Icelandic babies are left outside to nap in freezing temperatures. It is not uncommon to see a pram outside a coffee shop parents grabbing a cup while the baby sleeps. Or to see one outside of a home as many Icelandic babies nap outside at least once a day, no matter the season.
These are not identified as pictures from Iceland; they are, however, identified as pictures from a Scandinavian country. In all Scandinavian countries, parents let their babies nap outside even in winter. They also leave prams untended outside restaurants and stores while they drink their coffee and do their shopping.
The Finnish Ministry of Labour specifically recommends outdoor naps for infants:
“Irrespective of the season, many children have their evening naps outside in prams.
Many babies sleep better outdoors in the fresh air than in the bedroom. Sleeping outdoors is not dangerous for a baby. One may gradually start going outdoors when the baby is two weeks old. “
Nowadays most day-care centres in Sweden put children outside to rest. It’s common to see rows of prams lined up in the snow at naptime, with youngsters fast asleep inside.
The theory behind outdoor napping is that children exposed to fresh air, whether in summer or winter, are less likely to catch coughs and colds – and that spending a whole day in one room with 30 other children does them no good at all.
Many parents also believe their children sleep better and for longer in the open.
While the weather may be cold, however, it is important that the children have wool closest to their bodies, warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag.
As the Swedes say, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”
Another saying sums up what Swedes are likely to think when toddlers in other countries are kept indoors in sub-zero temperatures: “A little fresh air never hurt anyone.” It’s a saying that many Canadian parents and grandparents have been heard to say, as well.
Those who grew up with Dr. Spock as their parenting guide remember his instructions to let children sleep with an open window in their bedrooms, regardless of the season. Somewhere along the line our society decided that the dangers of cold air outweigh its benefits, although as awareness of something called nature deficit disorder is becoming more widespread, we are beginning to think more about the importance of the outdoors.
But the fresh air issue is only part of it, of course. There is an element of fear involved as well. What if someone abducted your child while he was alone outside? What if the child were in distress and we were not there to fix the problem?
Child abduction is not something that Scandinavian parents worry too much about. In Denmark, for example, kidnappings are exceedingly rare. Reports suggest that there have been three in the last 30 years (and two of those were by would-be thieves who just wanted to steal a bike, not a bike and a baby).
Child abduction is perhaps not a significantly high risk in Canada either, although the fear of it is significant. So is the fear that something bad might happen if we take our eyes away for too long.
It’s not as if Scandinavian parents don’t make use of modern devices such as high-tech monitors attached to strollers; they do. And they’re never that far away to begin with. They’re usually sitting by a restaurant window where they can easily see their pram. And if they don’t hear or see what is happening with their child, passersby will nicely let them know.
Not so in other parts of the world where leaving a child outside and alone is enough to bring law enforcement to your door. In one well-publicized case from 1997 (20 years ago now), authorities turned a child over to foster care and arrested the parents — a Danish-American couple, it so happens — after they enjoyed a snack in a New York eatery while the baby lazed in her stroller outside.
In Scandinavia, it seems, people are still willing to help people out, not judge and/or convict them for their parenting habits. They seem to be residents in the village that raises the child and wouldn’t we all like to live in a village like that?