Two of my favourite things related to writing about positive parenting are the inspiring people I cross paths with and the incredible lessons they've taught me about life, love and happiness. Back in March this year, Jessica Joelle Alexander, emailed me about her book, The Danish Way of Parenting, sharing it and asking if I'd like to read it.
Life was full at the time and it took me a couple of months to open it, but when I did I couldn't put it down. The simplicity of her and co-author Iben Sandahl's message is compelling and based around asking the question: why are the Danish people consistently reputed to be the happiest in the world? They suggest the Danes' elevated level of innate happiness is rooted in the way the nation's children are parented.
Happy babies are more likely to become happy children and subsequently, happy adults: it's logical, makes sense and it's a notion which has affected my decision making as a conscious parent over the last few years. How we choose to parent our children matters, and the Danes have a unique approach which seems to be working.
Jessica and Iben outline a simple six-point acronym to guide parents in cultivating lasting happiness in our own families, no matter where we live. What I love most about The Danish Way is their refreshing, no-nonsense approach, combined with realistic optimism, kindness and empathy. The ironic acronym used to remember the pillars of this philosophy is PARENT. Here's an insight into what the Danes do a little differently.
P is for Play
Play is the language of children, and in Denmark protecting children's right to free play is taken very seriously. It's considered crucial, not optional. Over-scheduling kids is actively avoided and you're more likely to hear a Danish parent say their child is going to play in the backyard on Saturday rather than take part in organized sport. And by "play" they mean kids are left to their own devices, with a friend or alone, to play exactly as they see fit, for as long as they want.
The Danes recognize play teaches social skills, empathy, self-control, coping mechanisms and much more. Whereas, in most Western nations, free play is a sadly endangered species. I was disturbed when I read an article recently reporting some parents are sending their children to "boot camp" to prepare them for kindergarten. Elizabeth Fraley, director of KinderPrep in Los Angeles says, "When children get into kindergarten, there is no play."
Taking away a child's ability to play is like taking away their voice; our society needs to realize the detrimental effects of rushing children through childhood and learn from countries like Denmark who are taking a different approach.
A is for Authenticity
The Danes like to "keep it real." They're honest with their children about the good, bad and ugly of life. Danish movies, stories and books often deal with difficult topics and don't always have happy endings. "Keeping it real" can deepen empathy and can make us happier in a "count your blessings" kind of way.
As parents, we walk a fine line of exposing our children to age-appropriate topics, while shielding them from the harsh realities of our world, which sometimes I find I can't even handle myself. Finding a balance, which is right for our individual children, can enrich our connection. And talking through difficult emotions helps prepare our kids for life's ups and downs, making them more resilient.
R is for Reframing
John Milton famously said, "The mind can make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven." I've found this especially true in parenting -- we're pushed to our limits and often feel alone, without a village or family support. Being awake at 3 a.m. with a crying baby can easily be interpreted as hell, but flipping the script, accepting the reality, not labeling it and finding gratitude can make us joyful in the most unlikely of moments.
The Danish practice of reframing is a cultural phenomenon passed from one generation to the next; it's incredibly powerful and results in the "realistic optimism" Danes are famous for. The Danish Way challenges us to alter our language and reinterpret a situation in a less negative way, which is proven to change how we feel. Reframing can be learned and it is a life-changing skill, not only for kids, but for adults, too.
E is for Empathy
The Danes are one of the most empathic cultures in the world and it may be because they actively teach empathy in schools. It has the same value as subjects like Math or English, with programs in place to teach kids to identify others' emotions and conceptualize themselves in others' shoes and feel for them.
As parents we can also help foster empathy. Our children are born with an incredible ability for natural empathy -- when a baby hears another baby crying, they'll often start crying, too. But we subconsciously drum it out of them; we do it out of love as we try to protect them from difficult emotions.
When our child sees another child hurt at the playground, our immediate reaction may be to say, "They're fine, don't worry." It seems innocent enough but we're teaching our kids they don't need to worry about other's feelings. Yet, if we tackle feelings head on and say something like, "He's crying because he fell down and hurt his knee. It's bleeding, isn't it? But, his mummy is there, she'll give him a big hug and he'll be OK," kids can recognize and process emotions, while finding ways to help other's and nourish their ability for empathy.
N is for No ultimatums.
No-ultimatums parenting is about avoiding power struggles. It's about a win/win rather than an "I win" situation. It's about seeing our children as allies rather than adversaries. Many conventional disciplinary practices such as spanking, time outs, punishments and rewards threaten to transform our homes into battlegrounds, making parenting a chore rather than a privilege.
