Book Review: The Danish Way of Parenting
NMT features editor Charlotte Goddard finds out what the world’s happiest people know about raising confident, capable children.
The Danish Way of Parenting: What the happiest people in the world know about raising confident, capable kids by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl
Having read Helen Russell’s The Year of Living Danishly, binge-watched Scandi dramas, and interviewed nursery managers about their adoption of the Danish concept of “hygge”, I thought I was well versed on Denmark’s approach to life. However The Danish Way of Parenting: What the happiest people in the world know about raising confident, capable kids by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandhal, taught me some things I didn’t know. In Denmark, for example, midwives give local new mums each other’s contact details so they can meet up and support each other, like a kind of free NCT group.
The authors of this highly readable book, a Danish psychotherapist and an American mother with a Danish husband, ask what makes Denmark regularly top the charts when it comes to the world’s happiest nations. Concluding that the answer lies in the way they bring up their children, the book attempts to explain the Danish approach through a handy acronym. PARENT stands for Play, Authenticity, Reframing, Empathy, No Ultimatums and Togetherness or Hygge.
The Danish Way of Parenting assumes it is talking to American parents, but UK early years practitioners may also find its contents interesting, if only as a reinforcement of what they already do every day. The chapter on the importance of play, for example, will hopefully strike a chord with anyone delivering the EYFS. A chatty style is backed up with references to academic studies and research, which readers can find out more about about in an extensive notes section.
I was particularly drawn to the chapter on reframing, which talks about the importance of using positive and supportive language. Instead of telling children what they should or should not be feeling – “don’t cry!” – adults try to help a child become aware of the reasons for their emotions and actions, and guide them towards a more constructive way of thinking. What we call the “terrible twos”, Danes call trodsalder – the age when children push boundaries. Reframing this behaviour as normal and welcomed makes it easier to accept as a positive developmental stage.
The chapter on No Ultimatums talks about some of the democratic practices in Danish schools, with children putting together their own rules which change every year. I have to say that some of the imagined conversations between parents and children in this chapter, where adults explain to children why certain rules are in place, played quite differently in my own imagination. Explaining to my children why they should wear a seatbelt – “because if we have an accident you will be hurt and have to go to hospital. Do you want to go to hospital?” would probably have elicited the response “yes, yes I do!”
No book about Denmark would be complete without mention of hygge, the concept that brings together cosiness and togetherness. The final chapter includes a “hygge oath” which can be used to create a supportive and social space.
The authors claim that the Danish parenting philosophy yields resilient, emotionally secure, happy children who pass these attributes on to their own children. Given the interest in Danish approaches in the early years, from Froebel to hygge, early years practitioners may find this book a valuable distillation of the ideas and approaches that underpin their own practice.