Achtung helicopter parents! What we can learn from 'free-range' German parenting.


Forget the French, tiger-parenting is over, and we all know that being your child’s personal body guard is doing nobody any favours. As it turns out, it’s the Germans that we should be taking our parenting cues from.

When American born Sara Zaske moved to Berlin with her husband and toddler she had quite the wake-up call. Up until that point, Sara thought she was a “relatively relaxed parent” but then she met her German counterparts.

Speaking to Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo on This Glorious Mess, Zaske described scenes of true ‘free-range’ parenting.

“I first noticed it was extremely different when I went to a playground with my kids and all the German parents went off to the side not really paying attention while their kids really ran wild,” she said.

LISTEN: This is what Sara Zaske learnt from intergrating with German parenting. Post continues after audio.

Writing about her ‘culture shock’ in her new book Achtung Baby (which translates into Danger Baby), Sara outlines the key differences between American and Australian parenting styles against their German equivalent.

As Holly says, ‘helicopter parenting’ has become the “parenting style du jour,” and although it comes from a good place, German parents have somehow released that internalised fear that non-German parents can find crippling.

Despite this, simply ‘letting go’ is easier said than done and Sara knows that the ‘what if’ game is ever present.


However, for her it comes down to this: “What if I never let them do this? When are they going to learn how to do it on their own?” she says. “In order to let our kids become independent individuals we have to get control of the fear.”

She adds that the problem is particularly bad in the US.

“At least in America it has over run everything else. We’ve taken away [a] kid’s rights to even be alone for a moment in the day. . . [and that] can be very detrimental.”

Sara also notes that in reality we live in much safer times now, with mobiles allowing us to check in with our children at any given moment. However, there are other tricks she uses, to calm her mind.

“The other thing I do when I’m nervous about something is try to make it a situation that feels safer.”

For example, instead of letting her kids go to the park by themselves – blasphemy in today’s world, Sara will send them out with “a friend or a couple of friends.”

Author of Achtung Baby, Sara Zaske
Author of Achtung Baby, Sara Zaske has learnt a lesson or two from her trip abroad. Image supplied.

However, it's not just kids flying free on the monkey bars while the parents watch from afar, the two cultures also have different attitudes towards discipline too.

In Germany, corporal punishment and spanking has been outlawed since 2000, and generally Sara noticed that there was more of a focus on talking to children when they do something wrong - as all kids will at some point.

"[When a child does something wrong] it becomes a time to talk, to explain, often to tell the child 'how would you feel if that was done to you?', to practice empathy. So it's a different approach to discipline," she says.

In the Germanic style of parenting, "there's a lot of observation that goes on," which Sara remembers as something she was not comfortable with at all. She describes the situation as a "lord of the flies" moment.


Despite this, she admits that it was a great way for children to learn social skills.

"I was told again, and again that children learn best from each other.

"Kids have a very strong consequence for other kids who don't behave well. [They say] well... 'I'm not going to play with you.' That in the moment is devastating but it also changes behaviour," she says.

Now having moved back to Oregon, USA, Sara is considered the radical parent among her friends, but she's happily carried her German takeaways into her parenting philosophy.

"For me, it was realising that my role as a parent was not to keep my kid completely safe and ensure their success - in fact those two goals are impossible.

"Really my role as a parent it is to teach them how to do things for themselves, including manage risk and plan their future because it's their life to live.

"It kind of flipped how I saw being a parent was."

You can purcahse Achtung Baby on Booktopia and find out more about Sara Zaske on her website.

LISTEN: For more from Holly, Andrew and Sara on how to raise an 'achtung baby' listen to our podcast for imperfect parents, This Glorious Mess. It might just see how you approach parenting too.