Iben Sandahl, Author, Denmark

Hailing from Denmark, Iben is an internationally renowned public speaker, best-selling author, and educator who wants to offer parents an alternative to high-stress modern parenting, equipping them with the tools and knowledge to raise confident, happy children. She is the author of “The Danish Way of Parenting”, “Play The Danish Way” & “Det gør ondt i maven, mor”. She has more than 20 years of experienced insight into child psychology and education, which most naturally, anchor the Danish way of practicing parenthood. Her books have been translated into 25 languages. Mother to Ida and Julie, Iben is currently working on an online course with many tips and practical hands-on-tools on how to implement her philosophy

How come a tiny country like Denmark has been voted one of the happiest countries in the world for over 40 years in a row? What is the secret to their success, many ask? In my book, The Danish Way of Parenting, I explain how our continued happiness is due to the way we bring up babies. The book provides the reader with proven Danish upbringing values that are tested and approved for many decades instead of volatile modern trends or new psychology theories.

The book is not just a book about how the happiest people in the world raise happy children; it is also a way of living. It is built on the acronym PARENT – of which every letter points out some special areas: Play, Authenticity, Reframing, Empathy, No Ultimatums, and Togetherness/HYGGE.

Danes are very trusting people, as seen both in our relationship with each other, how we bring up babies. Still, also in our relaxed way of interacting in the world, we know something about the importance of being able to live an authentic life, teaching children to feel inward, and act on it. That means that the challenges and downs of life won’t topple us, because we haven’t been spared from that. The principles from the book will help in the process of building up healthy, resilient, and happy children, and today, so many children need more than we are giving them. Not because we are not doing it good enough already, but because we can benefit from changing perspective and focus on our values. Values are important because they capture our actions truly.

One of the keys pillars pointed out in the book is how we actively teach our children empathy and to value others. We base our success on real teamwork rather than only striving to be the star. We work on building a child’s self-esteem – a solid foundation of who they are to others.  Rather than self-confidence – an outward appearance of what we can do, appear like, or own in relation to others. This sturdy foundation rooted firmly in empathy is what we believe brings true happiness and well-being to us all in the long run. Teaching empathy has not only been proven to make children more emotionally and socially competent and significantly reduce bullying, but it can also help them be more successful and high-functioning adults in the future.

Another vital pillar is HYGGE. HYGGE is pronounced “hooga,” which means an “intentionally created intimacy” typically with family and other loved ones. HYGGE is a lot about letting go of stressors and focusing on the moment right now and how to bring this invisible energy out that is so wonderful to be a part. It is such a core part of our culture that we bring it with us in most we do. It sounds simple and straightforward, and it is. Parenting is a commitment to creating a healthy relationship with our children and is not a technique, and that’s why we should keep our focus more on connection and less on instruction. When we have people around us who we love and who see, acknowledge, and loves us, we know we matter. And that is the cardinal essence of happiness. Meaningful relationships are what make life worth living, and HYGGE is the frame for this.

In Denmark, we make an effort into not ‘over-programming’ our children’s lives. Yet, we set up a lot of adult-led activities because deep down, we know that play is something all children should do. Play is considered one of the most important things a child can do (and learn from), even in high school. There is a big focus on the zone of proximal development, which means we respect children where they are at in their learning process. And try to help them just enough so they don’t lose the joy in learning for themselves. This kind of learning—respecting the zone of proximal development—builds more self-esteem and resilience, which leads to happiness.

One thing I really would love for people to bring back home from this article is to reflect on your values and these questions: Are you present? Are you aware of what is going on in your child’s life? Do you have a close and meaningful relationship with your child? Several studies have shown that superficial relationships drain our energy, and are a direct cause of the high-stress levels which many children and teenagers experience. Therefore, focus on the relationship with your child at first. Adopt HYGGE into your life. The deep and crucial connection that arises is essential for your child’s well-being.

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