As grandparents our number one interest is seeing our grandkids happy, right?
Did you know that according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Denmark has been home to the “happiest people on earth” for almost 40 years?
So what do Dane parents and grandparents do differently? According to an interview in Mother.com by Brittany Poulton with Jessica Alexander, co-author of The Danish Way of Parenting: A Guide To Raising The Happiest Kids in the World, a powerful new method of raising children. Alexander, who wrote the book alongside Danish psychotherapist Iben Sandahl, explained what exactly “Danish parenting” is and how this culture continues to bring up kids who are “resilient and emotionally secure”—in other words, exactly what we’re all aiming for.
Alexander says the difference is in how Danish parents actively teach their children empathy and to value others. They base their success on real teamwork rather than only striving to be the star. They work more on building a child’s self-esteem (a solid foundation of who they are in relation to others), rather than self-confidence (an outward appearance of what they can do, appear like, or own in relation to others). This sturdy foundation rooted firmly in empathy is what they believe brings true happiness and wellbeing to us all in the long run.”
The big difference between Danish and American parenting styles is that Danes don’t over program their kids’ lives. Alexander goes on to say that “play” is considered one of the most important things a kid can do (and learn from), even into high school. There is a big focus on the zone of proximal development, which means they respect children where they are at in their learning process and try to help them just enough so they don’t lose the joy in learning for themselves. This kind of learning—respecting the zone of proximal development—builds more self-esteem and resilience, and play facilitates this. In America, we often feel if our child isn’t doing something measurable, they must not be learning enough. But as Mr. Rogers said, “For children, play is serious learning.” Another difference: Danes actively teach empathy in school, starting in pre-school. It is as important as teaching Math or English. They ‘keep it real.’ Everything doesn’t have to have a happy ending. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales (one of the most famous Danes) are often very dark or sad, but have been modified in America to fit a culturally accepted version. The original Little Mermaid, for example, doesn’t get the prince in the end. She dies of sadness and turns into sea foam. Reading books that deal with hard topics helps parents cover a wide range of emotions with their children and this has been proven to improve their empathy skills. I think sometimes in America we tend to avoid confronting the harder emotions if we can help it. In Denmark, they jump right into those! The books I have seen my husband read to my daughter have dropped my jaw at times, but I know it is good for her and she loves it. Also, spanking became illegal in 1984 in Denmark. Danes use a diplomatic, avoiding ultimatums approach. As a result, they are a very non-violent culture. They focus on managing problems rather than disciplining them. And they have ‘hygge‘ as one of their highest and most important values as a cultural norm. That is: Cozy time where the focus is ‘we’ not ‘me.’”
“The one thing we would really love for people to take away from the book is to question the way things are or ‘our default settings’ as Americans. It is incredibly difficult to see how our culture shapes our values, our way of being, and even our way of raising kids (a.k.a. parental ethnotheories). These behaviors are so engrained in us we rarely question whether there is another way that might be better. We just assume we are doing things the right way. So, if people would truly reflect on this and try to implement even one pillar from The Danish Way—like hygge for example—we are convinced it will help the next generation be happier. It sounds like a lofty ideal, but being an American who has experienced The Danish Way firsthand, I have seen how powerful it can be.”
The Danish Way of Parenting: A Guide To Raising The Happiest Kids in the World, $12.99, Amazon.