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Achtung Baby



The German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children



Sara Zaske



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The latest book on parenting according to the rules of another culture has hit American book shelves. It's called "Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children" and was just published this month by Picador.

Author Sara Zaske and her husband left Oregon for Berlin, Germany, with a toddler in tow. Eventually they had another baby, which gave them an intimate view of how German parents handle every stage of parenting, from sleep training babies to subsidized daycare from an early age to grade school.

While I have been eagerly awaiting this book and have yet to get my hands on a hard copy, there was an excerpt published by Salon this week. In it, Zaske describes the fascinating 'street training' that young kids receive in Germany. In other words, they are given the tools to navigate sidewalks, routes, and busy intersections, which reduces dependency on cars and greatly increases their own independence. Three things that jumped out at me:

1) Schools offer 'traffic and mobility' education. It's part of the regular curriculum and includes learning the rules of the road and what traffic signs mean. Zaske writes:

"Her teacher also took the entire class out for a walking tour of the neighborhood, showing them firsthand how the traffic moved, what the signs meant, and how to use crosswalks, or zebrastreifen ('zebra stripes'), as they’re called in Germany."

2) Parents are told not to drive their kids to school. Instead, they're encouraged to go on foot, so a child can learn the route and eventually be able to get themselves to school, free from parental oversight.

3) It's understood that kids will be fine on their own. Even when they're small, kids are allowed to race ahead of their parents on foot or bicycles. Instead of running after them and screaming for them to stop, German kids come to a neat halt at the street corner -- because that's what they've been taught to do.

"Achtung Baby" follows in the literary footsteps of the popular "Bringing up Bébé" by Pamela Druckerman, on raising kids in Paris, and the highly controversial "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, in which an American mother follows traditional Chinese values. A similar book is "Outside the Box" by Jeannie Marshall, which compares the eating habits of Italian kids to American ones.

This foreign parenting trend, I believe, stems from growing frustration with American-style, child-centric parenting, the results of which we're beginning to see do not leave children particularly well-equipped to face the world, nor make life easy for parents, who are exhausted and drained from incessant 'helicoptering.' Many parents are thinking that, surely, there's a better way to do things, and books like "Achtung Baby" provide that inspiring blueprint.












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