As I wrote about last week in my post- Will Watching Sad Stories Help Turn Your Kids Into Happy Adults?, I’ve been reading a book called The Danish Way of Parenting – A Guide to Raising the Happiest Children in the World. I have now finished the book, and I want to share with you the 6 things that Danish parents do that helps them raise happy children who become happy adults.
Denmark has been labeled the world’s happiest country almost every year for the past 40 years – even when it’s not in the top spot (like this year), it’s always in the top 3. They must be doing something right. Would you like to raise a happy kid who becomes a happy adult? Yeah, me too. So, I recommend that you read the book. In the meantime, here’s a summary:
The first letters in the 6 factors in raising a happy child spells out PARENT – Play, Authenticity, Reframing, Empathy, No Ultimatums, and Togetherness.
Play – according to the Danish, the inventors of Legos and the best-selling playground equipment in the world, the key to raising happier, better adjusted, more resilient adults is to have more free play. Stop scheduling your child’s every minute and let him have some unstructured time to discover, create, and play.
Authenticity – To raise a happy child you don’t have to make the child think that everything in life is happy and everything has a happy ending. It’s important to be emotionally honest to your child. So, if you are having a difficult time, don’t smile and say to your child that everything is ok. Be honest with them in an age-appropriate way. Also, Danes don’t believe in over-complimenting a child. If a child scribbles something, a Danish parent won’t say “Wow! You’re such a great artist!” They’re more likely to just ask about it – “What is this?” “Why did you use these colors?” Or just say thank you if it’s being given as a gift. They also don’t compliment on fixed traits (“You’re so smart!” which studies show tends to have a stifling effect on children’s happiness and intellectual growth). They compliment
Reframing – Help your child see the glass as half-full. The Danish do not ignore the fact that negative things happen, but they reframe and put things in a more positive light. They do this for themselves and they help their children to reframe as well. For example, if a child is upset because it is raining and they can’t go outside, an adult would help her reframe and see that it’s cozy inside and there are many games to play. Additionally, the Danes avoid limiting or black and white language like “I always…”, “I never…”, “I hate…” “I should…”, and help children when they do use such language to reframe and see a more nuanced version of reality. Lastly, Danes avoid labeling people such as “he is lazy”, “she is aggressive,” or “she is smart.” Rather, they look at their actions – “He is not working very hard today.” “She was being aggressive today” or “She works hard and has been getting good grades in school.”
Empathy – There are two main parts to this point. First, allowing yourself to be vulnerable with your kids and others (showing that you don’t know what to do or that you’re feeling badly) and being empathetic and non-judgmental of others. The second part has to do with helping your child be more empathetic and emotionally intelligent. Danes will rarely say “Don’t cry” or “Don’t be angry.” Instead they’ll ask “Why are you crying?” or say “You seem to be angry. Why are you angry?” They allow children to feel how they feel and get curious about it. Similarly, they will ask of their child about another child. “Sam seems upset. Why do you think he is upset?”
No Ultimatums – this is about parenting with love and respect, versus fear. Ultimatums (“If you do this one more time, I’ll …” ), yelling, and spanking are about trying to get your kid to do something by making them afraid of the consequences. They’re afraid of the ultimatum, being yelled at, or being hit. They will most likely listen in the short term, but this type of behavior results in kids that have low self-esteem, depression, and poor social skills.
Instead of those methods seek out win-win solutions and parent with respect. Danish parents are firm (they don’t necessarily let children run amok and do whatever they want), but they establish and maintain boundaries without spanking or yelling. Also, they devote more time and energy on how to avoid problems rather than punishing them. So instead of punishing your child for breaking a boundary, aim to teach and educate them. Lastly, put the bad behavior in context. Is your child acting out because they are hungry or tired? Is there some other change in her life that might be causing her to act out? Deal with the underlying issue, rather than the outward behavior.
Togetherness – the Danes value intensely friend and family time together, and all strive to make it as cozy or hygge as possible. This means that they make the atmosphere cozy – they light candles, play music, and have nice food and drink. They keep their personal problems and dramas out of the time together and focus on being present, positive, and in the moment. They keep it simple – minimizing gadgets. They play games together (adults and children). They all help out so that no one feels like they have too much of the burden with the cooking and cleaning. They are more focused on creating comfort for the group, then on their own personal comfort level.
Are your family gatherings like this? Strive to make your time with children, family, and friends more like the Danish gatherings. You’ll be modeling for your kids how to create loving and warm relationships that are a true measure and indicator of happiness.
Monick Paul Halm is the Chief Creative Officer at the Checklist Mom. She has made it her mission to empower women and moms to thrive in their lives, families, and career choices. She’s a busy mom of 3, certified life and career coach, author, speaker, and real estate investor. She’s a wearer of many hats, and juggler of many duties and loves connecting with our moms. You can connect with her on the Checklist Mom Facebook Page and on twitter as @thereikicoach.