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Different parenting styles from around the world

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Oct 29, 2023 · 11 mins read
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After watching a million videos on YouTube and TikTok, I’ve come to the following conclusion: One, parenting is a lot like making pasta.

And two, there’s no one right way to cook the perfect pasta.

From the classic Greek Pastitsio to the traditional Jewish specialty of Noodle Kugel to Pad Thai every culture has its own unique process that turns wheat into this beautiful unique dish full of flavours and textures.

And as any Michelin-starred chef in the world will tell you, the perfect dish involves playing around with the ingredients, trusting your intuition, and adding that one secret ingredient: love.

And that’s exactly what parenting is!

Parenting styles may vary around the world, but close your eyes and pick any random mother, and she will share the same dilemmas when it comes to child-rearing: a baby that thought her bladder was a squeeze toy, before proceeding to think of her body as its personal pacifier and teether.

Then there’s the phase where she tries to survive the terrible twos, potty training years, and full-blown tantrums thrown in between.

Then come the teenage years.

Basically, we’re all just sailing in the same boats, weathering the same storms, and trying to stay afloat—just in different oceans and time zones.

Whether we are referred to as “pai,” “ouder,” or simply “parents,” our goal remains the same. We all want the same thing for our children: their happiness and success.

And while some cultures may define success differently, their paths may also vary slightly. After all, there is no one right way to parent—just like there is no one right way to whip up your favourite pasta.

But what about happiness? According to one UNICEF survey, when it comes to happiness, the Dutch seem to have aced it. And that is why their parenting style deserves a little more time in the spotlight!

But, I’ll get to that in a bit.

Here’s how different cultures affect parenting styles and how we can learn from different parenting styles from around the world,

How is parenting different in different cultures?

Parenting across cultures varies in many different aspects. For example, 92% of babies born in Norway are breastfed, while only 19% of French mums choose to go down this path.

Japanese parents prefer to co-sleep with their infants, while parents in the US prefer to put the baby in a crib and believe that this approach will make children more independent.

Parents in Singapore focus more on academics, while parents in Denmark have forest schools that encourage their child to explore and connect with nature.

Parenting is different in many ways in different cultures and is impacted by the culture, economic condition, and values that parents hold dear.

How does culture affect parenting? 

Good question. Our culture influences our values and the way we think and live our daily lives. For example, the Japanese culture encourages honour, trust, and honesty, and these values become the foundation of parenting.

First off, parents lead by example and expect their children to learn these values from a young age.

Japanese parents encourage their children to be independent—like ASAP! And no, two-year-olds do not wander around the streets of Japan with a list of errands, despite what the Netflix show Old Enough would have you believe. It’s an exaggerated version of events designed to get people talking.

However, there are towns where children as young as 6 run errands or walk to school without adult supervision. But one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to parenting styles.

What may work for a small, safe town in Japan or Germany, will definitely get you arrested in the city of New York.

You just saved yourself from changing out of your cosiest PJs by having your preschooler fetch that one item on the grocery list that YOU forgot, and now you get to call it parenting.

You might think you’re playing it smart, but all you’re doing is putting your child in danger and setting yourself up for prison-issued clothing, and that is just not a good look.

In short, it’s better to look deeper and really understand the way different cultural approaches to parenting and understand the values behind those parenting styles.

Teach me your ways, Sensei.

I’m not saying we ignore the Japanese way of parenting. What I mean is we pick the ways that will ensure our children’s safety and help build their character.

When we say the Japanese expect their children to be independent, what they really mean is that they expect the kids to clean up after themselves, help with daily tasks and learn important life skills.

That starts with small tasks like cleaning their rooms, setting the table, and making their own lunch. I write this and I struggle to get my five-year-old to wipe his nose with a tissue and not his sleeve

So, please, teach me your ways, Sensei. Teach me how to inculcate values of honour, honesty, and social responsibility. 

For example, one method that the Japanese culture implements is that they make it mandatory for students to spend 15 minutes after school cleaning up their classrooms. It is their culture and tradition, and a way to teach kids their social responsibility and how they need to take ownership of their school and clean up their own mess.

Just 15 minutes.  In ‘teen-years’ that’s like 10–15 TikTok videos.

And here is the result: Not only did Japanese fans clean up the stadium after the World Cup match in Qatar, but they also inspired other fans and started a movement.

Other nations began to clean up after themselves after the matches.  I don’t know about you, but in my world of snot-covered sleeves, Lego mines, and lost socks that never made it to the laundry hamper, that’s one big parenting win right there.

Success and happiness

Speaking of the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022, another parenting win was when the Moroccan footballer Sofiane Boufal danced with his mum. They celebrated the team’s win on the sidelines, and he held her hand, danced with her, and planted kisses on her headscarf.

