Creative Child

Irish Parenting: What Can Americans Learn from Ireland?

by Rebecca Eanes

I am fascinated by the cultural differences in parenting around the globe. I recently wrote a piece on the Danes looking at how they frame situations differently than Americans and also at the tradition of hygge (cozying around together). The Danish Way of Parenting is very similar to my beliefs regarding Positive Parenting.

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Today, I am turning my attention to the land of my ancestors: Ireland. I wondered how the Irish parenting style differed from American culture, so I scoured the internet for answers. In an interview with Tiffany Wyse-Fisher of Northern Ireland, author Joanna Goddard uncovers some Irish parenting truths we could all hearken to. “Irish culture is less about schedules and more about relationships…” she says. This article on Irish customs backs up the claim that, indeed, families and children are two very important things in Ireland. Certainly, slowing our pace and focusing on our relationships is a principle of positive parenting and something our American culture needs to get back to.

There also seems to be more of a “village” feel in Ireland, according to Wyse-Fisher. She notes that others are quick to jump in if, for example, a child is crying. When her son was crying in the supermarket, a stranger didn’t shoot her a dirty look but rather bent down to speak to her son, saying, “Ach, son. Now why you carryin’ on so? Look at yu’r Mummy. She’s so sweet, and she’s waiting for you to stop, so she can finish buying you food, so she is.” I have a feeling that this wouldn’t be as welcomed in America and would probably be seen as an interference. Still, many of us are missing the village and perhaps we’d be best served smudging up all the lines we’ve drawn in the sand and accepting help from those around us.

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Wyse-Fisher also marvels at the lack of what she calls “Pinterest Mom culture.” She says in Ireland, birthdays are simple with store bought cakes and fill-in-the-blank party invitations that you buy rather than the custom, over-the-top invitations that have become a contest of sorts here in America. Now, I have to admit that I do love a good Pinterest party. I personally see nothing wrong with going all out as long as it doesn’t stress you out. But there is something to be said for low-key and simple, two values that seem to be going out of style here in the States.

As for child discipline in Ireland, I found conflicting reports, to no surprise. However, this study from 2009 conducted by The National Children’s Research series reports the acknowledgement of 3 main discipline styles: Power-assertive (physical punishment, threats, or withdrawal of privileges), love-withdrawal (withholding attention, affection, or approval, or expressing disappointment or disapproval), and inductive (reasoning, reminding children of rules and explaining the impact of children’s behavior on others).

According to their study, only 25% reported using physical discipline (compared with more than 70% of Americans in some reports and up to 90% in others!) in the last year, with more than 99% of parents reporting they never “washed a child’s mouth out,” “hit child with slipper, belt, or other instrument,” or “slapped child on head, face, or ear,” and 84% said they’d never so much as slapped their child on the bottom. Overall, findings in the present study clearly point to the dominance of inductive discipline strategies among parents in Ireland.

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Yay, Ireland! It would be interesting to see a more recent study in this area, but I hope they are continuing their trend toward positive parenting as well.

The Take-Away:

Here’s what we Americans can learn from the Irish: Slow down, enjoy your children and your family, and build relationships. Accept help from friends and family and work to create a “village” that you can thrive in. Don’t think you have to be the Pinterest Mom if it stresses you out. Kids are just as happy with a store-bought cake and invitations. They really just want to feel celebrated. Lastly, focus on “inductive” discipline strategies, such as problem-solving and consequences that teach rather than physical punishment, isolation, or withdrawing affection and attention. This all sounds to me like a recipe for a happier America — and a happier world!

Rebecca Eanes, is the founder of and creator of Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. She is the bestselling author of 3 books. Her newest book,Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, is more than a parenting book, it's a guide to human connection. She has also written The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parentingand co-authored the book, Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide to Putting Positive Parenting Principles in Action in Early ChildhoodShe is the grateful mother to 2 boys.


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