Some years ago I had no idea Scandinavian Parenting was a thing. I'm a Scandinavian man, a Swede born and bred. It's just what we do - the way I was raised and the only thing I knew.
Traveling the world and four years in New York City gave me many different perspectives on how to raise kids. I spent a year with 12 women in a programme with the FamilyLab organisation - now I believe 'Scandinavian Parenting' is better known as Relational Parenting.
Today I can write about it for someone who might be interested in raising resilient children who can take on the world and live reasonably happy lives. Also, I'm a EMCC certified Parent- and Family Coach.
There is some solid research behind my writing; Pediatrician, writer och father of eight Lars H Gustafsson. Psychologist and writer Markus Dencker. Danish family terapeut Jesper Juul who founded the FamilyLab organisation.
All of them Scandinavians, If you're looking for a book on Relational Parenting from an outside perspective I'd recommend The Gardener and the Carpenter by Allison Gopnik published by McMillan.
A carpenter believes that he or she has the power to transform a block of wood into a chair. When we garden, on the other hand, we do not believe we are the ones who single-handedly create the cabbages or the roses. Rather, we toil to create the conditions in which plants have the best chance of flourishing.
Scandinavian Parenting in its simplest form is "Growth over Obedience", the gardener, not the carpenter.
The cornerstones are
- Collaboration - Interplay
Collaboration - Interplay
Children will collaborate if they know how - the fundamental idea put forth by the founder of FamilyLab, danish Jesper Juul, in his book 'Your competent child'.
Children are 'competent' and will seek collaboration nine times out of ten. However, the one time they won't collaborate is when they don't feel that you deserve it.
I write 'seek collaboration' since they don't always succeed, especially when they don't know how to. As parents, we guide them. Next time, perhaps they'll get it right. Children naturally seek collaboration and want to do what's right in each situation. They want to contribute, this drive is innate in all human beings.
This drive comes from evolution, which taught us that to belong is to survive. Humans are the most social creatures, far surpassing dolphins, elephants, and chimpanzees in terms of social behavior. Our brains are wired for belonging, observing, identifying, and integrating social norms, rules, and behaviors.
Children seek responsibility, they yearn for and desire it. As parents, we initially bear responsibility for all of our child's needs, as they grow older, we gradually transfer it to them. Ideally, this transition should occur smoothly and naturally.
Eventually, they will leave our care and assume full responsibility for their relationships, happiness, finances, personal hygiene, and overall well-being.
Children are born with complete human potential, equipped with all the basic human emotions, such as sadness, happiness, disgust, surprise and anger. They are universal human emotions. At first, kids are entirely driven by these emotions, and as parents we help them understand and regulate these feelings, enabling them to function effectively within society.
All emotions matter
The best model for social and emotional learning I've come across is RULER by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
Here is a one-page Tipsheet for families...
Bad behavior and conflicts
When our children don't collaborate with us it is a form of communication. 'Something's wrong and I don't know how to fix it, please help' is the underlying message. So, we don't ignore "bad" behavior; instead, we label it, listen, try to understand where we as parents may have failed, and attempt to do better.
The responsibility for the quality of the relationship with our children lies solely with the parents. Never the children; they require guidance and will do the right thing if they know how.
As parents, we engage in "compassionate conflicts" with our children, rather than ignoring or avoiding them. The phrase 'Praise the good, ignore the bad' is poor advice. We never make our children invisible. Bad behavior is a means of communication, and we listen to its message.
We take them seriously, remember they are born with all human capacities and emotions. They simply don't know how to translate emotions into useful behavior that gets them what they need. As parents, our job is to teach our children how to express and regulate their emotions in a way that meets their needs. Hunger, fear, anger – how do our children deal with these emotions in a constructive manner?
Communication, and the I word.
We state our position and ask for theirs, and we have the final say. We must have the final say because we love our children more than anything on this planet. We have lived longer, we are wiser and more experienced. This is our responsibility, we are the authority in our family – our children need our wisdom and structure.
When we use the 'I' word, we speak from personal authority. 'I don't want you to spend any more time with your mobile phone today, I need you at the dinner table, we have a lot to talk about.' Direct communication of what's expected and what our needs as a parent are. Perhaps our child will offer a negotiation here – 'Okay, one hour, I need to talk to Lisa tonight.' Now we are collaborating and respecting our child's needs. 'Okay, but lights out at 10 p.m. Deal.'
