Swedish Parenting Traditions

Swedish parenting traditions have been developing away from traditional gender roles and authoritarian parenting styles since the end of World War II. American parents who spend time in Sweden are sometimes shocked by how different the Swedish attitude to parenting can be from the approach most American parents take.

The Old Way

Before World War II, parenting in Sweden was based on a strict and traditional model. Women stayed at home and took care of the kids. Men worked, made the decisions for the household and disciplined the children with physical force. After World War II, Swedish society went through a series of increasingly significant changes. In 1958, corporal punishment in school was outlawed. In 1979, it was made illegal in the home, too. A series of campaigns for social democracy brought women into the work force and created an extensive system of state programs to support working families, including paid maternity leave and then paternity leave, too. Swedish fathers are now heavily involved in child care.


Ever since Swedish parents were banned from using any form of physical discipline in 1979, Swedish society has adopted a nonviolent approach to child-rearing in which parents are never expected to spank or slap their kids regardless of the circumstance. At first, many parents weren't sure how to discipline their kids if they couldn't spank them and Swedish children were raised in a highly permissive environment, according to Adrienne Ahlgren Haeuser, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, in a research paper posted at Neverhitachild.org. Over time, Swedish parents developed methods of discipline based on looking the child straight in the eyes and correcting him orally.


One of the most striking differences between Swedish and U.S. parenting traditions is that Swedish parents allow children much more freedom to take risks than U.S. parents usually do. Swedish kids ride their bicycles in the street, climb trees, swim and perform other potentially dangerous activities from their preschool years onward. Despite this fact, Sweden has the lowest rate of injury in childhood of any country in the world, according to a 2001 report by UNICEF.


Swedish attitudes to gender equality and the Swedish paternity leave laws have combined to produce a tradition of extensive paternal involvement in child-rearing. According to "The New York Times," 85 percent of Swedish fathers take paternity leave and increasing numbers of Swedish couples split parental leave equally. It is now part of Swedish culture for dads to be heavily involved in their kids' lives without any stigma or negative effect on their careers. The Swedish concept of male identity has been evolving with these changes and many Swedish men now identify with home life as much as with their work.

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