After marrying and starting a family with a man from Denmark, which dominates the World Happiness Report country rankings year after year, Jessica Joelle Alexander decided to share the tips she picked up from her husband’s family in The Danish Way of Parenting. Read on for five of her best Danish parenting tips!
As new parents, it often feels like we’re living in the moment. Whether we’re trying to figure out how to get through the long nights with a new baby, master the art of feeding, taming tantrums or just time management in general—being a parent is one of the hardest, most important jobs in the world. It’s often difficult to know what the “right way” is. But what if we were to look at our experience through the lens of one of the happiest countries in the world? Is there anything we might consider doing differently?
Denmark has consistently been voted as one of the happiest places on earth for over 40 years in a row. This is impressive. As an American mom married to a Dane, I always noticed how kids in Denmark seemed so serene, respectful and happy. For years, I took the advice of my Danish family and friends for everything from diapers to discipline, and it completely changed my life for the better as a parent and an individual. I was convinced their happiness levels were due to the way they raise their children. I felt compelled to write The Danish Way of Parenting because I was sure that if it could help me, it could definitely help others. I believe if you take even one or two ideas away, it can make a difference. Here are five tips to get started!
Let them play. Danish parents believe play is one of the most important activities a child can engage in. They don’t over-program their children’s lives. Play is considered an educational theory in Denmark, and has been since 1871. Try to get them outdoors, in nature, to explore with a group of kids of different ages. Instead of parent-directed activities, let them enjoy playing on their own. Child-led play builds self-esteem, coping mechanisms, negotiation skills, empathy, creativity and self-control.
Be honest. Life is not just about happiness and it doesn’t always have a fairy tale ending. Danes are very honest about all aspects of life and this sets children up to be more resistant to the ups and downs they will inevitably face. Being honest with children is about telling them the truth (good and bad) and giving them authentic answers to questions. Reading stories that encompass all kinds of situations, even sad or upsetting ones, can be very powerful. The Little Mermaid, for example, is a actually a Danish fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. In the original version, the mermaid doesn’t get the prince, but rather dies of sadness and turns into sea foam. The more we prepare children for all aspects of life, the more resilient they will become.
Try Hygge. Danes regularly practice “hygge” (pronounced hoo-gah), a time of coziness with friends and family. It’s a daily part of life in Denmark. For parents, this involves time together with their children that encourages the whole family working together. It can be something as simple as playing a game together, or cooking, or just being present in the moment. It’s “we time” not “me time” —and it’s hugely beneficial for wellbeing. For fun ideas on how to implement hygge as a family, you can download the hygge oath here.
No ultimatums. Danish parenting is about setting clear rules for children in a respectful way. They absolutely don’t want their children to fear them, but to respect them. Spanking was made illegal in Denmark over 20 years ago. Instead of an authoritarian parenting style, the Danish approach avoids power struggles and works toward maintaining respect. Danish parents explain the rules and give their children a lot of trust. Remaining calm is key. As parents, we must try to guide children through tantrums without having a tantrum ourselves. This is sometimes easier said than done!
Reframe negative situations. Our words form the lens through which we see the world. When we change the way we describe things, the way we see our world changes. Reframing is not about wearing rose-colored glasses; it’s about listening for the positive details in a situation and building upon those. If your child says that they hate school, for example, try bringing up the art class that they loved. Or if they think they’re awful at soccer, talk about a week when they felt they played well. By helping your child focus on what they can do, rather than what they can’t, we help build up a positive storyline rather than a negative one. This is true for adults as well. Reframing is a skill, which can be honed with practice, and it is truly life-changing in terms of fostering more happiness.
For more parenting tips, check out 8 Mindful Parenting Tactics Even Busy Mamas Can Do. Seriously!