When I was a kid, I loved playing outdoors. I climbed rocks, rode my bike downhills, and ran laps around the block. But I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, which meant my time outside was limited to eight months out of the year. The freezing winters kept me and my sisters indoors, playing board games and pretending to be dancers.
In Australia, it’s a different story. The weather in the Land Down Under is always so gorgeous that parents let their kids run around outdoors for hours on end, no matter the time of year (with sun hats and sunscreen on, of course).
Even though most American parents have to contend with the biting cold for a good part of the year, there are still some parts of the Australian approach to parenting that translate to this side of the Atlantic.
Here are three to consider:
Never stop playing
Australian parents know a thing or two about playing around. According to daily lifestyle blog A Cup of Jo, kids in Australia spend so much time in the great outdoors, in part because the weather is so nice year-round. Not only that, but sporting culture is huge in the South Pacific country, so staying active at a young age is highly encouraged. That’s why there is an abundance of expansive and interactive playgrounds and parks in Australia, more so than you would find in the United States or other parts of North America.
And playgrounds are such a big thing in the country that there was even a best-of competition: In 2016, the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) launched a nationwide search for the country’s best public play space. The winner: the City of Melbourne’s Nature Play at Royal Park.
Babies learn to doggy paddle earlier
When to start your baby on swimming lessons is a point of contention in the United States. Some swimming programs in the U.S. accept kids as little as 6 months old, but experts have raised concerns that learning at such a young age may provide “a false sense of security around water,” according to The Washington Post.
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that children age 4 and older should learn to swim, but, in 2010, updated its policy to say that kids as young as 1 years old can safely take swimming lessons, too.
But in Australia, babies can learn to doggy paddle well before their 6 month birthday. Different recommendations and guidelines exist, but generally, children in Australia can enroll in a formal swimming program as early as 4 months old, according to the Australian Swim Schools Association. “After 4 months, infant swimming lessons in a gentle and developmentally appropriate program can, and should, be started right away,” the association writes on its website.
Chill out, parents
Australians are known to take an easygoing approach to life—and that includes parenting, even though, according to A Cup of Jo, Australian parents have to adhere to stricter safety rules than here in the United States. For example, in Australia, car seats must include an extra strap around the top of the seat, and children must always wear sun hats during recess at school to prevent heat stroke and minimize skin cancer risk.
Still, even though Australian parents are safety-minded, they also have a more laid-back attitude towards raising their little ones, and are less likely to be helicopter parents.
Why is that the case?
One theory is that Australia has far more family-friendly laws that make parenting easier. Australian workers receive a minimum four weeks paid vacation, and primary caregivers get up to 18 weeks of paid parental leave. Under U.S. law, employers are not required to offer workers paid vacation or holiday time, nor is there a federal law mandating paid family leave.
It may be a long time before the United States adopts supportive policies that make parenting easier for Americans. But that doesn’t mean we can’t follow the Australians’ lead and find different ways to relax so that our kids have more freedom to be kids.