Struwwelpeter Parenting: The Hot New 1845 German Parenting Style You Have To Try

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Struwwelpeter ParentingIf you’re not familiar with the 1845 German children’s classic book of cautionary tales, Struwwelpeter, then please let me introduce you to a radical new form of parenting.



Struwwelpeter, or Shock-headed Peter was written by a psychiatrist named Heinrich Hoffman for his three-year-old son when Hoffman decided that most of the books available for that age range were too sentimental. So Hoffman went about writing and illustrating the book as a Christmas gift for his son (note Hoffman’s thriftiness and DIY spirit—let it guide you in your choice of crafting appropriate entertainment that teaches your child a lesson).



Dover Publications

Dover Publications

The subtitle of Struwwelpeter is “Merry Stories and Funny Pictures,” so the child reading the book knows immediately that it’s in for some fun!


(Image: Tumblr)

(Image: Tumblr)

Each of the ten poems in Struwwelpeter contains rhyming couplets describing in detail the gruesome downfall of children who misbehave. Some teaching moments Hoffman includes address grooming, animal welfare, fire safety, gun safety, eating healthily, and white supremacy.



(Image: Pinterest)

(Image: Pinterest)

It’s important for children to know that they can rely on adults for help navigating the world and growing into fine, upstanding adults themselves if they don’t die first. Parents in Struwwelpeter model proper adult behavior. For example, they are absent in order to create an environment of self-reliance like in “Harriet and the Matches” and “The Story of Flying Robert”; or they save a drowning boy like in “Johnny Head-in-Air”; or they hire tailors to exact a swift and harsh vengeance against the sin of thumb-sucking like in “The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb.”

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  1. Coco

    July 21, 2014 at 11:19 am

    I have this book from my childhood (two copies actually but I just gave one to my brother when he was visiting. My parents are Swiss and they were sent to us by family from back in the home country). When I was little I sucked my thumb and my parents actually showed me the story of “if you suck your thumb, we’re going to have to cut them off”.
    I think these books are hilarious and are more of a throwback, nostalgic thing than anything. My husband, not used to these stories thought we’re all crazy.

    • Eve Vawter

      July 21, 2014 at 11:21 am

      I went to the museum in Germany once and it was so scary!

    • Coco

      July 21, 2014 at 11:30 am

      That has now officially made it on onto my “must see” in Europe list along side the ABBA Museum.

    • Cate Radley

      July 21, 2014 at 11:48 am

      I don’t know what happened to my grandmother’s copy. I think my mom must have “accidentally” thrown it out.

  2. LadyClodia the Modest Rat

    July 21, 2014 at 11:27 am

    The “Inky Boys” story reminds me of the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas’ helper Zwarte Piet, who to this day is depicted with blackface and red lips. The story was that if children were naughty Zwarte Piet would put them in his bag and then they would also become Zwarte Pieten. It’s totally racist, but a lot of Dutch people still defend it and have tried to change the story that he’s black because he goes down chimneys. Then why aren’t his clothes dirty too!?

    • Coco

      July 21, 2014 at 11:32 am

      The Swiss tradition also has Santa’s helper being a guy named “Schmutzli” (schmutz meaning dirt) who was black because of going down chimneys.

    • LadyClodia the Modest Rat

      July 21, 2014 at 11:42 am

      The chimney explanation was not part of the story that my husband grew up with, so maybe they got the idea from the Swiss story. A lot of Dutch people desperately want to keep the character of Zwarte Piet, so they’ve pushed the chimney story in recent years.

    • Cate Radley

      July 21, 2014 at 11:56 am

      I thought of it too but didn’t know so much how to work it in to the article w/out going off-topic too much!

      I *didn’t* know the tradition was still going strong. Yikes.

    • LadyClodia the Modest Rat

      July 21, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      There have been protests against Zwarte Piet in recent years, as there should be. But a lot of people want to preserve the tradition, including a lot of people in my husband’s family. His cousin posted a picture of her little boys last year in blackface dressed up like Zwarte Piet, and actually I’ve seen his mom in Zwarte Piet costume too. Just because it’s tradition doesn’t mean it’s not racist.

    • Rachel Sea

      July 21, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      The Dutch were some of the world’s most prolific slave traders. It makes it sound a little ridiculous when they claim they don’t have a history of racism like we do in America.

