What is it about the Danes that make them the happiest people in the world? Is there a secret to their ways? Iben Sandahl, author of The Danish Way of Parenting helps us to understand the Danish way of life and how raising strong families leads to positive outcomes for all.
What should be our principle focus when raising “whole children?” If you want to have your focus on all aspects of the whole child, you have to facilitate all four areas which collectively develop the whole child: These are: the physical area which can be free play and sports, then there is the emotional area which develops empathy, understanding and identifying emotions and self-control. The third is the cognitive area, which could be writing, reading, painting, storytelling and singing, and finally there is the social area, which means things like sharing, communicating, learning how to make choices, problem solving and resolving conflicts.
The importance Danes place on socialization 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.
“Danish children know that the challenges and downs of life won’t topple them, because they haven’t been spared from that.”
You can also trust your children to be able to do and try new things, without too much parental interaction. You can give them space to build their own trust in themselves. These things are important factors in creating the “whole child.”
They can rely on their inner drive and compass, which gives them a feeling of being strong on the outside but also on the inside. This is what real self-esteem is made of. Play is a fantastic tool to achieve that, since it is possible to develop all four areas when playing.
How does play serve as developmental tool for children? Play is very important – and by allowing our children more time to engage in unstructured play, we are giving them a gift of developing many life skills, which help them develop crucial stress management skills which lower their likelihood of anxiety, create an internal locus of control and foster happiness.
“By being honest with ourselves, and our children, we are creating a much stronger internal compass in our kids because they learn to trust their emotions. By engaging in process praise, we foster a growth mind-set rather than a fixed mind-set, which contributes to a more persistent, deeply confident and resilient individual.”
The experience of succeeding with something new (happens very often when playing) releases endorphins in the reward system of the child, which leads to feelings of happiness and satisfaction. In this manner there is renewed energy for testing out new and unexplored areas – such as where the most proximal, (nearest) zone of development might be located next time. This helps the child to develop a belief in his own value, and a healthy sense of self-worth. This is the best possible way to provide stimulation for your child.
How can we learn to give of ourselves more freely and authentically within our family relationships? By being honest with ourselves, and our children, we are creating a much stronger internal compass in our kids because they learn to trust their emotions. By engaging in process praise, we foster a growth mind-set rather than a fixed mind-set, which contributes to a more persistent, deeply confident and resilient individual.
Parenting with authenticity is the first step to guiding a child to be courageously true to themselves and others. Being a model of emotional health is powerful parenting. 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. Therefore, children learn less about these emotions, which may affect their ability to regulate them in the future.
“Parenting with authenticity is the first step to guiding a child to be courageously true to themselves and others. Being a model of emotional health is powerful parenting.”
Therefore, it is important to expand and vary the children’s vocabulary and conceptual world – that can be done with the whole family. By reading and talking about those emotions and everyday issues, you invite “Eudaimonia” into their life, which makes it easier to maneuver and distinguish between fantasy and reality, life’s peaks and valleys and then stand stronger in the long run. It is a way of living.
What is the definition of “hygee” and how can we practice mindful togetherness within our families? The Danish word “hygge” is a big part of why Denmark has been voted one of the happiest countries in the world for over 40 years in a row. The word dates back to the 19th century and is derived from the Germanic word “hyggja,” which means to think or feel satisfied. That is, a cozy time together with family and friends.
We live in a world where there isn’t much room for reflection and intimacy with ourselves, and our closest relationships. We are too busy trying not to fail! Researchers have found out that extreme stress shrinks the brain (e.g. in a divorce, job loss, etc.) in areas connected with emotion and physiological functions, which can lead to future psychiatric problems. We have to take it seriously, and the answer might lie in the phenomenon of “hygge.” It is chemistry, cohesiveness and curiosity all established in a bigger feeling of “we-fullness.”
“The individual is fully appreciated in Denmark, but without the interaction and support of others, we don’t think we can be truly happy as a whole person.”
Being part of a social group is a very big part of being Danish. Feeling connected to others gives meaning and purpose to all of our lives and this is why Danes value hygge so highly. The individual is fully appreciated in Denmark but without the interaction and support of others, we don’t think we can be truly happy as a whole person.
