To read our interview with author Jessica Joelle Alexander, click here.
Even though Denmark slipped one place in its rank as the Happiest Country in the World in 2017 (Norway took first place), for years, Denmark has topped this list. What makes the Danes such a happy people? According to authors Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl, the more important question is – What makes Danish kids and Danish parents the happiest people on earth?
The answer, they argue, is in the Danish philosophy behind parenting and the ways in which they raise their children. The result of this parenting leads to “resilient, emotionally secure, happy kids who turn into resilient, emotionally secure, happy adults who then repeat this powerful parenting style with their own kids” according to the authors. So what is this magical parenting philosophy?
The authors literally take parents to task by employing P A R E N T as an acronym to explain the Danes’ secret to happy parenting. P is for Play, A is for Authenticity, R is for Reframing, E is for Empathy, N is for No Ultimatums, and T is for Togetherness and Hygge (Coziness).
At the very outset, the authors present an important reminder that sets the tone for the rest of the book and one that binds all of the book’s content together: Explained as parental ethnotheories or the “implicit, taken-for-granted ideas we have about how to raise our children” (p. 3), the authors remind us to be aware of and acknowledge our own default settings or “the actions and reactions we have when we are too tired to choose a better way”.
The rest of the book follows a predictable pattern going into each of the different letters with deeper explanations. Recruiting the help of research studies, and personal anecdotes, and experiences, the authors write a reader-friendly, easy-to-grasp book which underscores the importance of allowing our kids the space they deserve to simply be kids without parents feeling the stress of overparenting that we impose upon ourselves.
P stands for Play: Strong advocates for play in kids’ lives, the authors note that Danish schools actively promote sports, play, and exercise for all students. They highlight the many benefits of play including how it helps children become more resilient and socially adept. The chapter on Play concludes with 12 tips for play with which parents can proactively encourage play. The important reminder that stood out from Play is the authors’ advise to: Stop feeling guilty that letting them play means you aren’t parenting.
A stands for Authenticity: In simple terms, it means being honest with your kids. It means acknowledging and accepting all emotions rather than burying or numbing them. It means not showering them with false praise but rather teaching them to focus on the process and effort required. It means teaching humility and respecting individual experience. The authors provide 10 tips for building authenticity in our kids.
R stands for Reframing: This philosophy emphasizes the significance of positive language; more importantly, by “using language to create a perception shift” (p. 51). In explaining Reframing, the authors present Danes as realistic optimists who filter out unnecessary and ambiguous situations by reframing and then reauthoring them in positive ways. With kids, the focus is on using less limiting language, shifting focus to things kids can control and not using labels. The authors provide 7 tips for using reframing as part of your parenting philosophy.
E is for Empathy: While walking in someone else’s shoes is never easy, it is not impossible to learn. According to the authors, the Danes care about the happiness of others as a fundamental value of life and which is in return, a recipe for their own happiness. By teaching their kids to be judgment free and develop authentic and meaningful relationships, Danes actively work to build empathy in their children. The authors provide 7 tips to help grow empathy.
N is for No Ultimatums: In this chapter, the authors finally discuss the four parenting styles more popularly accepted as the ways in which parenting across cultures occur. Here, they particularly talk about the perils of disciplining kids, spanking being one of them. I would have liked to read more comparative explanations of how and why these may be accepted in some cultures over others without necessarily promoting one view. The authors naturally advocate for the Danish way of democratic and authoritative style. They provide 15 tips for developing a No Ultimatums style of parenting.
T is for Togetherness and Hygge: According to the authors, hygge is a virtue, a point of pride and a mood or state of mind. In inculcating the values of hygge in children, Danes teach them to put others – family, group – before themselves, be in the moment, and be humble. The authors provide 18 tips to grow mindful hygge.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. I was certainly sensitized to my own default settings and reminded of some important parenting lessons. What I especially liked about this book is the fact that everything recommended is actually doable. The Danes may have had a secret “recipe” for raising a happy people but the not-so-secret-anymore parenting philosophy of happiness is not out of reach for the rest of us.
Of course, some of the content seems oversimplified but then no book can account for every individual parenting situation into which we may get ourselves. I also felt that the book had very strong “Western” society bias but that is understandable too. As long as those reading the book understand the context the authors are coming from, the lessons themselves are definitely worth reading and considering in one’s own life as a parent, American or otherwise.
In conclusion, the content provided in this book is straight-forward and appears sincere and to borrow a term from the book, authentic. There is no judgment in the tone or recommendations provided in the book. There is no overwhelming criticism of US-American ways of parenting. There are realities, facts, and experiences. Do what you will with it.