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PARENTING

Seven quirky things German parents do while raising their kids

It's common to romanticize the parenting techniques of other countries, but some tendencies of German Eltern can leave foreigners utterly confused.

Seven quirky things German parents do while raising their kids
File photo: DPA.

For full disclosure, I spent my first year in Germany as an au pair for a lovely German family in Berlin, so I often acted as a fly on the wall observing various German parents.

And while I could recognize many of their methods from my own American upbringing, there were certain rituals that gave me a bit of culture shock.

1. The vast amount of strange contraptions to transport little ones

Photo: DPA

Germans certainly can get creative when it comes to keeping their youngsters in tow. The precarious-looking buggies they have strapped to the front or back of their bikes still give me anxiety as I watch parents speed along busy city streets.

READ ALSO: An American parent in Germany, or how I learned to love the power tools

These surely must be safety risks? But alas I doubt police keep records of Fahrradanhänger-related injuries, so I cannot provide an answer.

2. Letting them play outside in freezing, awful weather

Perhaps this is just the impression of someone who grew up in warmer climates, but seeing German kids clambering around on playgrounds amid subzero temperatures and howling winds was quite a shock to me.

But parents here abide by the German saying: Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, es gibt nur falsche Kleidung. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

3. Impractical snow suits

Photo: DPA.

But despite what the Germans say about bad clothing, they apparently haven’t yet realized how awful and impractical those adorable one-piece snowsuits are. The target demographic for this garment – toddlers – are the worst choice for handling its fundamental restraints because they simply haven’t yet mastered bladder control. And still, come winter, this outfit is ubiquitous around schools and parks.

As soon as you hear that little desperate plea of ich muss pullern – I have to pee – you know it’s already a race to find the loo, and then you also have to unzip the snowsuit and take out the child’s arms before they can finally relieve themselves. Spoiler alert: that snowsuit often loses in the end and has to make a trip into the washer.

4. School ‘bags’ for their first day

Kids carrying their “school bags” in Dresden. Photo: DPA.

Honestly, I’m a bit more jealous of this ritual than baffled by it. Going off to that first day of Grundschule (primary school) is a much bigger deal in Germany than I remember it being for me in the US, and it’s tradition to give kids a Schultüte – school bag – to celebrate.

But the confusing thing about this “bag” is that it’s not actually any sort of bag or backpack as the name suggests, but rather a colourful cone filled with sweets and goodies.

SEE ALSO: Super cute things German kids do at primary school

5. Reading them very violent stories

Stories from the classic book Struwwelpeter. Photo: Peter/Flickr Creative Commons.

The first time I read the original German Brothers’ Grimm stories to the children I was babysitting, I found myself trying to censor the content. Especially when the kids asked me to translate the stories into English, I wondered whether that also should mean translating them through my American sensibilities.

From Hansel and Gretel being outright abandoned by their parents – rather than simply lost in the woods – to Snow White’s wicked queen being forced to dance herself to death, I struggled with reading these disturbing tales to such impressionable young minds.

And another German classic, Der Struwwelpeter, is no better. In it, one girl accidentally lights herself on fire and burns to death, a boy has his thumbs cut off with scissors, and another boy starves himself to death.

I’ll take the happy Disney endings instead, thank you.

SEE ALSO: Eight times Disney sugar-coated Germany’s cruel kids’ tales

6. Eating lunch exactly at noon

I suppose this one is just about Germans taking their term for lunch literally – Mittagessen literally means “noon meal”. At least it gives children some sense of a structured routine during the day.

Of course, getting kids to actually sit down right at noon is another story.

But the habit even seems to stick for adults, as you may notice with your German co-workers.

7. Not teaching them to read until age six

At least in the schools I attended in the US, it seemed there was a big push to get kids reading before age five and kindergarten.

But in Germany reading seems to be saved for when they first enter Grundschule at age six, with Kitas and Kindergartens careful not to focus too much on academics before then.

