4 important parenting tips we should be taking from Danish parents
Unless you have been living under a rock of late, you will be aware that there is a lot of talk about the Danish way of life, and how their way of doing things have ensured Denmark being voted the happiest country on earth over and over again.
And when you look at some facts, it becomes easy to understand why.
The Danes (and Scandinavians in general) have the work-life balance working so much better for them. (Office hours, for instance, are a much more family friendly 8am-4pm, meaning Scandinavian children, even if they attend creche or after school full-time, tend to eat dinner at home with their families, and many creches close at 4.30 in the afternoon.)
Children also start school later, aged six in Norway and Denmark (by the calendar year, meaning some will have turned six before school starts in August, the rest will turn six before the year is out). In Finland they don't start until they are seven – and the Finish education system is now heralded as one of the best and most child-centric in the world.
What this mean, is that childhood seems to last longer. There is more freedom before you become chained to a desk and homework routines. Far more importance is placed on play, particularly outdoor play, than on testing and accomplishments. The whole Tiger Parenting and show-off prodigy thing are noticeably absent.
It obviously also helps that childcare is so affordable that keeping them in creche (where they often spend most of the day outside, no matter what the season or weather) for an extra year or two before going to school makes no financial impact on a family. In Scandinavia, the cost of a full-time creche space is capped at around €300 per month, with a 30 or 50 percent reduction for siblings.
This has a further reaching effect than just a more comfortable financial situation when you have young children too. It means that because mothers can afford to return to work after having a baby (after her year-long maternity leave is up) the gender gaps in the workplace is far smaller. As in the pay gap. Being allowed to be able to both have your family and the career you love (and still be home before 5pm to make dinner for the children) is what – in my opinion – make family life in Scandinavia so much better.
Raising children the Danish way
And hot on the heels of happiness and 'hygge,' now the Danish methods of parenting is what is getting the world's attention, with more and more experts now looking to this little Scandinavian country for their secrets to raising happy and healthy children.
This is what Jessica Joelle Alexander, co-author of The Danish Way of Parenting: A Guide To Raising The Happiest Kids in the World, recently had to say about Danish parenting in an interview on Spring.st about the book.
"Children are much calmer and more serene when parented with the Danish way," Alexander explains.
"When you govern with respect and empathy, not fear, it comes back to you. This is really visible in the teenage years in Denmark where there is a lot of respect and trust overall."
Co-author Iben Sandahl agrees.
"The importance Danes place on socialisation and the 'whole child' rather than only grades and accomplishments and the fact that we actively teach empathy to children throughout their lives makes them able to live an authentic life, feel inwardly and act on it. Danish children know that the challenges and downs of life won't topple them, because they haven't been spared from that."
Tempted to try the Danish way? Here is a run-down of the four top parenting tips we could all learn from the Danes.
1. Let kids play freely more often
Pack away the gadgets and ultra-structured extracurricular activities, and bundle up your kids for some outdoor free play instead.
In Denmark, free play has been considered a crucial component of education and children’s development since 1871, and it has been proven to have a ton of positive outcomes.
"In Denmark, free play is the most important activity a child can engage in above all else," Alexander says.
"We see now, all the results, the research shows, that free play teaches children empathy, negotiations skills, it teaches them coping mechanisms," Sandahl adds.
2. Read all kind of stories to your children
And by all kinds we are also talking about stories that touch upon unhappy themes like death, bullying, or pursuit by a big, bad wolf. The reason? Reading and discussing these stories with your children gives you an opportunity to be a model of emotional health, according to the authors.
"Many parents find it easier to manage their children's happy feelings, but when it comes to the difficult ones, such as anger, aggression and anxiety, it becomes more difficult," Sandahl says.
"Children learn less about these emotions, which may affect their ability to regulate in the future. Therefore, it's important to expand and to nuance the children's vocabulary and conceptual world."
3. Govern with respect, not fear
So many of us for the easy way out of using threats and ultimatums when negotiating with our kids, but the Danes tend to avoid power struggles when parenting – and it's working.
"For them, it is very important that children understand what a rule is, not to be afraid of rules," Alexander says.
"Spanking has been illegal in Denmark for more than 20 years and you rarely hear screaming or yelling," she adds.
The motto is: teach respect, be respectful and you will be respected. It is a cycle: calm begets calm and out of control begets out of control.
4. Try some 'hygge'
Oh, hygge – the world is so fascinated – and rightly so.
The Scandinavian phenomenon of 'hygge' can mean many things and is notoriously hard to translate, but mostly it refers to a state of mind, a comfort-ability, feeling safe and warm and relaxed and loved.
"It is celebrating time with family and friends and has a special invisible energy, which is rooted in something in between you and the other – some kind of contact and the desire to be together, like a state of mind where you feel connected, filled with proximity and shared values transformed into a 'we'," Sandahl says.
Think cosy weekend on the sofa, family movie nights, fairy lights or candles, maybe some baking with your kids, and that relaxed feeling we all want our days to be filled with.
The authors explain that the response they have had to the book has been overwhelmingly positive.
"So many of our readers, and the parents that are using it already, are seeing the differences in their kids," Sandahl says.
"I hope that the ideas from the book, like seeds, will continue to spread on the wind so that more kindness, empathy, and happiness will flourish across the world."