Denmark is quoted as one of the happiest countries in the world, and the Danes are known to raise confident, happy and empathetic kids. So I had a good look at what really happens in Danish homes so I can enlighten you on the subject of “parenting like a Dane” with the following 6 tips!
just came back ‘home’ from a trip to Denmark and every time my kids say that they feel freer, happier, and healthier and we are more connected. It’s not just because it’s weekend and holiday time that they feel this way; we go home at least once a month so they also experience the normality of everyday life by going to school with their cousins and friends and they also have ‘Danish play dates’.
When I was writing this article I realised that the core principles, values and philosophy of my coaching support are deeply influenced and rooted in my Danish background, education and experiences; All of my parenting support and workshops are designed around a relationship based concept, where ‘connection’ is at the heart of effective parenting. Because we can’t raise happy and confident children if we don’t have a healthy relationship, but a healthy relationship does not mean ‘be their friends’, it means ‘be friendly, fair and connected’.
- Simplicity, hygge & boredom:
We will parent much better if we take it easy, slow down and make life simpler. Danes don’t over programme their kids’ lives; as my sister in law said, ‘if our kids have too much on there is less time for hygge!’ And hygge is not something you mess around with, hygge is serious stuff and a very important part of the Danish parenting style. With ‘hygge’, we connect, play, hang out, talk, eat, slow down, talk or spend time outside. Hygge is simply being together without doing anything but connecting – call it mindfully being together! For parents this involves time together with their children, maybe even the whole family working together, it can also be as simple as playing a game together. This in return makes our kids more calm, relaxed and connected with themselves and people around them. Sometimes less really is more.
Sleepovers are not a big thing in Denmark and only really happen as ‘babysitting support’ for each other because it is just too messy and it goes against the desire for simplicity. As my Danish friend said ‘it’s simply not worth it’! I think we can agree that sleepovers can sometimes leave our kids tired, grumpy and unbearable to be with – so why bother?
Also less activities = more time for play, hygge and boredom! Because boredom is OK in Denmark! I heard a boy say to his dad recently ‘Daaaaad I’m bored!’, to which Dad said ‘Rasmus, that is great, let me know how it goes’. Boredom helps our kids to slow down and connect with their thoughts, and this is when they get creative because they really have to think about what to do. Play with Lego, go outside, read a book, bake a cake or just do nothing! CLICK here to read more about ‘The Gift of Boredom’.
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if our kids have too many activities after a long day at school, on top of homework and entertainment?
In Denmark we have a saying, ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’! What is really mean is ‘there is no bad weather, only bad attitude to it’! This is something my kids took some time getting used to (being brought up in the UK). Danish parents will send their kids out ‘to play’ in ALL weathers; rain, snow, frost, sun – you name it. They have clothes and footwear ready for all weather, no excuse for a bit of outdoor hygge play, a walk or a bike ride (Danes love their bikes)! The outdoor life connects us with nature, our body, soul and mind. It makes our kids active, sociable, gets them off the screens and also provides an opportunity to have some outdoor ‘hygge’ together!
3. Stay positive and say “JA”:
What I notice a lot at home is that parents take their kids seriously no matter what they say. We might not like what our kids say to us, but they still have a right to be heard. Tip: Listen no matter what you hear, understand where they come from and accept that is how they feel. You don’t need to agree but you can always LISTEN.
Listening also help our kids to problem solve as they get to talk through the situation without being interrupted, told what to do or what not to do! Listening also strengthens the relationship with our kids. We all like to be listened to and we then respect the ‘listener’ more.
Say yes a lot: ‘JA’ is used a lot instead of ‘NEJ’ – Think about it – if you say YES when you actually mean NO, you change the atmosphere and make yourself a more positive parent. For example, ‘Mum can I have a cake?’ Mum: ‘YES you can have one after dinner’, ‘Dad can I stay up later? Dad: ‘YES, you can stay up later Friday night when you don’t have to go to school the next day’. This really works – we tell our kids what they CAN do instead of CAN’T do – we say YES instead of NO – but the end result is the same, just more positive and lasting!
4. Take Play Serious:
Play is at the centre of Danish parenting! Learn through play: Danish kids start school much later than in the UK, but go to ‘playschool’ to actively learn through play. Just take Lego for instance; the word literally means ‘Play(leg) Well (Godt)’, so “play well”. Lego is a great example of how our kids can play and learn at the same time: concentration, fine motor skills, numbers, shapes, colours etc.
But play is more than ‘just’ play, it is our kid’s job and it is what they need to do in order to grow, learn, develop, be happy and confident! I believe in free play instead of parent-directed activities, but we can still play with our kids without directing or judging or taking over; simply just BE with them – join in your child’s play and follow their lead, imagination and ideas. Comment on what you see, hear and feel. Danes seem to spend lots of time ‘watching’ their kids play and this makes kids feel important, valued and worth our time and encourages them to play (learn and explore) more.
So why not try to set time aside for some unstructured play and special hygge time every day with each of your kids.
Danish parents give their kids lots of trust, and this doesn’t seem to backfire on them – their kids want to be trusted and so they step up to the expectation that they CAN be trusted by behaving respectfully and following the rules.
My 15 year old son was told off by his Danish cousin recently for crossing the road when the light was red, even though it was out in the countryside with no cars to be seen for miles. ‘You just don’t do that’ – ergo – if you stick to the rules you will be trusted!
Danish kids cycle everywhere from an early age – they go to the shops for their parents, they walk or ride to school and home again on their own from an early age – and that is ok and healthy for them – ‘because we trust them’!
6. Creative Parenting
Something the Danes do well is follow their instinct. I call it becoming a ‘Creative Parent’, this is when we allow ourselves to become the parent we need to be for our unique children and family life (not what social media, other parents, books etc. are telling us we should be or do). In order to do this we need to know our parenting values and we need to know our kids very well. This is done through focused hours of family hygge and spending time with each one of our children through special time (something we cover in all our workshops) . This in return will help us to connect in a deeper way with our family values and ourselves as parents and start believing that ‘if it works for us, it must be the right thing to do’!
What to take away:
Awareness of the way things are right now and how to make the changes you need:
Practise more hygge; more connection, where you are 100% together. Try to set aside time every day for Special Hygge Time.
- Take play seriously; see play as part of your kids ‘job’, where they learn and grow. Make sure your kids have unstructured free play every day (without screens).
- Make life simpler; do we have too much on in our lives? Do we need to slow down and not have so many activities, playdates or sleepovers – allow time for boredom and of course hygge!
- Trust your kids more and they might just live up to your expectations!
To sum up: happy and confident parenting is usually about being the best parent YOU can be, not what society/books/friends or social media tell you to be. So think about who you want to be as a parent? And what do you need to change to become that parent?