The Danish Way of Parenting

The Danish Way of Parenting: : What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids

Wow! There is finally a parenting book that is simple, doable, and appeals to our common sense. The Danish Way of Parenting, by authors Jessica Alexander and Isban Sandahl, is a clear, concise way of approaching raising children that the wholecountry of Denmark follows. And, I think the key point here is that the Danes agree about how to raise a child, which makes it incredibly simple for children to understand what adults expect from them.  The guidelines for acceptable children's behavior and parent's responses to unacceptable behavior are made clear and they remain the same where ever they go and whomever they are with. 


And the very lack of cultural cohesiveness, when it comes to raising our American children, I believe, is why we are so confused about how to raise our children. While many factors play into this scenario, like the loss of multi-generational homes and extended school days--contributing to less time with family, (and we are such a smorgasbord of many cultures, all with varying ways of raising children) no one knows what to expect from one family to the next, least of all the children! The parenting experts contradict one another, compounding the problem, and it all adds up to one perplexing mess where confusion reigns. 

How should we raise our kids, anyway, and what is a parent really supposed to do?

I do believe the Danes may have got it right and, if studies are accurate, then they most certainly did get it right, which means we have something to learn from them. Part of the Danes' way of raising children includes lots of free play, which was also the American way before the craze for early education spread its tentacles and engulfed all the little children, who were no longer free to play for long hours; also, part of the Danes' way just happens to be that way because they are a very optimistic people, who put a strong value on the importance of family. Not only do they raise their children well, but they raise them to be a lot happier than the rest of us, according to the United Nations annual study on who are the happiest people in the world. Now, are they actually happy or just less miserable than the rest of us? Clearly, not everything is all right in the state of Denmark, all of the time, but I do think they have the advantage when it comes to parenting practices, as Alexander and Sandahl point out.


The methods of the Danes are simple and housed under the acronym of PARENT by Alexander and Sandahl, which includes: old-fashioned free play--and plenty of it--necessary to develop emotional intelligence, a prerequisite for healthy relationships and a precursor to life-long happiness according to emotional intelligence expert, Daniel Goleman; respecting your children for who they are without imposing judgments on them, which allows them to be authentic instead of pretending to be someone they think others want them to be; reframing or putting the narrative into the positive, so the children see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, and see others and themselves as trying to do their best rather than fault-finding; empathy, which is harvested through play and nurtured by being treated with empathy; no ultimatums with a more democratic approach that includes discussion and guiding children to do what is right and therefore, guiding them to develop good character; plus creating a space for togetherness, for shared experiences that are enjoyable and that will strengthen the family bond, which translates into a very strong support system--another prerequisite for happiness. The authors give real life examples for implementing these practices, and unlike most parenting books they are simple, doable, and they are for everyone. 


Many of the benefits that come from the Danish way of parenting are in part due to the Dane's respect for a child's right to engage in free play, which made me travel back to my own childhood of long days of play, adventures, and challenges, to wonder, if at one time, Americans were also happier? It turns out we were, but not quite like the Danes. In spite of all we have, and maybe because of all we have, we generally tend to fall pretty low on the scale of happiness. What do the Danes really have that we don't have? That was the question I found myself pondering as I reflected on the different cultures I was familiar with, cultures where the children did play a lot and family and friends were a priority. And, my conclusion is that what the Danes have that we, especially us unhappy Americans, don't have is that the Danes are an optimistic people, and I think this is really what sets them apart from the rest of us. 


There is a book called, The Happiness Advantage, and though I didn't intend to review it, I think it would be a good follow-up to The Danish Way of Parenting, so I will review it for you soon. In the meantime, I'd love to see the Danish way of parenting become the American way of parenting too, and I'm thrilled to have a book I can refer my customers to with complete confidence that their money will be well-spent. Kudos to Alexander and Sandahl for finally answering the question to, "What's the best book on parenting?" that I frequently encounter in my work. Theirs is, by far.