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Yes, I can dress my kids for the Swedish weather

Gabriel Stein · 10 Nov 2010, 10:07

Published: 10 Nov 2010 10:07 GMT+01:00

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I had a rude shock the other day. It got cold in Stockholm. I felt it creeping in through the windows the night before. At that point I was still in a state of denial.

By 8am the next morning, reality bit, in the form of two children under age four who needed to be dressed for the outdoors. I come from New Jersey, where, by now, kids have mostly been taught to escape to the indoors when it's raining or cold.

Sweden is different.

With only anecdotal evidence to back me up, I would say Swedish kids spend at least fifteen hours more per week outside than American kids – and probably more.

It starts from birth. Swedish babies practically live in their carriages, which have rain protection and lambskin padding for when it gets cold. Then there's the little sleep sack that wraps around the baby who is by now dressed in layers, the last one being thick winter overalls. (Think Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”.) Many Swedes even put their babies outside in their carriages to take naps. They say the fresh air is good for them.

Later on in their lives, at daycare, kids are put through the rigors of all the seasons.

Raining? “Doesn't matter, throw them outside with their rain suits and gloves. Don't forget the rubber hats and rain boots.”

Freezing cold, dark and windy? “It's Sweden! Send them out to the playground with their long johns, fleeces, thick winter jackets, wool socks, snow boots, double layers of gloves, hats and scarves.”

And through whatever mother nature brings, the kids are happy.

At this time every year in Sweden, with winter’s biting chill just around the corner, parents begin to assess the clothing situation at home. They need to ensure that they have the clothing it takes to get their kids through the cold and rainy autumn and freezing, snowy winter.

There are so many different items of clothing to choose from and they are each so very specific. For example, there are special rain gloves for two months – November and April – when it rains a lot but isn't below freezing. These gloves are waterproof but they breathe. Talk about a niche market.

I've never even heard of half of the items these kids wear, and, after five years in Sweden, I still don't know their proper Swedish names.

I do know, however, how to dress my kids. But knowing is easy; doing is hard.

I was home the other day with my 9-month-old son and had to drop-off my 3-year-old daughter at daycare by 9am (I'm on paid paternity leave for six months with my son. My daughter goes to daycare four days a week.)

While my son was finally fully dressed and ready to go, my daughter started to show signs of rebellion. Except for the tests that she puts me through in public, her dressing-time challenge is my worst nightmare.

This is what will happen.

I have probably already worked ten minutes getting her brother dressed, so by the time it's her turn, I am already sweating. (A while back I realized that I needed to get dressed last, otherwise I would lose my temper at the first hint of a defiant gaze.) First, she'll run away, forcing me to either scream no from on the floor in the hallway or chase after her and carry her back. If I'm carrying her back, she'll most likely be screaming no and speed kicking her legs into the air.

At this point, I'm still trying to use words to convince her that it's good for “all of us” if she gets dressed.

“We don't want to be late for daycare,” I say. Or, I threaten her: “Otherwise you're going to be cold and then you won't be able to play outside with all the other kids.” (I haven't checked with any child rearing or psychology books about the “threat-fear-guilt” method, but I'm sure it makes me a bad father.)

Here's where it can go two ways. She can either listen. If this happens, I know I'm going to have a good day. Or, she can fight, and then I know I'll be pinning her down on the floor, wrapping one arm into a sleeve, then the other, while she screams, cries, and kicks.

Now, that she's all fired up – and everything has taken so long – her little brother is getting angry. So, as little siblings tend to do, he does as she, and starts wailing.

By this time, I'm ready to start wailing myself. Generally, I just get angry, frustrated, and start yelling some sort of nonsense. At that point, I know, it will get worse before it gets better.

Skip ahead five or ten minutes. My daughter will have already forgotten the stressful getting dressed experience. I, however, will still be feeling guilty that I showed my precious, innocent kids my darkest side.

Story continues below…

As we walk to daycare in the crisp Scandinavian air, I relax and remember that I'm lucky to have this time with my kids. If I don't appreciate the small moments, I think, one day, I'll be sitting at the dinner table with my wife when we're 60-years-old, and I'll be looking back with regret.

By the time we reach the main road, I've already promised to appreciate each and every moment with my kids – the warm, sunny days and the dark and frigid, the happy hugs and the angry kicks.

Naturally, like the Swedish seasons, these moments of euphoria come and go. I'm just happy to catch them once in a while. And I know that the days of shorts and tee-shirts are just six months away.

Now that I've pulled myself back into the moment, I see daycare around the corner. I ask my daughter if she wants to sing “Ain't No Sunshine When's She's Gone”.

She says yes.

Now we all feel better, and properly dressed for the Swedish weather.

Gabriel Stein (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

14:25 November 10, 2010 by Rolle
LOL great story... Crappy weather 9 to 11 months a year will push you either to flee or to adapt
22:59 November 10, 2010 by Da Goat
probably easier to say nothing and not rant and rave just collect the clothing and put it in her backpack and venture forth, after a couple of times of getting cold or embarrassed she will quickly learn to wear the appropriate cloths.

she is just being a girl and getting off on controlling you, easier and better to just deal matter of factly with her!

send her out to play a couple of times in her under wear (be ready to rescue, if they are too stubborn) the trick is to make her think she is in charge when you are!

yeah love the blog , kids can be stressful sometimes But you would miss them too much if you followed your feelings everytime!
13:21 November 11, 2010 by marianne667
Some of the weather conditions Swedish kids are out playing in, would probably be considered child abuse in the States. I was sent out in sub zero weather w/ just a sweater and a coat, hats & gloves because my mother thought heavy clothing a la Christmas Story was unhealthy and prevented one to move around. HE HE as an adult I very rarely have a cold.
21:01 November 11, 2010 by Swedemom
Getting my four kids ready for winter (really most of the year) and myself out the door every morning left me swearing, EVERY DAMN MORNING. This alarmed my husband who doesn't swear, but probably explains why kids have been known to let slip a damn here and there.