  3. Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

    July 21, 2014 at 11:32 am

    BRB, I’ve got to go find this on Amazon. 😛

  4. Maria Guido

    July 21, 2014 at 11:38 am

    These images are scaring the crap out of me – going to cry now. I think the book would be a useful tool for parenting my toddler though 😉

    • Bethany Ramos

      July 21, 2014 at 11:48 am

      That top doll looks like the doll of George’s mom in Seinfeld!

    • Spongeworthy

      July 21, 2014 at 11:52 am

      LOL that’s the first thing I thought of!!
      My grandmother had a doll in her house that looked like Mr. Marbles. The amount of times I was convinced I saw that thing move out of the corner of my eye…one of the MANY reasons we never wanted to sleep over there.

    • Bethany Ramos

      July 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm

      Hahahaha I knew I could count on you!

  5. Cate Radley

    July 21, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Cate here. For the record, my grandmother read the “Little Suck-a-thumb” when I was in fourth grade to convince me to quit sucking my thumb.

    • LadyClodia the Modest Rat

      July 21, 2014 at 11:47 am

      Did it work?

    • Cate Radley

      July 21, 2014 at 11:48 am

      I remember vaguely slinking off to do it private after that.

    • Eve Vawter

      July 21, 2014 at 11:49 am

      You are so awesome,. I love this article so much Cate

    • Cate Radley

      July 21, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      Thanks, but props on finding the pic of that doll, yikes!

  6. LadyClodia the Modest Rat

    July 21, 2014 at 11:53 am

    It definitely was slightly more modern than this book but I remember my mom having bought a series of Christian children’s stories books, and one of the stories was about a little girl who wouldn’t listen and refused to wear shoes; she rode her bike barefoot and her toe got caught in the bike and she lost her toe; it definitely made an impression on me. I think there was a story about something catching on fire too. My mom donated those books last year to the Catholic preschool, so unfortunately we don’t have them anymore.

    • Cate Radley

      July 21, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      “unfortunately” LOL 😉

  7. Spongeworthy

    July 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    I dated a guy whose German grandmother told him that if he masturbated, a bird would swoop down and fly off with his penis. He said it gave him nightmares for years.
    Is this the “good old days” parenting people are always reminiscing about?

  8. Katja Yount

    July 21, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    I grew up with Struwwelpeter myself. Right now, because I’m obviously messed up, I’ve been trying to collect the handmade wooden Christmas decorations of the various characters in the book. As for the Inky Boys I guess I haven’t read that story in a long time but I always remembered it being a “treat others as you would be treated” because after them getting dipped in the ink vat they were ridiculed by everyone, to include the Moor (an appropriate term for someone of African descent back then). And mostly because it was obvious that they were punished and not because they were black. But again, I could be remembering that story all wrong.

    • Katja Yount

      July 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      Yeah. I really genuinely want to have these out during the holidays. It’s my goal to make extended family too uncomfortable to stay too long.

    • Cate Radley

      July 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      OMG These look like half my Christmas ornaments, but more macabre.

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      July 21, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      These are amazing. Why wouldn’t you want to have them out?

  9. Raisin

    July 21, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Growing up with this book, I never actually realized how freaky some of these stories are! I loved my copy dearly, and my favorite was the girl with the matches; something about the way the cats keep meowing for her to stop, and then besing her unfortunate fate as she burns to death just always captivated me. …So, you know, the stories were screwed up, but kids can be kinda screwed up too!

  10. TashaB

    July 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    There’s an English character similar to the ‘great, tall tailor’ who cuts off your thumbs, but I always knew him as “The Scissor Man”. The German version is just as terrifying

  11. Jezebeelzebub

    July 21, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    I grew up with this book! My favorite story in it is Hans-Guck-in-de-Luft and the one about Paulinchen.

  12. Ursi

    July 21, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    God I love the Germans

  13. whiteroses

    July 22, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    My German grandfather read me Struwwelpeter when I was seven. I didn’t sleep for a week. That dude is freaky as shit.

  14. Sarah

    July 25, 2014 at 1:53 am

    Well, I’m never sleeping again. Some of those photos were the most terrifying things I have ever seen.

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