Parenting Tips from Around the World

Every parent wants the same thing: happy, healthy, self-confident kids who meet life’s challenges with grace and strength. But according to US-based alternative parenting expert Christine Gross-Loh, the accepted wisdom of Western childrearing may not have all the answers.

Having researched parenting solutions in Japan, Germany, Sweden, France and other countries, she says our increasing tendency to overprotect our children while giving messages that they’re all unique and special could create problems for future generations.

“Protecting our kids from discomfort isn’t the same as doing what’s best for them,” says Gross-Loh.

By taking lessons from other countries, she says, we can improve what our collective wisdom can teach us about raising capable and confident children who thrive.



Japanese students are held to high standards of individual achievement, strength of character and resiliency through hansei or reflection upon self-improvement and industriousness. Gross-Loh says the Japanese mindset can seem relentless – if one can always do better, where does it end? However, she’s found the over-praising style favoured by Western parents doesn’t necessarily work either. “Over-praising my children can make them focus on pleasing me rather than the joy of accomplishing something for themselves, can harm their self-confidence and can prevent them from feeling how good it is to meet and overcome challenges.”

Food and eating…

Unlike English-speaking nations, Japan and South Korea have the lowest obesity rates in the world, at just four per cent. Why? In restaurants, children are expected to eat small amounts of adult fare – children’s menus don’t exist. At home, parents offer children a wide variety of foods, at first toning down flavours and spices to suit young tastebuds.


Toys and gifts…

The French have a saying when it comes to their children’s demands for the latest toy: ‘On les frustre’ or ‘frustrate them’. In other words, a valuable lesson is taught by denying a child’s desires, perhaps for years, because the timing’s wrong, it’s too costly or inappropriate.


Snacking in France? Mais non! In fact, the words for snacks don’t really mean snack at all: gouter means a taste or a sample, while casse-croute is more of an appetiser. Snacking is so frowned upon, public service advertisements on television have warned against it.


Criticism and feedback…

German parents believe children’s psyches are resilient enough to hear criticism and feedback, and only praise when it’s well-earned. Unlike North American kids, “in Germany, a child wouldn’t be given so many options, so many choices and catered to in such a personalised way,” she says. It’s a lesson parents in the UK, US, Canada and Australia would do well to take on board. After two decades of ‘self-esteem’ parenting in which we routinely tell kids they’re unique, clever and above all, special, the result has been the so-called ‘entitled generation’. “Self-esteem became less about gaining confidence and resilience through goals you set and achieved and more about our right to be happy and feel good no matter what,” says Gross-Loh.

Outdoor play…

Currently, Germany has about 700 ‘forest kindergartens’, popular alternative preschools where children spend every minute of their four hours there outside, playing, exploring and learning. According to parents, the experience not only increases their children’s appreciation of nature, but improves their concentration, self-confidence, socialization skills and mood.