Spanking has been illegal in Denmark for over 20 years, which reflects the values of the society and the democratic, respectful way in which parents choose to raise their children. Modelling respectful behaviour is the best way to teach children how we expect them to behave.
T is for Togetherness (and Hygge)
Hygge, pronounced hooga, means "to cozy around together." Hygge is spending time together with loved ones in a cozy, psychologically safe environment. Everyone enters into an unspoken agreement that, for this period of time, no one complains, brags or brings up negative or controversial topics, creating a drama-free space.
Children thrive in these intentionally positive moments that foster happiness and well-being through prioritizing social connectedness. The next time you have a family get together, try "hygge" (the rules are outlined in the book).
The Danes Are Positive Parents
Learning about the way the Danish culture approaches parenting and the long-term impacts it may be having on their nation's happiness is fascinating. I also find it incredibly encouraging as it has so much in common with natural parenting techniques, recognizing and responding to our children in the way they need.
The only downside to the Danish Way is it highlights the lack of support for positive parenting choices we experience in our Western culture. But, short of us all moving to Denmark, I hope we can support and inspire each other in our choices, that we can remain courageously open-minded and grow not only as parents but as people on this wonderful adventure with our children.
A version of this post originally appeared on Raised Good.
If you resonated with this article please subscribe to my personal blog, Raised Good. You will receive a free copy of my eBook Parenting by Nature which will help free you from the "rules" of modern parenting. And I'd love to connect on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
MORE ON HUFFPOST:
> Life satisfaction score: 7.3 (tied-7th highest) > Self-reported good health: 90.0% (the highest) > Pct. with quality support network: 94.0% (tied-7th highest) > Disposable income: $23,815 (17th lowest) > Life expectancy: 81.5 years (tied-10th highest) New Zealand tied for the world’s seventh happiest country mostly due to the good health of its residents. Nine out of every 10 New Zealanders surveyed reported being in good health, the highest share of all countries reviewed and well above the 68% of residents who said they were in good health across countries reviewed. Not only are Kiwis healthy, but they are also employed. Approximately 73% of residents were employed as of 2013, higher than the 65% of residents among countries reviewed. Additionally, less than 1% of the country’s labor force had been unemployed for more than a year as of 2013, more than three times lower than the average jobless rate among countries reviewed. Read more at 24/7 Wall St.
> Life satisfaction score: 7.3 (tied-7th highest) > Self-reported good health: 76.0% (10th highest) > Pct. with quality support network: 90.0% (16th highest) > Disposable income: $27,888 (13th highest) > Life expectancy: 81.2 years (15th highest) Economic security is one factor that can contribute to a country’s happiness. While 65% of the labor force was employed across surveyed countries, 74% of the Netherlands’ workforce was employed, the fourth highest rate. And while strong household finances do not always correlate with high levels of happiness, the net worth of Dutch households was nearly $78,000 as of 2012, the fifth highest level among countries reviewed. Read more at 24/7 Wall St.
> Life satisfaction score: 7.3 (tied-7th highest) > Self-reported good health: 89.0% (2nd highest) > Pct. with quality support network: 92.0% (tied-11th highest) > Disposable income: $29,365 (8th highest) > Life expectancy: 81.5 years (tied-10th highest) Nearly 90% of Canadians surveyed self-reported high levels of health in 2013, the second highest share in the OECD. High levels of happiness may also stem from strong community engagement. When asked if they had friends or relatives to turn to when they were in trouble, 92% of Canadians responded positively. Together, happiness and social cohesion may help reduce the number of Canadians who are victims of assault. At just 1.3 assaults per 100,000 residents, Canada’s assault rate was three times lower than the OECD average rate, by far the lowest out of all countries reviewed. Read more at 24/7 Wall St.
> Life satisfaction score: 7.3 (tied-7th highest) > Self-reported good health: 85.0% (4th highest) > Pct. with quality support network: 92.0% (tied-11th highest) > Disposable income: $31,588 (5th highest) > Life expectancy: 82.1 years (6th highest) Feeling connected to the people around you is one indicator of a happy country. More than 90% of Australians responded they had a strong network of friends and family. Another measure of social cohesion, civic engagement, was also particularly strong in Australia. In the most recent election, 93% of voter-aged Aussies cast a ballot, by far the highest rate in the OECD. Voting has been compulsory in Australia since 1924, and failing to vote in some cases results in a fine. Australian workers enjoyed both a high degree of job security and high salaries. Annual personal earnings averaged more than $50,000, more than $14,000 above the OECD average. Read more at 24/7 Wall St.
