This article originally appeared on Fatherly.
Can you really raise happy, well-behaved, resilient, confident children just by consistently rewarding them with delicious pastries? Perhaps, but that's not what The Danish Way of Parenting is about. Rather, this is another of those "Guides To Parenting Better By Doing It Like People From Other Countries Do," but in this case the country in question has been ranked happiest in the world by the Organization For Economic Cooperation And Development for nearly 3 decades running. A people does not achieve that kind of collective bliss from having shitty childhoods.
So, how do these gentle ex-Vikings raise their kids to be so damned happy? These Crib Notes will explain, using the book's adorable 6-part acronym, "PARENT."
1. P is for Play
Unstructured Play Is Critical To Childhood Development
Research shows that free play, alone or with friends, teaches kids to be less anxious and more resilient, and it improves social skills. It also makes kids feel like they are in control of their lives, which leads to greater autonomy and self-control as they grow up and a decreased chance of them winding up in your basement. Danes put such a high value on play that early elementary school curriculums are based around it.
- Make time for play that doesn't include screens and encourages kids to use all their senses; get them outside, or give them a bunch of art supplies and let them go nuts.
2. A Is For Authenticity
Protecting Kids From All Unpleasant Feelings Stunts Their Emotional Growth
Danish kids grow up on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen -- like The Little Matchgirl, in which a destitute (but adorable!) little orphan dies, homeless, of hypothermia; or The Little Mermaid, in which said mermaid agrees to have her tongue cut out and suffer the sensation of constantly walking on sharp daggers so she can be human for a guy who dumps her. Danish parents don't read their kids these stories because they're horrible. Rather, they know that talking about and exploring all kinds of emotions teaches kids empathy, appreciation, and how to deal with their feelings.
Don't shrink from difficult topics, like "Wait, she just dies at the end? Why?"
- Read your kid some HCA, and not the Disney-fied stuff that always has a happy ending. Don't shrink from difficult topics, like "Wait, she just dies at the end? Why?"
Overpraise Does More Harm Than Good
Research shows that kids who are always told they are smart are likely to give up easily when confronted with difficult tasks. They feel that due to their alleged smartness, they shouldn't have to work hard -- trying hard makes them feel dumb, so they avoid it. The Danes approach praising their kids accordingly.
- Praise the process and the effort, rather than innate ability -- "You studied hard and aced the test," instead of, "You're so good at math!"
3. R is for Reframing
Perception Is Everything
Danes are particularly adept at looking on the bright side -- instead of complaining about the weather, they'll be grateful they're not in the rain while on vacation. This isn't just disposition (although they are annoyingly cheery); research suggests that deliberately reinterpreting events in a better light improves cognitive control and adaptability. Danes don't deny negativity, they model "realistic optimism," and they teach their kids to frame problems accordingly.
- Recognize when you're framing situations in a negative way, and reframe them around whatever positive aspect you can find. If that sounds like a workshopped version of "every cloud has a silver lining," that's because it is (Denmark's a cloudy place).
4. E Is For Empathy
The Ability To Recognize And Understand Feelings In Others Is A Skill
Studies suggest that empathy levels in young Americans have dropped nearly 50 percent since the 90s, while narcissism has risen precipitously, which the authors attribute to hyper-competition, the "gospel of greed," and Ayn Rand (seriously -- they really don't like Ayn Rand). Meanwhile, in Denmark, there are national programs to teach children empathy, and cultural and linguistic practices that encourage emotional intelligence.
If that sounds like a workshopped version of "every cloud has a silver lining," that's because it is (Denmark's a cloudy place).
- Practice understanding others instead of judging them and teach your kids to do the same.
5. N Is For No Ultimatums
Power Struggles Are No-Win Situations For Parents And Kids
Authoritarian-style parenting -- the "My way or the highway" approach -- results in a cycle of discipline and rebellion, so Danes strive to be authoritative parents instead. They rely on respect and communication to problem solve, rather than win, disputes with their kids.
- Understand that pushing boundaries and testing rules is part of growing up. When kids misbehave, use it as an opportunity to teach, guide, and nurture rather than punish.
6. T Is For Togetherness
Cozy Around Together
"At hygge sig," or simply "hygge" (pronounced "hooga") is Danish for "cozying around together" and refers to their custom of basically hanging around together as a family. Traditionally, it involves games, singing, and eating -- often by candlelight, presumably because that makes it even more cozy. American fetishization of the individual doesn't encourage this sort of concerted effort to create connection and community, which is central to Danish culture.
- Get cozy with the wife and kids. Turn the phones off, light some candles, play some games, and sing -- singing, in particular, is a great way to get your hygge on.
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