe they need to have that in order to develop social skills, not to mention all the health benefits of outdoor play.

  7. Louise says:

    Hi Linda
    I’m a Swedish mother living in the outskirts of London, UK and OMG the difference in child rearing is incredible different here from Sweden. I’ve always listens to my child and discussed matters what I liked and didn’t like with her and mutual respect exist between us. UK it is a very authorathive society where adults have no room for discussion. The mentality is ” my way or the highway ” mandatory school starts at 4 and it is very formal, parents dont even know the first name of their childs teacher, always adressed them as miss or mrs. when my child started last year it was very confusing for her ( traumatic aswell as she was dragged out of my arms in to the class room, was actually thinking of moving home at that point) now she is fine and adapted to be one way in school and another way at home but omg what a learning curb for both of us. To be honest I prefer Swedish way.
    Louise

    • Linda McGurk says:

      That’s interesting; I didn’t know the attitude toward children was that authoratative in the UK. Then again, I think the Nordic countries are probably pretty unique in that most parents raise their children in a more democratic and child-centered way. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

      • Jennifer says:

        It’s a little les strict in Scotland – school starts a year later than in England. Nursery here is really good (age 3 to 4) – no traditional learning as such, it’s all done through play. I’m very impressed by it (my son is in his second year of nursery – not starting school until he’s 5 next summer).

        I also had him napping in his prom outside when he was a baby – we’ve even got pictures of him out there fast asleep for hours in a blizzard with the prom cover on! He definitely slept much better outside. This is not at all common here though, as far as I know.

        Extracurricular activities are certainly very common now (much more so than my free-range childhood in the 80s)! I try to keep it to a minimum for my son – just swimming (because everyone should learn to swim) plus maybe one other thing he’s interested in like gymnastics – but it’s entirely his choice.

        • Linda McGurk says:

          Thanks for sharing; it’s always interesting to hear about parenting and schooling traditions in other countries. I think forest schools are catching on in the UK as well. And I’m so glad to hear that you’ve tried some outdoor napping! My kids are too old to sleep during the day now, but boy were those outdoor naps good while they lasted!

  8. Joni says:

    Hi, I just found your blog and am so glad I did! I live in the Northeast US and we get really cold winters. It is so important to me to spend time outdoors, and I used to walk every day regardless of the weather. I had a baby this year, and we spent the whole winter indoors because I was afraid to take her out into the cold (for her own safety and out of fear of CPS). She’s 11 months old now. Is it too late to try letting her sleep outdoors? She naps so poorly most of the time. Do you have any tips for transitioning to spending more time outdoors walking and playing since her body is not used to temperature fluctuations? I’m going to be reading through all your posts!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Hi Joni! So glad you found my blog! I’ve had several moms ask me when it’s safe to take a baby outside, so you’re not alone in thinking that it’s too cold. Doctors in Scandinavia generally deem it safe for babies to nap outside in down to -10C/14F, but in Scandinavia some parents will put their babies out to nap in even colder temperatures. The easiest way to find out if your daughter can transition to napping outside is to start taking her on longer walks outside, until she falls asleep. Once she gets in the habit of that, you may be able to start parking the stroller outside (if you have a safe place to do so). (I have some tips for taking baby outside in this post: https://rainorshinemamma.combaby-its-freezing-lets-go-outside/). And it’s definitely not too late to introduce your daughter to more outdoor play and adventure! As long as you dress her appropriately, the temperature fluctuation won’t be a problem. Since she is still so young, the best thing for you to do is simply establish a daily routine where you go outside together and explore your surroundings. You don’t need any toys and you don’t have to plan activities, just trust that your daughter will find things that pique her curiosity. For an 11-month-old, a small backyard can be a world of adventure! I’ve got plenty of ideas for invitations to play outside on this blog too, so make sure to browse around:o)

      • Joni says:

        Thanks so much for your reply! I will be trying your suggestions and continuing to browse around the blog for ideas 🙂

      • Hajar says:

        My baby is 12 months and never wants to nap on walks. They are too stimulating for him! Lol. Plus he always wants to nurse to sleep. Do no Swedish moms nurse their babies to sleep?? Im curious!
        Anyway, we just moved to a house with a sunroom where all the “windows” are sliding doors I can open so will try that as a transition.

        • Linda McGurk says:

          Oh funny! I wonder if it would help if you hung a thin blanket over the stroller to prevent him from seeing out? Or, if he’s used to being nursed to sleep, you may just be able to transition him to a stroller or the sunroom, likek you say. And yes, I think it’s common for babies in Sweden to be nursed to sleep as well, but maybe more so at night. During the day, I think a walk in the stroller is the most common method:o)

  9. Lisa Lewis, MD says:

    I must be a Swedish parent, too. What lovely and meaningful child rearing practices. I have long been an advocate for reducing a child’s schedule, getting outdoors and enjoying life. Well written!

  10. Hajar says:

    Hi! I am all for the naps outdoors, but I just need logistical help? I live in GA and in summer it gets super hot and sticky and buggy. How do o keep baby comfortable and bug free? Our winters aren’t as cold here, but cold enough for snow on rare occasion. How do you know baby is bundled enough to not freeze? Thanks!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      I hear you – summers in Indiana can get awfully sticky as well! In the summer, minimal clothing or even napping in just a diaper is what I would normally do when my kids were little. Some days may just be too hot for them to be comfortable, even in the shade – a good rule of thumb is to go by what you feel comfortable with yourself. I would also use a good bug net to protect against insects – they sell special ones for strollers. As far as dressing them for colder weather, I’ve got some good tips in this post: https://rainorshinemamma.combaby-its-freezing-lets-go-outside/. Hope this helps!

  11. Leeloo says:

    Hi, I really liked this article. I always try to nap my baby outside, because she sleeps longer outside and fresh air is better for sure. Overall, it was interesting to get to know about Swedish style of parenting, thank you.

  12. Lara Ferrarotti says:

    I am so happy I found this blog!I am an Italian living in Canada with my husband, my 3 years old son and a baby on the way. I am come from a culture where kids are kept a lot inside in bad weather or winter but it never felt right to me!I am trying to do most of my time with kids outdoor and I totally see the benefits of it. Napping outside is something I’ll try with the newcomer!thank you!

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