We don't do ultimatums, we collaborate. It's a give-and-take. We don't back down from our needs as parents - they are human needs and our kids has to learn deal with them.
The position by The American College of Pediatricians is for most Swedes abhorrent. 'Young children need correction and, at times, punishment from their parents to learn appropriate behavior and self-control ─ key ingredients for their future success in life.' is absolute nonsense. Spanking is never ever a valid option.
Appropriate behavior and self-control are taught by living them as a parent. By behaving and acting the way you want your children to act, they will observe and incorporate your actions into their own understanding of how to navigate the world. Children are highly sensitive to discrepancies between what you say and what you do, and they demand fidelity.
The alternative to violence is personal authority, as the adult, your children will respect you. This approach only works when you respect your children as well – they are inviolable human beings from day one.
If we expect respect from our children, we must respect them in return – listen, see, adjust, negotiate, and explain. And love them deeply and fiercely, with all our heart and soul.
A somewhat futile attempt at summary
We try to avoid 'parenting.' Instead, we lead by example, guide, and teach. This requires nearly superhuman levels of patience.
We greet our children with respect and integrity. They must be heard, respected, and seen. They yearn for responsibility, and we grant it to them at a reasonable pace.
In his book Gränslära (Boundaries) author Markus Dencker writes about the importance of not being afraid of our children's affects – their emotions, anger, and frustrations.
The Rolling Stones has it all figured out: 'You can't always get what you want / But if you try sometimes, you just might find / You just might find / You get what you need!' - we provide our kids with what they need, which is not always what they want.
It is equally important that we stay close to our children, never leaving them alone with their emotions. We stay close, emotionally, even when they hate us.
I've tried to translate a grid from Gränslära with different parenting styles across two axis – structure and 'emotional proximity.
Upper left corner – structure without emotional proximity – is the classic authoritarian parenting style. 'Because I say so! Do it or we will have a problem!'
Lower right corner – strong emotional proximity without structure – is the fun 'buddy-parent' who obliges every request and is careful not to get in the way of the child's will. There's always a good time for ice cream.
What really destroys a child is growing up in the lower left corner – weak family structures with weak emotional proximity. Unpredictable boundaries from an emotionally disconnected parent result in the child being unable to learn 'the rules of the game'. Walking on eggshells, they withdraw and live constantly 'on guard' for whatever unpredictable event will happen next – with no rules and no guidance to rely on.
I believe 'Scandinavian parenting' is in the upper right corner. Structures are enforced through patience and guidance with strong emotional proximity. We talk, engage, hug, and spend a lot of time together with our kids. We live with our kids.
We want our children to grow, not blindly obey. What kind of life will this person find for themselves? What will become of this little toddler?
Is it feasible in other parts of the world?
Nordic countries have extremely high taxes, but they also provide 480 days of paid parental leave. Labor laws protect mothers and fathers with young children. Preschool is available for all children with plenty of outdoor play. Income equality, where university graduates, on average, make only 25% more.
Is it realistic to adopt the 'Scandinavian parenting' style outside of Scandinavia? In a more competitive society with fewer social safety nets?
Here's my perspective: raising a child 'Scandinavian' style will foster creativity and self-reliance, setting them up for success anywhere in the world.
Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti writes in a Time article linked below:
Notably, low-pressure Sweden is a highly innovative society, including a tech sector that has spawned Skype, Spotify, Minecraft, and Candy Crush Saga, a remarkable feat for a country of less than 10 million people.
And, how do we define 'success'? You can't win at life because we're all going to die at some point. How do we give our children a foundation for the best possible life on own strengths and merits?
I also had Perplexity AI answer this question...
Scandinavian parenting is a parenting philosophy and research-based method built on the idea that the relationship with children is the most important thing.
While Scandinavian parenting is often held up as an ideal, it's not necessarily something that can be easily replicated in other cultures. The way parents raise their children is deeply influenced by the institutions and economic conditions of the society in which they live. As economists, it is believed that mimicking the Scandinavians is an unreasonable expectation, directed at parents who may not realize how little can be in their control. What many parents do not recognize is that a lot of the way they raise their children is dictated by economics. As important as personal preferences and values may be, how we raise our kids is deeply influenced by the institutions and economic conditions of the society in which we live.
In conclusion, while some aspects of Scandinavian parenting can be applied in other parts of the world, it is important to consider the cultural and economic context in which parenting takes place.