The Danish Way: Danish Families: What Can We Learn From Them?

A new study has shown that in Denmark, parents and children are happier than elsewhere. The obvious question is: what do the Danes do differently? It seems that the secret of their happiness lies in the six simple principles of Danish education, which are easy in there nature and absolutely recommended for all families.

There are a few things in our house that work so well as our way of dealing with negative experiences and always looking at the other side of the situation. Positively and unemotionally. Our authenticity plays an important role in that aspect. Some Danes probably wouldn't describe themselves that way, but the approach in the broadest sense is Danish. And it appears to be something that is strongly ingrained in their society.

Danish psychotherapist Iben Dissing Sandahl summed up the Danes' secret of happiness to six basic principles of Danish education.

The two authors (Jessica Joelle Alexander is an American columnist and mother, she has a Danish husband; Iben Dissing Sandahl is a psychotherapist and family counselor who lives near Copenhagen) sum up the educational secrets of the Danes in the form of six principles: P.A.R.E.N.T.. The formula stands for:

  1. P is for Play
  2. A is for Authenticity
  3. R is for Reframing
  4. E is for Empathy
  5. N is No Ultimatums
  6. T is for Togetherness and Hygge
    • Hygge is Danish for cozy

This means that free play, in which the children are left to their own devices, is important! Here we place a lot of emphasis and ambition in education: we want our children to be at the forefront everywhere. We are happy if you can count already in kindergarten. We are happy to make sure that they do something "meaningful" in the afternoons, that we develop after school programs. Swimming, gymnastics, music, sports, or early research. Free play is not on the timetable when we plan for our children. The Danes do it differently: they are very much in the running for "old-fashioned games", in which children of different ages come together to let their imagination and creativity run wild. Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl explain: "We mean a 'play' in which the children – alone or with a friend – are left to their own devices and play exactly as they want and as long as they want." Danish parents get less involved and push their children less to learn certain things. Children can and should have their own experiences. It allows them to develop into the adults that they truly want to become.

The approach, based on the P.A.R.E.N.T. formula, not only helps to ensure happy children, but also more relaxed parents. The examples all come from real life, and it is easy to understand how you can implement them at home and integrate your own family life. When I read the book, it became clear that we, as parents, intuitively do a lot of things quite right already but we also suppress things that would develop happier healthier members of society. The knowledge of cause and effect encourages us to implement these principles much more often. You don't have to do everything differently overnight – you just have to shift the focus a little bit.

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