Anyhow, now that I am back in the states, the kids just slip on coats and sneakers and they are gone. So much easier. But I worry they don't get enough fresh air. They have one 20 minute recess that is only held outdoors if the weather is nice. That means rain drives the kids indoors and snow is only tolerated if the kids are properly attired.

I think your anecdotal evidence about Swedish kids spending more time outside than American kids is spot on. Probably explains the better health and fewer problems with obesity in Sweden.

Loved the post. It brought me back a few years to our early mornings, which I can now laugh over instead of cursing.
22:55 November 11, 2010 by dizzymoe33
Oh I love the story I was laughing the whole way through it thank you. I have to agree that is probably why Swedes are in much better shape and healthier because they can't just spend 9 months sitting indoors because it is snowing out. Lovely story thank you for sharing.
17:20 November 12, 2010 by Silverfawn
oh, yes. As a mom of a 3 and 5 year old, I certainly can I relate to your story. I grew up in Houston, where you are lucky if it's cold for 2 weeks in the winter. When I moved up to the Washington D.C. area, boy- what a wake-up call. Now with two little kiddies, I've found the key to smooth dressing is 1) lay out the coats, gloves, etc. in their own pile the night before- just as I do the rest of the clothes. It's a pain, but worth it. Also, give the illusion of choice. Blue gloves or red gloves? (never no gloves) Bribes can work, used sparingly-- as well as competition-- Who can get their coat on faster? Finally, I just build in more time in the schedule for dressing in the winter.. I get up (sigh) earlier, so the process won't make everyone late. Best of luck to you and your kids...
21:27 November 12, 2010 by teejees
I know how you feel I have the exact same every single morning with a two year old and once he is dressed everything is fine but then starts again when I try to get him into his buggy and again once we get going out the door he is fine. It got so frustrating at one point I got one of those Ikea steps you know the wooden ones in the tv adds and managed to persuade him to sit on it while putting on his overalls or another way is (and this might sound bad) but to bribe him with tv so he could still watch it while he was getting dressed. At Dagis it is a nature and environment theme and the kids sleep outside in their buggies which I think is a great idea as it decreases the amount of germs they come in contact with in a confined room. As for the Dagis staff dressing 20 kids they told me that they do as they are told and everything goes smoothly so I definitely think its a case of the child wrapping the parents around their little finger to get their own way.
00:22 November 13, 2010 by Swedesmith
Whenever you walk or drive by a school in Sweden, you see kids outside playing. Always such a pleasant sight and sound.
14:31 November 13, 2010 by Shaikailash
I love this article :D I live in Italy, and I spent one year in Norway near Oslo. I think it's useful to reassure all the Swedish people...a lot of you think that in the South we have sunny weather during all the seasons, and a not-so-cold and enjoyable winter. WRONG!!!

Summer: summer is far better in scandinavia, it's fresh, sunny, energizing, you can walk, run, ride a bike, go trekking, and everything else. And you also have some weeks of warm weather.

In the South Summer is terribly hot, humid, impossible to be active during almost all the daylight. You feel depressed and without energy. Mosquitos then don't help. You cannot enjoy the nature and have a trekking or a walk, except if you go to the mountains.

Winter: it's very rainy, often grey sky, temperatures are higher than in Scandinavia of course, but the humidity and the rain make you feel very cold. I can assure you that I was colder in Italy with few degree below 0 °C (common in a lot of areas) than in Oslo with -10 °C!

The snow is also far far better, it gives more light, more happiness, you don't get wet so it's far better than the rain!

I think the only relatively weak point of Scandinavia is the shortest daylight, but if you are at school, or at your workplace, it's quite the same thing. When you finish and go out it's dark here too, so...

Of course if you live in Scandinavia for many years probably you get bored of the winter time and the less light, but in the South you get bored of the winter time as well, and of the summer time too! :)
17:34 November 13, 2010 by Gretchen
Nice artcile. I see myself in a few bits here. What makes my morning easier ist that my daughter can choose what to wear (dresses always at the mometn, she is 4), but when it comes to the outdoor clothes I decide.

I find a once piece easier than jacket and winter pants - also it works better with dresses and skirts underneath.

What makes both of my kids dress faster is when I make a "breakfast on the way" morning, either in the double carriage or in the car.

have a good winter!
13:25 November 14, 2010 by Micaela
I live in a warm climate (Australia) so I did not have as many problems as you (not as many clothes to put on them) but still had to get through the whole process each morning. If they did not like what they were wearing I did negotiate a bit like a choice of two items but that is all. Sometimes I would use distraction so I would talk to them about what we were going to do today and who we would see etc.. When they were a bit older and getting ready for school I gave them a 10 minute warning as to when I was driving off and they only got in the car partially dressed once and finished dressing in the car. After that they were ready when I was. Let her go outside partially dressed and feel how cold and unpleasant it will be if she is not dressed and she will be a bit more cooperative. It won't hurt her. She will get the message. Have fun and enjoy your time with them.
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