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied-4th highest) > Self-reported good health: 76.0% (10th highest) > Pct. with quality support network: 94.0% (tied-7th highest) > Disposable income: $33,492 (3rd highest) > Life expectancy: 81.5 years (tied-10th highest) Norway’s unemployment rate was just 3.5% last year, significantly lower than the 36-country average unemployment rate of 8.1%. Working Norwegians were also well paid. Full-time Norwegian workers earned $50,282 annually on average, among the highest levels compared to other surveyed countries. As with many other countries that enjoy high levels of happiness, Norway’s air and water were assessed as some of the best in the world. As many as 94% of respondents said they were satisfied with the quality of their water, nearly the most among countries reviewed. Read more at 24/7 Wall St.
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied-4th highest) > Self-reported good health: 80.0% (8th highest) > Pct. with quality support network: 87.0% (11th lowest) > Disposable income: $22,104 (15th lowest) > Life expectancy: 81.8 years (8th highest) By many measures, Israel is an outlier as one of the happiest countries in the world. For example, with the exception of Israel, residents in every country with a high level of life satisfaction reported having a strong network of friends or family. In Israel, only 87% of respondents said they had a strong sense of community, 26th in this measure. Perhaps because of its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, Israel ranked as one of the least safe countries among countries reviewed, with 6.4% of the population reporting having experienced an assault in the past 12 months. Nevertheless, 80% of respondents reported being in good health, one of the higher rates among countries measured by the OECD. Read more at 24/7 Wall St.
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied-4th highest) > Self-reported good health: 65.0% (12th highest) > Pct. with quality support network: 95.0% (4th highest) > Disposable income: $27,927 (12th highest) > Life expectancy: 80.7 years (17th lowest) A sense of community is important to an overall sense of well-being. Finland ranked fourth overall in the OECD survey both in life satisfaction and the proportion of respondents who said they had a good support network. Among countries reviewed, 88% of respondents said they had friends and family they could rely on compared to 95% of Finns. Strong education systems can also buoy citizen’s happiness. In 2012, an average student in a Finnish school had the third highest PISA score, an international standardized test. The country also ranked well in measures such as long-term unemployment and work-life balance. Read more at 24/7 Wall St.
> Life satisfaction score: 7.5 (tied-the highest) > Self-reported good health: 81.0% (6th highest) > Pct. with quality support network: 96.0% (tied-the highest) > Disposable income: $33,491 (4th highest) > Life expectancy: 82.8 years (3rd highest) The Swiss are one of the wealthiest populations in the OECD, with net household wealth averaging $108,823, nearly $18,000 greater than the 36-country average. The small Central European nation also had one of the healthiest job markets with 80% of the working-age population employed. This was the second highest figure of countries reviewed, which, on average, had 65% of the adult population employed. Switzerland also tied Iceland for having the highest proportion of residents stating they felt a strong sense of community. It also had one of the lowest homicide rates, at just 0.5 per 100,000 residents, which was one-eighth of the OECD figure. Read more at 24/7 Wall St.
> Life satisfaction score: 7.5 (tied-the highest) > Self-reported good health: 77.0% (9th highest) > Pct. with quality support network: 96.0% (tied-the highest) > Disposable income: $23,965 (18th highest) > Life expectancy: 83.0 years (2nd highest) Nearly every country with a high level of life satisfaction reported having a strong sense of community. Icelanders, which reported the highest rate of life satisfaction in the OECD, also were the most likely to have friends or family they could rely on. Low assault rates also make Iceland one of the safest countries, which generally improves trust and social cohesion in an area. It also tied with Japan, Denmark, and the UK for the lowest homicide rate of countries reviewed at just 0.3 per 100,000 residents. Iceland had the highest water quality among the 36 countries measured, with just 3% of the people surveyed reporting poor water quality compared to 19% across the OECD. Read more at 24/7 Wall St.
> Life satisfaction score: 7.5 (tied-the highest) > Self-reported good health: 72.0% (15th highest) > Pct. with quality support network: 95.0% (4th highest) > Disposable income: $26,491 (15th highest) > Life expectancy: 80.1 years (12th lowest) While having a job often helps contribute to happiness by creating a stable financial environment for families and individuals, balancing work with leisure can also be critical to finding happiness. In Denmark, 73% of the workforce was employed, higher than the OECD average employment rate. Perhaps more important, though, the Danes still found time to devote more than 16 hours each day to leisure and personal care activities, which include sleeping, socializing, and watching television. This was the most time devoted to such activities among countries reviewed. As in other countries reporting high levels of happiness, as many as 95% of Danish respondents had a quality support network, the fourth highest proportion among countries measured by the OECD. Denmark residents are also well educated, having spent an average of 19.4 years in school, the third highest among countries reviewed. Read more at 24/7 Wall St.
Follow Tracy Gillett on Twitter: www.twitter.com/raisedgood