The world watched, mesmerized.
It was a beautiful moment. 

Here was this woman who had raised this gentle boy, prepared his meals, and sat in the stands and watched her son play soccer in hopes of making it to the World cup one day. And here he was, dancing on the football field with her and crediting her for her efforts.

Happiness? Check!
Success? Heck Yeah!

Morocco beat all records and became the first African and Arab team to reach the semi-finals in the World Cup, and as some believe, a lot of credit goes to the mothers of the players.

How do you think parenting styles differ between countries?

When my toddler discovered his hands were an excellent tool for hitting, he decided to play “whack a mole” with pretty much any living object in his proximity. I happened to be in that proximity more times than any other creature, living or stuffed, so I suffered at the hands of my toddler. Literally.

I turned to the most trusted source: parenting books, which I devoured in the hope of finding the perfect solution.

As it turned out, parenting styles differ between countries and cultures.

Authoritarian parenting cultures suggested that I rule with an iron fist and nip it in the bud.

Parenting authors from America told me I should try the gentle approach: a firm no and hand-holding should do the trick.

The Montessori approach told me I should try the mantra “Hands are not for hitting’ and teach my child other positive ways.

While still others suggested I try to understand the reason behind these outbursts. Was my toddler upset? Was this just a phase he would soon outgrow? Or was he trying to tell me something?

But by far the best one suggested I literally keep my cool and use this opportunity to teach my child to control his anger.

As it turns out, parents in the Arctic are cooler than the rest of us equatorial folk in more ways than one. Apparently, they can keep their tempers as cool as the outside temperatures – which, by the way, drop as low as -12 degrees.

I knew parenting in the tundra demanded a cool demeanour; I just didn’t realise how literally they meant it. (Okay, I promise that was my last temperature pun.)

For one, the Inuit culture didn’t believe in speaking to kids in an angry voice, let alone scolding or screaming at them. They have this incredible nurturing culture, which, if they ranked parenting styles based on ‘gentleness’ would have them at the top of the charts.

Instead, Inuit parents thought a parent losing their temper was basically an adult who was unable to regulate their own emotions.

Yes, they legit know how to play it cool.  (Okay, this was definitely my last pun.)

Their strategy, apart from never scolding a child, is to teach with stories and drama. When a child hit a mother or threw a fit, she would ask him questions instead of getting angry at him. Then, through fun and playful storytelling, the parents would help children process their emotions and practise self-control.

This made sense to me.

The opportunity to see it in action came when my child lost his temper because a round peg blatantly defied his efforts and refused to fit into a square hole. He screamed, and his wrist came flying down at the toy, which was then flung across the room.

Instead of addressing the outburst, I let him calm down and didn’t react the way I would have before.
It was later during playtime that I got my chance.

Act 1, Scene 1. Mr. Teddy, who has become quite round around the tummy, begins to feel the same emotions. His somewhat large frame just won’t squeeze into a 5-inch hot-wheel car.

Mr. Teddy begins to get upset and pushes and pushes. I notice my toddler watching and sharing my observations, just like the Inuit parents suggest. “He wants to hit the car and break this Lego box because he’s upset. Should he?”

A few plays later, Mr. Teddy apparently has developed a bad rep but has learned a lot of self-control. My kid, on the other hand, has learned to regulate his emotions thanks to the effort of Jean Briggs and the years of wisdom of the Inuit people and their ancestors.

Which culture has the best parenting style?

From tiger mums and helicopter dads to panda parents and dolphin mums, there are pros and cons to each parenting style. Also, what the heck is elephant and jellyfish parenting? Yes, that is a term too!

There are so many different cultures and parenting styles that picking one seems impossible.

Today, parents in Australia run errands while wearing their baby in a wrap inspired by the traditional African Kanga. The French teach American parents the wisdom on how to make children appreciate food and eat their broccoli and asparagus without gagging.

But if I had to pick, my vote would be for the Dutch. They could really show us the ropes on how to kick ass at parenting. Because a recent UNICEF report proved that kids in the Netherlands were the happiest in the world.

They had the highest sense of well-being, which meant clearly the parenting communities in the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark, which ranked second and third, were onto something.

As statistics continue to show us that more and more teens are facing depression, a figure that went up 59% from 2007 to 2017 in the US alone, their parenting style becomes the need of the hour. Suicide rates are seeing a steady rise among teens across the globe, which makes this a good time to take some notes from the parents of the happiest kids in the world.

Playtime is encouraged, and schools aren’t stressful. There is no homework, and both parents are equally involved in parenting. There is a work-life balance, and parents prioritise their children’s mental health and happiness.

Here’s the thing: These parents see happiness as a means to success. And for them, a happy child is a successful child, which is exactly how it should be.

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