Still, getting a later start doesn’t seem to be having a negative impact: The latest PISA school performance report defined Germany as having a high share of “top performers” in reading.

8. Letting kids play near or with fireworks

Okay so this little one is still too young for even Germans to entrust with these fireworks, but the fact that this photo exists says something. Photo: DPA.

One of my closest German friend’s favourite childhood memories is setting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve. And now that she lives in the US where purchasing these explosive devices is more restrictive in certain regions, she’s especially excited to return to Germany to watch things explode.

I was taken aback here how casually these pyrotechnics are sold in abundance at supermarkets. And Germany even has a special classification of lower-risk fireworks for kids that can be purchased over the age of 12.

But perhaps the fact that Germans are comfortable with this – and not enough fingers go missing around the holidays for them to want to change things – reveals more about American parenting habits: we’re a bit too cautious.

So maybe it’s better to stand back a bit, let them launch explosives into the freezing air while wearing their snowsuits, and trust that kids have a little more instinctive common sense than we give them credit for.

A version of this article originally ran on March 20th, 2017.

Member comments

  1. Can we also add: screaming.

    I am of the generation where we were taught to only scream if there is danger (so that anyone who hears you can help).
    Parents/teachers in Germany seem to believe it is acceptable to allow children to scream and yell when they are simply playing.

    Not only is it annoying to hear but also dangerous. I seldom react, or double check now, because it is the norm in this country. Very sad.

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FAMILY

Reader question: Who can look after my children while they quarantine in Germany?

Under the latest German travel rules, vaccinated people are exempt from quarantine when returning from holidays abroad - but their unvaccinated children may not be. Here's who's allowed to take care of them.

Reader question: Who can look after my children while they quarantine in Germany?
Looking after children in quarantine can be tricky for working parents. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Germany’s new travel rules, which came into force on August 1st, were in many ways intended to make it easier for families to go on foreign holidays. 

While previously all children over the age of six had to submit a negative test or proof of recovery from Covid when flying into a Germany, now only children aged 12 and over have to show a negative test (or proof of vaccination and recovery) on their return.

READ ALSO: Germany to require Covid tests for all unvaccinated travellers arriving by ‘plane, car or train’

That essentially means that only children who are legally able to get vaccinated fall under the scope of the new rules when returning from abroad – so families whose kids are too young to get a jab won’t have to pay for tests for them.

Of course, in a global pandemic things are never quite that simple: under the latest rules, some families may still run into problems when returning from a high-risk or virus variant areas. If all the adults are vaccinated, they won’t have to quarantine, but unvaccinated children will face anywhere from five days (for a high-risks area) to two weeks (for a virus variant area) confined at home. 

Here’s what you can do if your children are in quarantine but you’re not – and you need a third-party to help look after them. 

Can grandparents or a babysitter come round to help out? 

In general, visitors aren’t allowed to enter the house during quarantine, the Federal Health Ministry told regional radio station BR24. If several people are allowed to pay visits and then leave again, it would be much harder to control the spread of the virus – which is, of course, the whole aim of self-isolation.

However, there are exceptions to this if there is a “good cause” for the visitors to be there, the ministry explained. This could mean, for example, that a carer could come into to check on an elderly resident in quarantine, or that a babysitter could come to look after the children in urgent situations.

Be aware, though, that even a “good cause” doesn’t give you a free pass to invite a rotating cast of babysitters and neighbours round to your home. Social contact should still be limited as much as possible, so it’s best to stick to a regular babysitter or relatives such as grandparents, who can come round regularly over the course of one or two weeks while your children are in quarantine. 

Can the children quarantine at someone else’s house? 

According to the Ministry for Health, that can be worked out on a case-by-case basis – and specific rules may vary depending on where you live.

READ ALSO:

The best thing to do is to contact your local health authority and ask them for advice on your situation. They’ll be able to advise you directly on whether, for example, the children’s grandparents or another relative can pick them up from the airport and take them to stay with them for the duration of the quarantine.

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