I believe that we should all focus more on social ties, togetherness and sharing all kinds of moments together. Daring to be more honest and vulnerable to others often leads to great resonance, as it can be recognized emotionally – and in this emotional resonance, I think, you create closer ties.
How can we govern with respect, and not fear? How do we end the power struggle? Society has some very engrained ideas about what is acceptable and what is not and we seldom challenge whether they are right or wrong.
The way we were brought up is just part of our cultural heritage and we wear it like the skin on our bodies – inherited from our own parents or those very close to us. They are ingrained and programmed into us. They are the factory settings we return to when we are at our wit’s end and not thinking clearly – and they have been installed in us during our upbringing. Sometimes it’s the small things we do without thinking about why we do them. It’s just something deep inside our setting that, motivates us to act as we do. That’s the place where power struggles comes from.
The problem with power struggles are that when it becomes “I win, you lose” it sometimes ends up being the parent who is losing in that battle – so ultimately, by avoiding power struggles you can get really good results. I know that power struggles can be difficult to avoid – and I would like to emphasize that having a non-disciplined approach to upbringing does not mean that there are no limits. On the contrary! It is about setting clear rules that create a feeling of safety and security for our children in a respectful way. In Denmark, it is very often a language choice – we try not to immediately go into those struggles.
How do Danish parents look after themselves, as well as their couple relationships, and how does this translate to the overall health of the family? A couple can grow strong together if they are working to implement some traditions together, where e.g. “hygge” can be included. Shared values can be transformed into powerful routines that can easily be maintained when children and family knock on the door.
When building up a relationship, you’ll find hygge-moments everywhere; candlelight dinners, walking in the parks, movie nights and a lot of focused attention. Embracing hygge is a fantastic way to nurture your marriage.
We all know the feeling of stressful days where everyday activities often are a matter of logistics and routines, with very little time and energy to remember love for each other. Hygge can help you to find into that again. When you have experienced it once, you’ll know when it’s there again.
“We all know the feeling of stressful days where everyday activities often are a matter of logistics and routines, with very little time and energy to remember love for each other. Hygge can help you to find into that again. When you have experienced it once, you’ll know when it’s there again.”
I know in my heart that is in those special hygge moments that we create time for, that we sense and value each other the most.
How can we practice emotional authenticy and security with our children, and why is this important? You know about Hans Christian Andersen, this famous Danish author. What most people don’t realize is that a lot of his original tales don’t have the same perspective of happy endings, as we know. Originally they are tragedies, and like The Little Mermaid, who doesn’t get the prince but turns into sea foam from sadness many other Danish books don’t neglect the more negative perspective of life. Quite interesting to know, how stories often is getting tailored to fit our cultural ideal of how we think things should be, and yet we see a lot of unhappy and lonely children.
We Danes seem to think that we learn more about character from our sufferings than our successes and therefore it’s important to examine all parts of life. How we use literature as a way to connect to our children and build up strong and healthy kids, we know there is no point in making the literature to a Wonderland, where all people behave rationally and well – where parents are always responsible for their children and always cheerful and happy. We know it’s not even close to reality at all and doesn’t reflect life in any way.
Stories about hardship, struggle and conflict enhance social-emotional skills because they communicate truths about the human experience and help children identify with the feelings of others. Children begin to recognize the whole range of experiences that make up life and this is the crux of empathy the ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. There are many shoes and so many paths in life to understand.
“Stories about hardship, struggle and conflict enhance social-emotional skills because they communicate truths about the human experience and help children identify with the feelings of others.”
Scars are also a part of life. We can’t avoid getting scarred in life but we can give our children the tools to handle those scars in a healthy way.
We, as parents, are the models for how to handle upsetting events. In life, beautiful and awful things happen. We must teach our children to be compassionate with others and with themselves and not to be afraid.
If you consider that much of our personal growth comes from the most painful events in our lives, we could even look at unhappy endings (or moments) as the most exquisite learning opportunities.
By examining all parts of life, it helps us feel gratitude for the simple things in our life that we sometimes take for granted by focusing too much on the fairy-tale life.
To learn more, visit The Danish Way of Parenting.