Thursday, September 1, 2016

Parenting Pointers: The Danish Way of Parenting

I recently had a chance to review The Danish Way of Parenting, a book that really intrigued me because I've had experience in European countries and have seen how the parenting styles really differ from ours here in the US.

The goal of the book is to help parents raise confident, capable, happy children. A lot of what was in the book I already agreed with, having been influenced greatly by northern and central European parenting styles. I liked how the book had a good balance between personal anecdotes and practical advice.

I had a chance to interview the author to learn more.

What made you interested in the Danish way of parenting?
I had always noticed how well-behaved Danish children are. They are very serene, and calm and happy and that was long before I knew about the happiness reports where Denmark has been voted as the happiest country in the world for 40 years in a row. I literally used to think that if I could get a guarantee on having "a Danish child," I wanted one immediately. Many years later when I did have kids, I found myself going to all of my Danish friends and family for advice on parenting and always preferring their off -the-cuff suggestions to the numerous parenting books I had read. It became clear to me that there was a Danish way of parenting that was special and I am convinced it is one of the reasons that the children and the adults are so happy.
How are some ways it differs?
There is a big focus on being a good person in Denmark. The Danish education system has two purposes; to teach academics and to teach how to become a good person and to care for others. They put the focus on teaching children things like empathy, authenticity and hygge (cozy time with others), which improves social connectedness, which we know is a key factor in happiness.
What do you notice is different from the US way?
Danes don’t over-program their kids’ lives. Play is considered one of the most important things a kid can do (and learn from), even into high school.  In America, we often feel if our child isn’t doing something measurable, they must not be learning enough, but more and more research is coming out to support how fundamental play is for kids’ learning. Another difference: Danes actively teach empathy in school, starting in pre-school. It is as important as teaching Math or English.
They are also very honest with children. 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 approach that avoids ultimatums. 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.'
How can parents start incorporating other ways of parenting without making too drastic of a change?
Learn about “hygge” - this can dramatically improve family relations. It isn’t that difficult if everyone agrees to it and it feels good! You start by becoming aware of your own thoughts and words. Everything we think and say has an effect on how we feel and our children are mirroring us every day. The Danish way of reframing and incorporating empathy and support into language is one of the most life changing things I have done. It just takes a little more awareness and to look for the reason behind behavior, but the effects are incredibly powerful.

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