The Danish Way of Parenting: Not just for parents

Written by Gen

Last year, in preparation for my daughter’s toddler years, I started looking for books to prepare myself for the inevitable “terrible twos.” That’s when I stumbled upon the book, 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. They suggested that there was not actually such a thing as the “terrible twos,” and it turns out, they are right! With a focus on empathy and positive reframing, this book changed me as a parent, but also as an educator.

It seems that the Danish are the happiest people on earth, and have been for over 40 years. The authors are an American mom who is married to a Dane, and a Danish psychotherapist who have worked together to answer the question, what makes Danish kids the happiest people on earth? 

Their theory is built upon this foundation:

P lay

A uthenticity

R eframing

E mpathy

N o Ultimatums

T ogetherness & Hygge (Coziness)

While all of these pieces relate to education, what spoke to me most as an educator is the section on “no ultimatums.” In fact, there is an entire section entitled, “How the Danes Use No Ultimatums in School.” This idea flies in the face of everything I learned in my teacher preparatory classes. There, we became experts at making reward programs for individuals, small groups, and whole classes. We learned how to find a child’s “currency” and use it to make a child behave by giving and taking away based on a set of criteria. And what teacher hasn’t been in this type of power struggle, “you need to _______ right now, or else you will lose recess time!”

After reading this book, I have changed my language and approach to conflict with all children, and it’s already working. As an interventionist, I take students from all classrooms–and they are often the ones with the “naughty” reputations. Yesterday, I was waiting patiently for the class of my student to walk in the large front doors from recess. As they did, I observed my little student begin to scale the railing of the handicapped ramp in the foyer. He had to have been 4 feet off the ground when I walked over to him. He looked at me as if he expected me to wag my finger at him and tell him to “get down or else.” But I didn’t say that. I approached him with empathy and said, “I’m just so worried about you. Come down here where it’s safe.” Then I offered him my hand, and down he came. He said to me, “I think I was okay up there.” That was my opening to dialogue with him about the importance of school rules in a calm, conversational tone. No power struggle. No ultimatums. Just empathy.

Oh, and it works for my toddler, too!

If you are an educator or parent of children of any age, I strongly recommend that you read this book immediately. It causes you to reevaluate your outlook and it reframes your thinking about how you interact with children. It brings the promise of peace and happiness to parent or educator relationships with the children in your life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s