Although Danes don't have a patent on how to raise children, they can be an inspiration. Let's discover the Danish way of parenting.
Photograph: Visit Denmark
Text: Natália Šepitková
Scandinavian happiness and satisfaction with life are the mirror of society and have roots in family life. Dane Iben Dissing Sandahl and American Jessica Joelle Alexander, authors of the international bestseller, defined six key factors influencing childhood happiness. Play, authenticity, reframing, empathy, no ultimatums and togetherness. P-A-R-E-N-T password is easy to remember but very important for mindful parenting.
We live in a world where busyness and productivity are the top priority for success. And we are teaching our children to do the same. We are showing them that playing is a waste of time. But enough play is essential to physical and emotional well-being and a critical factor in developing children's skills. Children learn best when left to their own devices in a community with other children of all ages and abilities, with only the support of coaches and play leaders.
In his text Give Childhood Back to Children, psychologist Peter Grey says that the most important skills children must learn to live happy, productive, moral lives cannot be taught in school. They are learned and practised by children in play. These include thinking creatively, getting along with other people and cooperating effectively, and controlling their impulses and emotions.
Living an authentic and honest life as a parent can guide our children to be courageously true to themselves and others. Remember that children always observe our feelings and how we express them. All emotions are okay, but self-deception is confusing and sends the wrong message to our kids.
"If we teach our children to recognise and accept their authentic feelings, good or bad, and act in a way consistent with their values, the challenges and rough patches in life, we won't topple them. They will know that they have acted in accordance with what feels right. They will know to recognise and respect their limits," authors Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl wrote in the book The Danish Way of Parenting.
The Danes use less limiting and more supporting language when talking with their children. It means that instead of saying how their kids are or what they should do or feel, they try to lead children to understand the reasons for their behaviour and to see the situation from different angles.
Reframing can change the perspective of how we describe ourselves and our picture of the world. And it can help our children to focus on a better storyline. This skill will be essential and valuable for their future.
"Spanking as a form of disciplining a child is something unthinkable in Denmark. Danes prefer democratic and respectful parenting."
Several kinds of research indicate that we have innate empathy, and even a few-month-old baby tends to those who treat others well. However, with the wrong approach, we can completely suppress this empathy in children and raise them to be non-empathetic adults.
My daughter's kindergarten has a weekly activity with a teddy bear, during which kids learn to recognise and understand human emotions. This small activity can improve empathy a lot. Danish parents and pedagogues teach children to tolerance and not-judging. For example, hearing them talking negatively about other children is rare. On the contrary, they encourage children to see the good in others.
Spanking as a form of disciplining a child is something unthinkable in Denmark. Danes prefer democratic and respectful parenting. Respect goes both ways – you have to give it to receive it.
"They establish rules and guidelines that their children are expected to follow. However, they are very responsive to their children's questions about the rules. Danes see children as intrinsically good and react to them accordingly," authors of The Danish Way of Parenting wrote.
Being together as a family in a hygge atmosphere is essential for Danes, and kids are thrilled to be together and cosy around. Playing together, reading together, cooking together, eating together – all these activities are valuable for the joyful life of our children.
Family togetherness fosters a feeling of safety, connection to others, and well-being. And what is most important, seeing the family together brings unforgettable memories for children, from which they will draw their entire adult lives.