Although moving to a foreign country can feel like a culture shock in itself, nothing prepared American writer Sara Zaske for the vast difference in parenting styles between Germans and Americans.
“The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked,” Zaske wrote for TIME. “Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?”
Zaske quickly realized that German parents had adopted a “free-range parenting” style long before it became the norm back home. And rather than confirming the worst fears, it’s had a surprisingly positive impact in their children’s success.
So, what does it take to parent like a German? First off, contrary to popular belief, academics shouldn’t be the first priority for your child—especially while they’re below grade school age. They should spend more time playing and socializing with their peers, instead. (Don’t miss the signs you’re raising emotionally intelligent children.)
German children are also encouraged to play outside, no matter the weather. If it’s cold, just bundle them up in extra layers. Too hot? Grab a water bottle and find some shade. As the Germans say, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
Plus, German parents value independence, Zaske says. Most allow their grade school kids to walk home from school and around their neighborhoods alone. Their only safety concern: Traffic, not abductions. (There’s an important reason why Japanese children are the healthiest in the world, too.)
Finally, Germans celebrate when a child begins first grade; in fact, it’s considered as big of a life milestone as reaching adulthood and getting married. They mark the occasion with a large party at the school, which usually takes place on a Saturday. Each student receives a Zuckertute, or a giant cone filled with knick-knacks like pencils, watches, and candy. Afterwards, family and friends are invited over for a second party.
The celebration, called Einschulung, “is something children look forward to for years,” Zaske writes. “It signals a major life change, and hopefully, an enthusiasm for learning.”
She’s not wrong there; data shows that the German parenting method really works. A 2012 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that German 15-year-olds outperform the international average in reading, math, and science. Their American counterparts, on the other hand, tend to lag behind.
The next time you feel the urge to walk your child to their bus stop or hover over them as they do homework, step back and reconsider. We could all learn a lesson or two from German moms and dads. (And if you teach your child these three languages, you’ll basically be raising a future CEO!)