How to Parent the Danish Way: Learning from the Happiest People in the World

This podcast focuses on how to parent the Danish way—lessons from the happiest people in the world! Happy, peaceful children grow into happy, peaceful adults who raise happy, peaceful children—and the Danish way of parenting seems to breed happy people! Jessica Alexander and Dr. Robyn Silverman talk about some of the unique methods of Danish parents that help to develop empathy, encourage play and incite togetherness that are foundational to the Danish culture. Walk away with some easy-to-follow tips that can bring peace and wellness to your family during chaotic times.

Special guest: Jessica Alexander

Denmark has been voted as having the happiest people in the world by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) almost every year since 1973. That’s more than 40 years of happiness! It begs the question—is it the parenting? I mean, is there a Danish Way of parenting? It turns out, there is, and while the Danish Way of parenting is not the only reason Danes are the happiest, it does play a very important role—and the success of it all seems to be tied to the ways they educate children far beyond academics—focusing on play, empathy and social skills. It’s important to delve into it, I hope you would agree, since happy kids tend to grow up to be happy adults who raise happy kids—and the seasons go ‘round and round again. And while in the United States and in other areas of the world, we are seeing an increase of anti-depressants, suicides among young people and mental health diagnoses, as well as a great deal of competition between parents and we have a lot to learn from the Danes.

Best-selling Author, Journalist, Danish Parenting Expert & Cultural Researcher, Jessica Alexander’s book “The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know about Raising Confident Capable Kids” has been published in over 25 countries. Her work has been featured in TIME, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, Huffington Post, NPR, NY Times, and many more. She regularly does talks and workshops for parents, schools and organizations like Google, The Women’s Network of the United Nations, The World Parenting Forum and many more. She has also worked as a spokesperson for LEGO on the Power of play.

The podcast provides:

How the Danish way of parenting can bring calm, peace and happiness into the family.

How the Danish rear happy children.

How parenting the Danish way can help your children to be more empathic and open-minded as well as positive in how they see others.

How play impacts the child and family

How the “openness” of the Danish helps to facilitate lifelong conversations.

Why it’s so important to be reflective of your “default settings.”

What hygge is—and why it’s integral to the Danish way of parenting

Important Messages:

  • Denmark has been voted as the happiest—40 years in a row they are in the top 3! 
  • Happy kids grow up to be happy parents who raise happy kids—it’s a cycle.
  • Reframing: Playing with kids– Turn fear into curiosity.
  • Danish parents: Reframing so that we turn negative into positive—see positive details in negative situations.
  • Fundamental difference: Actively teach empathy.
  • Denmark: Most empathic and trusting country in the world. Not judging. Collaborate. Not competitive. Not over-praising. Acknowledging children and pointing out the good in others. Directing kids to see the good in others.
  • Tip: Take 1-3 times during the day—take the time to point out the good in others.
  • Never compare.
  • TIP: Never label kids- look for the good and help your kids to see the good in others by explaining poor behavior with logical yet empathetic reasons. For example, “maybe she’s tired.”
  • Parenting is a verb.
  • We have default settings (based on how we were raised)—and sometimes we want to work against them as we know more about positive ways to parent.
  • Spanking has been illegal for 20 years in Europe. Spanking might be a default setting—due to the way we were raised or the culture norms.
  • Danish culture is a respect-based culture and parents, in no way, want their kids to fear them.
  • Danish parents don’t go to ultimatums that creates push-pull. A lot of explanation again.
  • How do I get this message across so the children hear me in a way that they understand?
  • How fast do you go into ultimatums?
  • Food time: Is your child a soldier or are you trying to get them to appreciate good food?
  • We feel judged- so we make choices based on how we present to others. We have to shut out this feeling of judgment so we do what’s best for our child.
  • If children’s lives are always organized by an adult and they don’t have time to invent themselves—they don’t get to play—it can affect their self esteem (how you feel about who you are regardless of the trophies and all the praise).
  • Self esteem- is the roots- who you feel you are without the trophies and all the stuff. Leaves—the trophies, the stuff. What happens in a storm? A tree with no roots and only leaves, get’s blown over. External locus of control- get energy from outside.
  • Free Play- test own limits. Test fear. Develop coping mechanism.  No trophies. But no proof of learning- no grades- so in America, not valued as much. Danish way- play is the most important way.
  • When interfere with play, interfere with brain development (as we referenced in previous podcasts when it comes to over-parenting).
  • Play: Reduces stress in whole family. And there is no pressure.
  • Time together- can’t be underestimated. Connecting. Wellbeing. No expectations.
  • The Danish are very honest with their children. All topics are on the table. The Danish motto is; if it’s part of life, it should be part of education. This includes death, sex, bodies, etc.
  • The Little Mermaid- life is not only happiness. Danish stories.
  • Color wheel- would not say blue is better than red or yellow is better at orange. All the feelings matter and none are better than the other. No reason to be so focused on happiness. Expose to all emotions. Imagine is everything was purple? Life is not a fairytale. Not shocking when they experience negative emotions. It’s okay to be sad. No need to hide it.
  • Cry heart but never break. About death- book. Danish.
  • Hygge: A psychological space. When you enter in, take off work, negativity, complaining (anything that can divide you)- come to space to be present with the people you love. Present with the family. Takes awareness and some work. Even if hygge takes some work for us—our kids will grow up to do it naturally. This can be at any time- 20 minutes when you get home. Morning. Evening. Doesn’t divide you.
  • Reflect on your own culture and your own upbringing and ask; is there anything that I might do differently? (Don’t need to do what you’ve been doing just because you’ve been doing it). Important to reflect what works for your family.
  • Have empathy for yourself. Then you’ll be kinder to everyone else!

Notable Quotables:

      • “Happy kids grow up to be happy parents who raise happy kids. It’s a cycle based on default settings that we pass on an on.”
      • “Parents can help kids to reframe and see positive details in negative situations.” 
      • “The crux of the Danish way of parenting is that the parents actively teach empathy. It’s not competitive. They acknowledge children and point out the good in others. They direct kids to see the good in others.”
      • “The default settings that we have come out when we are pushed beyond our limits—when we run out of surplus.”
      • “American culture is a competitive culture—and ‘I win’ culture—and this spills over into the parenting.”
      • “The Danish way uses a lot of explaining. It’s not an ‘I win, you lose’ culture. Instead it asks; ‘How do I get this message across so the children hear me in a way that they understand?’”
      • “Sometimes we have to say ‘I’m sorry’ to our kids. It shows we’re human.”
      • “Time together as a family when you are just being, not doing, is where we see the connection and the roots and the presence—the Danish word, ‘hygge’—it’s the heart of it all.”
      • “The Danish are very honest with their children. All topics are on the table. The Danish motto is; if it’s part of life, it should be part of education.”
      • “Create a conversation that lasts a lifetime with your children.”
      • “The more vulnerable and emotionally honest we are with our children, the more they know that they can be too.”
      • “For the Danish concept of Hygge takes mindfulness to the next step. It’s not mindfulness but we-fulness.”
      • “When you create these moments—oases of time- when it doesn’t matter what you do and it doesn’t matter what’s going on outside of your family, you realize how important it is to have that time.”


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