Friday, December 10, 2010

Swedish parenting tip - the Christmas Edition - Do you want to play with fire, little boy?

One of the many differences between parenting styles in the US and Sweden is the attitude towards danger and dangerous things. In the US, the idea tends to be to prevent access to dangerous things, or safety proof things to such an extreme that all risk is taken away. I am reminded of a scene in Jamie Oliver's food revolution where kids are prohibited from using dull knives at the lunch table, because children shouldn't have access to knives.

The Swedish approach is the opposite – teach children from an early age how to handle dangerous things, and they will treat them with respect. Thus, many Swedish kids learn how to use a knife to carve, and they learn how to play with fire.

Christmas season is candle season. Sweden is pitch black in the winter, from top to toe. While I'm sure things are much worse further north (did you know Stockholm is located in middle Sweden? There is still about half a country north of it), it is dark here from about 4pm to 9 am. Candles are necessary if you want to have any natural light. Candles are simply a part of the Swedish Christmas spirit.

Today my kid and I went to the Swedish institution known as 'the open preschool.' I'll write about it in more detail later, but it's a place for those of us on parental leave to bring our kids for more organized activities. So there we were, singing some nice little Swedish Christmas songs (which includes some strange version of 'in a cottage in the woods' but with Santa Claus rescuing the little bunny from the hunter) when the Pre-school teacher lit a sparkler that she had hung from the ceiling. Sparks flew and of course all of the little ones were completely mesmorized.

I felt like I was fresh off the boat. I don't think I have seen too many fireworks inside American preschools. One of the kids cried 'again! Again!' and, well, she repeated the whole thing again. It didn't seem too dangerous – some sparks flew, but nothing too big. Nothing caught fire.

Over the past few years I have seen kids under 10 engage in some pretty strange activities during school hours: making candles from scratch with huge vats of hot melted wax, very young kids lighting their own tea candles to brighten the morning darkness, carrying lit candles during St. Lucia parades. Each of these activities makes the American in me go 'but wait, something bad can happen!' but when I try to think of an example of that bad, I am left at a blank.

So, I guess I will just be grateful that my kids will grow up feeling comfortable with fire and knives. And hope they don't burn the house down in the process.


  1. Oh, there is a playground in our village where the small kids play unattended! I am more used to it now, but still! Unattended small children doing semi-dangerous swing-related activities in a public place! Unattended, I say again!

  2. Actually, Stockholm is nowhere near middle Sweden. I'm sitting in the "real" middle of sweden: Östersund. It is located about 600km north of Stockholm, and from here, it is about 1000km to the northern border. Don't become a nollåtta, now!

  3. So Sorry, Alexander, and all of the good people of Ostersund. It isn't that I am a nollatta - I swear. It's just that I am a stereotypical geographically challenged American.

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