Denmark may be small, but its reputation for having some of the happiest people on the planet and its consistently high ranking for maternal and child health matters make this Scandinavian country an enviable place to live. Denmark is also the site of numerous forest schools, promotes independence in kids by encouraging them to bike to school on their own, and considers the child’s behavioral and developmental needs with regard to when it’s time to begin school (while still providing nearly universal early childhood education from the age of one). A newly updated book, The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids, distills some of the key parenting techniques in the country and shows how raising independent, thoughtful, and happy children is a natural effect of the Danish lifestyle and philosophy with a convenient and easy-to-recall acronym: P.A.R.E.N.T.
Denmark is the birthplace for LEGO so a “Play” element is a natural component of the Danish lifestyle and, in fact, helps kids learn about coping skills, taking safe risks, and negotiating social situations. “Authenticity” focuses on how parents can support and praise the process of learning and trying, encouraging kids to work hard, acknowledge their own feelings (even negative ones) and persist when they meet challenges. “Reframing” acknowledges the silver linings of situations and doing away with negative labels (both for kids and situations). “Empathy” is a national priority, with several school programs devoted to helping children understand and internalize how to recognize and respond to the emotions of others and how to connect with people. “No ultimatums” banishes spanking and hitting as modes of discipline (spanking actually became illegal in Denmark in 1997) and examines ways to eliminate power struggles by identifying problem behaviors and responding to them instead of treating the child as “bad” or uncooperative. “Togetherness” focuses on the concept of hygge (basically when family and loved ones get together and “cozy around”) as well as teamwork, an important aspect of Danish life. Hygge involves loving gatherings where games are played, hanging out and talking is encouraged, and family drama is left at the door. The moments can be small, but focus on the essential concept of being present together as a family.
After reading The Danish Way of Parenting, I was left with the feeling that these methods feel intrinsically good and right in how they honor the child while teaching them independence, self-confidence, the importance of caring for others, and the power of reframing situations with realistic optimism. Although the book is aimed at helping parents with their children, it is also a helpful, wise guide for helping us as parents grow and develop ourselves!
About the authors: The Danish people have been modeling these techniques for generations, but it was a newcomer to the country who realized how Danes were providing their children with powerful life skills and attitudes simply as part of their national culture and believed their deeply seeded values and practices could help parents worldwide. Jessica Joelle Alexander is an American expat who married and had children with a Danish man and found the Danish parenting techniques to be a natural guiding force when she became a mother. Iben Dissing Sandahl is native to Denmark and is a psychotherapist and family counselor who helped Alexander crystallize the elements in Danish society that lend themselves to producing positive and successful kids. The pursuit of happiness can be elusive, but The Danish Way shows how the Danish people set the national tradition of happiness in motion for the next generation through simple and empowering parenting methods and rational, effective ways to help kids grow, develop, reframe their situations, and respond to both their own needs and those of others.